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Heavy metal hardens battle

The French may have had a better chance at the Battle of Agincourt had they not been weighed down by heavy body armour, say researchers.

A study published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that soldiers carrying armour in Medieval times would have been using more than twice the amount of energy had they not been wearing it. This is the first clear experimental evidence of the limitations of wearing Medieval armour on a soldier's performance.


During warfare in the 15th century, soldiers wore steel plate armour, typically weighing 30-50kg. It is thought this may have been a contributing factor in whether an army won or lost a battle.

"We found that carrying this kind of load spread across the body requires a lot more energy than carrying the same weight in a backpack," says lead researcher, Dr Graham Askew from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences. "This is because, in a suit of armour, the limbs are loaded with weight, which means it takes more effort to swing them with each stride. If you're wearing a backpack, the weight is all in one place and swinging the limbs is easier."

The research team included academics from the Universities of Leeds, Milan and Auckland along with experts from the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK. Researchers worked with highly skilled fight interpreters from the Royal Armouries Museum, who wore exact replicas of four different types of European armour. They undertook a range of walking and running exercises, during which their oxygen usage was measured through respirometry masks, providing researchers with a picture of how much energy was being used by the participants.

The study also showed that the armour had a clear impact on the soldier's breathing. Rather than taking deep breaths when they were exerting themselves - as they would have done had they not been wearing armour - the interpreters took a greater number of shallower breaths.

"Being wrapped in a tight shell of armour may have made soldiers feel safe," says co-investigator Dr Federico Formenti from the University of Auckland. "But you feel breathless as soon as you begin to move around in Medieval armour and this would likely limit a soldier's resistance to fight."

The paper's authors are available for interview.

For more information:

Clare Elsley, Campus PR, tel 0113 357 2102, mob 07767 685168, email clare@campuspr.co.uk

University of Leeds Press Office. Tel 0113 343 4031, Email pressoffice@leeds.ac.uk

Notes to editors:
  1. The paper's authors are: Dr Graham Askew, University of Leeds; Dr Federico Formenti, University of Aukland; Prof. Alberto E. Minetti, University of Milano.
  2. The Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds is one of the largest in the UK, with over 150 academic staff and over 400 postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students. The Faculty is ranked 4th in the UK (Nature Journal, 457 (2009) doi :10.1038/457013a) based on results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The RAE feedback noted that "virtually all outputs were assessed as being recognized internationally, with many (60%) being internationally excellent or world-leading" in quality. The Faculty's research grant portfolio totals some £60M and funders include charities, research councils, the European Union and industry. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk
  3. The 2008 Research Assessment Exercise showed the University of Leeds to be the UK's eighth biggest research powerhouse. The University is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk
  4. The Faculty of Medicine at the University of Milan is one of the largest in Italy, with over 500 academic staff, 22 Degree schemes and 27 available PhD routes. The University of Milan is the top Italian university in most international rankings and is the only university in Italy included among the 22 prestigious universities that established the LERU, the League of European Research Universities. Also it is ranked between 51st-75th in Clinical Medicine and Pharmacy worldwide, based on Academic Ranking of World Universities (www.arwu.org).  www.unimi.it
  5. The Royal Armouries is Britain's oldest public museum, and home to the national collection of arms, armour and artillery. Find out more about our Museums at www.royalarmouries.org