Monday, 29 December 2014

Bascinet and Hounskull visor for The battle of Shrewsbury painting.

At the battle of Shrewsbury the most common helmet worn by the higher classes was the Bascinet. this helmet consisted of a round helmet that covered the top and back of the head and sides of the face. From the lower edge a mail aventail was suspended on a leather strip via metal studs called vervelles. Beneath the aventail would have been a padded collar that made the mail form around the neck. This lining was often fixed to the mail and in some cases it was incorporated into the helmets lining.

Bascinet and Aventail of Sir Fulke de Pembrugge

The face was protected by a visor. Known as the Hounskull or Hundsgugel, it was a form of visor that covered the entire face and resembled the face of a dog ("hound" or, in German, "Hund"), with a protruding muzzle in order to better protect the face from blows and to grant greater ventilation. the name also reflects the fashion of a dog hood in the period. 
Prince Hal struck by an arrow.

The bascinet can be seen as a direct descendant of the 11th century conical helmet of the Norman period, its construction method changing little over a 300-year period. Primarily a single plate of iron is beaten out to form a bowl, and then extended at the top to a point. 
Great Bascinet

The original Norman pointed helmet soon developed into a more ovoid shape and the rear was extended down to cover the cheeks and back of the head. During the early 13th century the skull shaped bascinet used as secondary protection and was worn beneath the bucket shaped helm.   A similar shaped bascinet is seen on a 17th century engraved plate in the church at Mavesyn Ridware. 

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An early bascinet can be seen on the effigy of Simon de Leybourne. c1315. In the Church of St Mary, Shrewsbury, Shropshire  This simple bascinet shows the ovoid shape and protection of the back of the head and cheeks. A mail coif protects the neck and shoulders. This form of bascinet was often worn underneath the helm. 

 Other early bascinets were elaborately decorated with gilded patterned edging strips. In north Wales, a patterned strip running over the centre of the bascinet is seen on effigies.   In some cases the bascinet was fluted and raised into a point at the apex. 

In the early 14th century the mail coif was discarded or rather converted into a mail aventail.   The mail was stitched to a shaped leather strap, which was fitted around the neck and face of the bascinet via a series of studs called ‘vervelles’.   Most effigies show a decorative covering that protect the vervelle and stitching, this covering could be made from cloth, velvet or leather. 

Stafford Visor

Early bascinets developed a visor that covered the face. Originally, a simple curved plate that hinged at the temples, with eye slots and breathing holes, various designs must have made appearances some more successful than others, rounded noses with an extended plate that protected the neck can be seen on various manuscripts and stained glass windows.   The Visor of Stafford. 

The visor soon evolved into the more commonly known extended snout.   This shape known as the ‘hounskull’ or ‘pig-faced’ was a practical solution not only for extending the breathing area but also more importantly as a deflective surface that could throw sword, lance, and for arrow points away from the face. Pointed at the nose with breathes (holes for air) on the right hand side and narrow occularium (eye slots), the visor also had a pair of slots at the position of the mouth, but it is more likely that these were used to see down towards the feet rather than breathing through.

My Bascinet
The hounskull bascinet became universally used in the 14th century yet very few survive today, even fewer visors are in existence but a remarkable find was made at Pevensey castle in 1933. In a drain that once carried effluent was found a visor, broken into five pieces the visor must have been discarded when no longer needed.  (As the fashion for the bascinet declined, its practical use was maintained by passing the helmet onto lower soldiers and archers who had no need for the visor).  

Pevensey castle visor above. 

Examples of 14th century bascinets on effigies can be found across the country and at St Peters church, Elford in Staffordshire two fine examples can be seen.   The bascinet that Sir Thomas Arderne d 1391 wears has a central ridge that runs from the top down to the forehead; this ridge acts to deflect downward blows away from the centre of the head. 

An ‘orle’ surrounds the bascinet, decorated with elaborate embroidered flowers linked to each other with strings of pearls.  The original would have been made from velvet stuffed with hemp and covered with metallic threads, pearls and precious stones.  
Sir Thomas Arderne d 1391

The orle was originally used when smaller rounder bascinets were worn beneath a helm. Padding between the two helmets was essential to stop them from hitting each other and keeping the helmets firmly in place. When the visor negated the use of the helm the orle was retained for decoration only, (a practice on effigy design that was maintained long after its practical use had died out).


A realistically carved mail aventail is suspended from vervelles to protect the neck and shoulders and decorative plate runs across the forehead with the inscription 'Jesu & Maria'.

This form of decoration was common throughout the 14th and 15th century, but it is not often seen on the few remaining real bascinets in existence. It is possible that the expensive metal was removed when the helmet went out of fashion and was passed onto the foot soldier or archer, thus destroying all evidence of the plates.

Alternatively, the decoration was a sign of faith and was more often being carved on the monumental effigy than in real life. In either case, the decoration would not have been seen in battle, as the visor would have covered it.

To see Photographs of More Bascinets click here.


My Great Bascinet

Throughout the 14th century, the bascinet remained the key form of protection for the knightly orders, its aventail giving adequate protection from armed combat with other knights, but at the beginning of the 15th century a simple development of the shape of arrowhead would change all this. 

The armour piercing bodkin that made Agincourt infamous during the hundred years war played a key factor in the development and demise of the bascinet.

The armoured knight had remained considerably impregnable to traditional arrowheads and mail had suppressed the arrows strength by acting as a net that deflected the arrows inertia. The armour-piercing bodkin on the other hand could pass through the mails links thus rendering it useless. The aventail covering the neck and shoulders thus made the knight very vulnerable at this point. The bascinet would change once more and become the great bascinet.
The great bascinet removed the need for the aventail and replaced it with a plate gorget and a fine example can be seen at St Bartholomew’s church at Tong in Shropshire on the effigy of Sir Richard Vernon d 1451.

Sir Richards’s effigy depicts a suit of armour from around the 1420’s. Even though the design of the gorget made it impossible for anything to penetrate, it had one major flaw; the wearer could not turn his head without moving his whole body.   

Sir Richard Vernon 

This impracticality might not have had any effect on the knight’s ability to fight on horseback as in the 14th century.  However, by the 15th century it was more common to dismount and fight on foot, walking into battle surrounded by men at arms.  Not to have full flexibility of the head must have been a drawback, especially if lightly armoured men at arms and archers were on the field.  Having said this, the fashion for the great bascinet lasted at least twenty years, and after its demise in warfare, it still carried on in the tournament field.  

Henry or Hal as he was known when he was prince of Wales would have probably worn a bascinet with aventail and hounskull visor, the addition of a small plate around the front of the neck might have been possible but we will never know. What we do know, is that at some point during the battle, he lifted his visor and exposed his face to the armour piercing bodkin that struck him in his left cheek and entered deep into his throat.
My armour. Typical early 15th century, note the raised visor.


  1. Nice site, and impressive armor you have. BTW, how does the visor stay up on the bascinet? Just very well contructed, or possibly with retaining pin(s)? I have one of those made in India - pretty nice, but I can't seem to figure out how to get the visor to stay up. Here's what it currently looks like - Thanks for any help.

    1. Hi Dean Glad you like my work. My visor has tight bolts and sprung washers holding it. The hinged join and pin that is used to remove the visor helps to keep the bolted joint tight too.

    2. Thanks so much for the great information, Paul. Apologies for the late response too . especially since you answered my question so quickly. Regards, Dean