16th C. Jack, Suit, and Boots

March 5, 2006 - As you may have noticed, I tend to do quite a bit of Medieval and Renaissance activities - one of them happens to be armored combat. As you probably saw from the photo, the weapons are not live steel, but are padded and constructed in a way to simulate the weight of real weapons. This project was to put together a 16th C. armor kit that would be both functional and attractive. Note that there is a difference between a "Jack Coat" or "Jack of Plates" which often had metal plates sewn into the body, and a "Padded Jack," which was made entirely of fabric and possibly some leather.

One side note - although the suit itself was styled after the 1550s-60s, the majority of documentation for the Padded Jack is from the end of the 15th to the early 16th C.

Let us start with the armor. The burgeonet is typical of the 16th C, along with the gorget. The gauntlets are typical clamshell gauntlets, none of which is the focus of this article (I also did not make any of them =). The Padded Jack, however, is one of the foci, and we should take some time to discuss that in more detail.

This painting, from the St Ursula Shrine, Martyrdom (scene 6) was painted in 1489 by Hans Memling, and is one of the best examples of what appears to be a padded jack. Note that there are several interesting key points - the "Jack Chains" which run up and down his arms and are pointed to the jack, the extreme waisting of the jack (likely more than a little artistic license here, although pourpoints which would have gone under this type of garment were often very padded in the chest), and the sleeves are only attached at the top. Additionally, there is a hole in the arm on the opposite side of the elbow, made for reasons that will be come clear soon.

I would also like to take a moment to thank the Company of Saynt George, whose September 1990 issue of the "Dragon" was very helpful in researching the Padded Jack.

To understand more about the padded jack itself, we refer to the ordinances of Louis XI of France (translation from the Dragon issue mentioned above):

"And first they must have for the said jacks, 30, or at least 25 folds of cloth and a stag's skin; those of 30, with the stag's skin, being the best cloth that has been worn and rendered flexible, is best for this purpose, and these jacks should be made in four quarters. The sleeves should be as strong as the body, with the exception of the leather, and the arm-hole of the sleeve must be large, which arm-hole should be placed near the collar, not on the bone of the shoulder, may be broad under the armpit and full under the arm, sufficiently ample and large on the sides below. The collar should be like the rest of the jack, but not made too high behind, to allow room for the sallet. This jack should be laced in front, and under the opening must be a hanging piece (porte piece) of the same strength as the jack itself. Thus the jack will be secure and easy, provided that there be a pourpoint without sleeves or collar of two folds of cloth, that shall only be four fingers broad on the shoulder; to which pourpoint shall be attached the chausses. Thus shall the wearer float, as it were, within his jack and be at his ease; for never has been seen half a dozen men killed by stabs or arrow wounds in such jacks, particularly if they be troops accustomed to fighting."

I beg your indulgence in showing you the backs of my legs in the picture above - when it was taken, I had not yet finished the tops of the boots, as I was pressed for time =)

(c) Katherine Goodpasture

In my reproduction, instead of a full 30 layers of linen, I only used 16, and 8 for the arms. These were padded out with additional batting to make it seem like there were more layers than there actually were. The jack chains were cut in a manner similar to the example in the Memling painting, and dished by yours truly. Leather thongs close the jack and point the chains to it. You will note that the jack chains are a lightweight, yet effective armor when paired with the jack - as many blows are slashes to the side, the chains will take the brunt of the trauma, effectively providing a rigid surface to strike against.

Technically speaking, as I said, the suit underneath, which is a plain black doublet and sleeves with padded trunk hose pointed to it, is not absolutely documentable for the jack as I have constructed it, although there is documentation going to at least 1515. I decided to take those last 50 years with a grain of salt. I do seem to recall some mention of certain groups using Jacks throughout the 16th Century, but whether they were worn with a doublet and trunk hose and had jack chains, I cannot say. It is almost certain that they were not worn with a codpiece quite so large, but the codpiece needs must contain modern protection, for obvious reasons =)

(c) Katherine Goodpasture

Moving onto the boots, we have a couple of excellent sources - one is a portrait of Philip II in armor by Anthonis mor van Dashorst, 1557 (top). The other is a painting of the Duke of Lerma, by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, c. 1600 (bottom). The two portraits share a number of similarities, which I will point out here.

In both cases, the boots are flat - that is, there is no heel present. The Duke's boots look like they have a very thick outsole, not uncommon for the end of the 16th C.

Both boots have diagonal straps which are hidden just under the trunk hose - it is possible that they are pointed directly to the trunk hose themselves, or to some underlayer.

Both boots are very well fit, although there is some evidence of minor wrinkling. It is likely that these boots are of a very soft leather with a good amount of stretch to it.

The reproduction boots were patterned after Philip's boots above, with the upper/vamp seam towards the back of the quarters. Goubitz was also references, as there are some boots similar to this style in his Stepping Through Time. What one can notice now is the way that the vamp seems to follow the front of the foot all the way to the top of the shin like many modern cowboy boots - this is not observed in all boots of the time period, though there are several extant pieces which have this type of construction. Forgive the picture - the boot has been through several wars and tournaments, and I have to give it a good polish and cleaning =)

The leather used was a lightweight cow belly which was very flexible when first purchased, but became much stiffer once the boots had been dyed. However, there is no seam or buckle in the boots, to follow the examples above.

The two diagonal straps to keep the boot up and in place were added and pointed to the canions of the trunk hose - this helps to keep them up and ensure that the boots do not slip down in the heat of battle! One of the aglets can be seen hanging down from one fold of the trunk hose.

(c) Pete Good

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Jack Source.
The Reproduction Jack.
Boot Sources.
The Reproduction Boots.

Comments on: 16th C. Jack, Suit, and Boots

By: raisedheels

In reply to Steven Rothwell. Thanks very much!

By: Steven Rothwell

Excellent job! I hope mine looks half as good as yours!

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