The Arming Girdle (Lendenier) with Commentary
In this article, I’ve tried to organize some of the known research and sources concerning the lendener into an argument supporting its use as a means of historical leg harness suspension for the 14th century. While my focus is mostly in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, many of these sources apply to earlier mail harnesses dating back to the 13th century, and some later into the 15th century. The discovery of the sources and the included translations are not my personal work, this is just a collation of most of the sources of which I am aware, found scattered over several discussion threads on a few different internet forums with my own added commentary. It should be made explicitly clear that the individual responsible for bringing most of these sources to light and providing the translations is Bertus Brokamp, we all owe him a great debt of gratitude for sharing his research with the rest of us. Please visit his blog Deventer Burgerscap!
The armor for the legs must be suspended from above to function properly. Without ‘pointing’ the armor to something higher than where it’s worn, it will tend to slip down over time despite the wearer’s best efforts to strap it tightly. While an upper-body arming garment in the form of a gambeson, aketon, arming cote etc. existed for several centuries prior to my area of focus, none give any indication of being used for the suspension of leg armor until the twilight of the Middle Ages. From the mid-15th century onward, the collective wisdom is that a well tailored arming doublet fulfilled this role. It could be made tight and girdling about the hips and provide a place to tie the leg harness to. The ‘tight and girdling’ part of that is of utmost importance, because it is that feature that forces the weight of the leg armor to be borne on the hips and waist and not to be transferred to the shoulders and back. Transferring weight to the shoulders and back can cause crippling fatigue and discomfort in short order and comes with a host of other problems that should be avoided in armor. The problem is that there is very little in the way of evidence to give us much insight into how the armor of the legs was trussed prior to the mid-15th century when it seems that the arming doublet was adapted for this express purpose. This gap in coverage includes virtually the whole of the 14th century, when armor began the most significant stage of its transition from mail to plate as a primary defense. I think the sources demonstrate that the likely solution for the suspension of leg harness during the late 14th century is a lendener (arming girdle) with a possible transition during this time to the use of a doublet, but only the lendener sources will be examined here.
First, we should establish what a lendener / lendenier is (or rather what we think it is). The word lenden in German translates to ‘loin’ or the area of the body between the hips and short ribs. Most sources that use the term lendenier specifically, are of Germanic influence. There are other terms that describe the same thing (such as estraintes in French and balteus in Latin.) and various spellings of the word. The hypothesis is that a lendenier is an arming girdle, worn about the waist and hips with the intended function of suspending the armor for the legs.
I have been obsessed with the proper method for the suspension of leg harness for quite some time because I’ve always found all modern solutions to be less than optimal. Leg harness was used for centuries in different forms, and people’s lives depended on their armor. Modern solutions that cause practical problems must be rejected. Most ‘C-belts’ tend to dig into the hips and restrict mobility by being made from unnecessarily thick and stiff leather. Elaborate suspender rigs transfer weight to the shoulders which is less than ideal for comfort, fatigue, and function. There is no historical evidence for using a waistcoat / vest type of garment specifically for the suspension of leg harness, and even the civil variant of such a garment mostly shows up in the late 15th century. A doublet is certainly a valid solution, but again not much evidence shows up about its use specifically in the martial context of suspending leg armor until the mid-15th century, and even then it’s very indirect. The 14th century extant doublet of Charles de Blois is a civil garment, its points are intended for civil hose, not armor. Without further evidence we cannot assume that suspending leg armor from a doublet began at the same moment our Medieval counterparts began experimenting with attaching civil hosen to a doublet as these are two different animals that present different challenges. If the arming doublet became the norm for the time beyond the mid-15th century as common wisdom assumes, we would expect a period of transition to that method, but when that would have started is difficult to know. What we will see from the sources though, is that the lendener is likely the solution used for mail hose predating plate harness, continued to exist during the transitional period of the 14th century, and even lasted beyond the emergence of the leg-suspending arming doublet into the 15th century.
The first source I became aware of that mentioned how to attach leg armor came in the form of The King’s Mirror, ca. 1250 in reference to mail hose.
The rider himself should be equipped in this wise:
he should wear good soft breeches made of soft and
thoroughly blackened linen cloth, which should reach
up to the belt; outside these, good mail hose which
should come up high enough to be girded on with a
double strap; 1
Unfortunately it makes no further description of what this ‘double strap’ is or what it looks like. Is it suggesting a strap of double the normal width? Two straps? It sounds like some sort of belted solution, but that’s not enough detail to go on.
Enter the lendener.
In ca. 1220 the term shows up and is mentioned as being ‘girded’ similarly to the ‘double strap’ from the King’s Mirror, but gives us no clue as to what it is.
Heinrich von dem Türlin’s Diu Crône from 1220-1230 2.
Her Keiî ez niht langer spart, Er gurte den lendeniere.. “…girding his lendenier”
Two German poems from the 13th century give us a clue as to what a lendener actually is:
zwô hosen wîz ûz îsen
hiez er im ane brîsen
vaste, niht swaere,
wan er gerne lîhte waere.
er vuor in stricken als ein tier.
ein harte guoten lendenier
den bant er umde die huf
und nestelte die hosen darûf 3.
“two hosen white from iron
he put on without (braies?)
sturdy, not heavy,
because he liked to be light.
he went tied up like an animal.
a hard good lendenier
this he bound around his hips
and laced his hosen to this”
ame lendenier si entstricket wart
von der hurteclichen vart,
Diu iserhose sanc uf den sporn:
des wart sin blankez bein verlorn. 4.
“From the loin belt they unlaced
because of the quick canter,
The iron hosen sank to his spurs:
thus he lost his white legs.” (English Translations by Bertus Brokamp on the Armour Archive)
So from these poems, the suggestion is that a lendenier is the object from which the iron hose (mail chausses) are suspended. It doesn’t give us any insight into the lendenier’s construction though. The lendenier is mentioned in scattered wills and inventories here and there into the 14th century as well, but with no mention of anything other than its name.
Then it pops up again by name in the mid 14th century in the Limburg Chronik, but this time with some more description:
In derselbigen zit da gingen an die Westfeilschen lendenire. Dy waren also, daz ritter, knechte unde reisige lüde furten lendenire, unde gingen an der brost ane, hinden uff dem rucke hart zugespannet unde wanten also verre als dy schufe lang was unde was hart gesteppet, bynach eynes fingers dicke. Und qwam daz uss Westfalenlande.
Where it tells us that the lendenier is:
“Laced tight in the back, padded hard almost a finger thick.” (English translation by Bertus Brokamp on the Armour Archive)
The mention of lacing and being padded suggests a textile-based construction, at least in mid-14th century Germanic lands.
Then a contemporary bilingual document (written in both Dutch and French) from Brugge mentions the lendenier, only this time it specifically states that the lendenier is made by the poupointstickere or pourpointier; the guild responsible for the making of quilted garments. This even more strongly suggests that the lendener is of quilted textile-based construction as we would expect from other martial garments. It also reveals to us the French translation for the word lendenier, ‘estraintes.’
De Bouc vanden Ambachten, ca. 1370 (handschrift), Brugge 5.:
Donaes, de pourpointstickere, sal mi maken een wambies ende een lendenier.
Donas, le pourpointier, me fera un pourpoint et unes estraintes.
To confuse the issue of construction, in early 15th century Gottingen, a town council record settling a dispute between shoemakers, beltmakers, pouchmakers etc dictates who can and cannot produce lendenier These are all of course professions that deal with the crafting of leather products. So perhaps they were also made of leather in certain locations or as an alternative to textile?
Later in the 15th century we see the term pop up in a Latin dictionary Vocabuliarius Copiosus, published in 1477-1483 (with supposed origins in the 14th century) in which it defines the term ‘balteus‘ as a ‘lindenier.’
Balteus – lindenier – Cingulum militare quo cingutur milites sic dictu quasi pendens secundum
hugucione qi ex eo signa dependent ad demostrandu legionis militaris summa et etia illud quo arma
dependent et qncq pro cingulo mulieris dicitur hic balteus tei. i singulari se in plurali bii
balteiorum. et bec balteaorum. dr corrigia ad balista pertinens 6.
‘Cingulum militare’ translates to military belt or military girdle
In another Latin Dictionary, it’s a bit more specific
Balteus – lindenier – Eyn ritterlick gordel of ryem dayr dat harnesch an hengt 7.
“A knightly girdle or belt where the harness hangs from.”
This is particularly compelling because it explicitly states that is used to suspend knightly armor.
Taken together, the sources suggest that the lendener / estraintes / arming girdle etc., is some kind of loin belt, girded on at the hips and waist, specifically worn for the purpose of the suspension of leg harness. Sometimes it appears to have been of leather construction. Other accounts suggest quilted textile, laced in the back and padded. Variety in construction methods is to be expected. I believe that it is very possible that the enigmatic lendenier is the historical solution for the suspension of leg harness prior to and even co-existing with the 15th century version of the arming doublet. Having built and experimented with my own speculative construction (using two different methods) I am very pleased with its performance, but it’s re-creation is a topic for another post.
And thereby hangs the tale of the lendener.
For further reading on this topic, read this thread on the Armour Archive where most of these sources were brought to my attention courtesy of Bertus Brokamp. In this article, I’ve only included a few of his sources as needed for my argument, Bertus has several more that I believe he will be writing up in his personal blog (Deventer Burgerscap) in the near future.
1. Larson, Laurence Marcellus. The King’s Mirror: Speculum Regalae – Konungs Skuggsjá. New York:
American-Scandinavian Foundation ;, 1917. p 219
2. Scholl, G. H. F. Diu Crone of Heinrich von dem Türlein: Stuttgart, Gedruckt Auf Kosten De
Litterarischen Vereins. 1852. p 36
3. Reinitzer, Heimo, Mauritius von Craun. Germany. Max Niemeyer Verlag Tubingen. 2000 p 43
4. Schulz, Albert. Zur Waffenkunde des alteren deutschen Mittelalters. Basse. Druck und Verlag von
Fottfir. 1867. p. 48
5. De Bouc vanden Ambachten Manuscript. Brugge. 1370
6. Westfallen, J van. Vocabularius Copiosus Theutonicatus Cui Nomen Conflatus Vocabulorum. 1477
7. Weijers, Olga. Lexicon Latintatis Nederlandicae Medii Aevi. Brill Archive. 1977. p 451