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Gauntlets - Gothic Wearable
Medieval Gauntlet - Don’t Throw It Down
The medieval gauntlet, a description of a long glove of various materials, came into its own of use between the 11th and 16th century as a protective covering over the fingers, hands and forearms. Its forerunner, gloves or glofi in Old Norse, made of animal skins, came from the Vikings, but some sort of protective covering for hard tasks probably dates back to early man as he had to haul out the trash from his cave. The evolution of military use of gloves was inevitable and the medieval gauntlet was a work of art.
Not only did it allow the owner to use his weapon more freely, the lack of worry about his hands receiving a slash from a sword or dagger allowed him to move more quickly in battle and to be more flexible with his choice of targets. The full gauntlet was beautifully articulated with joints that could move with the fingers and wrists of its wearer and were light enough to not be confining. Most styles allowed for the gauntlet to be utilized as a melee weapon by itself, as the additions of “knuckle dusters” allowed the wearer to throw a deadly punch at an opponent who could be stunned outright from a blow to the head. These gauntlets were not primarily designed for this use but would have come in handy if a soldier lost a grip on his primary weapon and needed assistance to quell an attacker until he could pick up his sword or battle axe again.
The design of the gauntlet varied from fully articulated fingers to mitten like coverings that exposed the fingers, better with two handed weapons, and ranged from leather (best with falconers) to leather covered in chainmail (where added flexibility was needed such as a crossbow and archers) to steel. The designs and uses varied with the smiths and soldiers that created and utilized them and the time period, as the earlier versions did not use steel but were mostly the leather and chainmail combination.
The term “throwing down the gauntlet” developed from the practice of literally taking off one’s armored glove and throwing it at the feet of a person. If the person picked up the glove, it meant that the challenge had been accepted and a one to one fight would ensue, where one of these would emerge not only victorious, but usually as a hero. By the 17th century, these heavier gloves were not in use as much as the lighter leather gloves (better with the rapiers and epees of that era) and dueling had become the European method of handling insults and injuries to individuals and was more about restoring one’s honor than to kill someone. These bouts could last from the drawing of first blood, where a winner would be decided to death. However, over four thousand Frenchmen died in an eighteen year period under Henry IV’s reign while dueling and during Louis VIII’s reign of twenty years, eight thousand pardons were issued for murders occurring while dueling!
In this modern time, it is best to just leave those gauntlets where they were designed to be and remember, just don’t throw it down, or if someone is demanding satisfaction and throws it down at your feet, think long and hard about all those murders that occurred many years ago in the name of demanding honor when men threw down their gauntlets and other men picked them up.
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