Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reiters (Part 2)

Armor and Weapons

If armored, reiters wore three-quarter or half-armors with high leather boots often reaching above the knee. Such armor was frequently painted black with borders left natural metal, giving the armor its “black and white” finish. The paint helped retard rusting, eliminated the need for polishing, and covered any defects present in a cheap armor. Mail was often worn in the form of sleeves or a shirt, and also in cape form, the so-called “bishop’s mantle.” Headgear ran the gamut from civilian caps, “iron hats,” morions, cabassets, and most frequently, open-faced burgonets. Gauntlets of both mitten and fingered types were used, or just leather gloves with a bridle gauntlet for the left hand. The average weight of a reiter’s harness would be about 25-30 pounds with helmet. Most often, the horse was unarmored except for barding in the form of heavy leather straps on the hind quarters.

Initially armed with a lance of boar-spear form and a thrusting-sword (estoc), reiters soon developed an affinity for, and increasing dependence on, firearms. Pist’ala, a Bohemian word meaning firearm, is noted in Silesian records of 1483, but the weapon as discussed here is believed to have originated in eastern Germany circa 1507. The form favored was the faustrohre (fist-pipe), a .70-calibre weapon, of wheellock ignition, varying in length from 18-24” and weighing about five pounds. Firing a one-oz. ball, the weapon was accurate against individual targets up to 20 yards and against massed targets 50 yards distant. As many as four faustrohren would be carried—two in tubular leather holsters at the saddle-bow, one thrust precariously into the right boot and, occasionally, one in the waist belt or sash.

A pistol could be loaded, primed, and spanned (cocked) several hours in advance of use without difficulty, but care had to be taken in handling the delicate lock mechanism and the brittle pyrites used in ignition.

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