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Heaters and Round Shields and Kites, OH MY!

Hello all! In this edition of The Dragon’s Pen, we’ll be diving into a part of our organization that is near and dear to our hearts and our mission—education. All our guilds and programs aim to educate our members and the public in their own ways, be it through our drama classes; our feasts; the Education Tent; and far beyond. Many of us are passionate about sharing our knowledge and ever growing our own. This shared experience of growth and learning is indeed a vital part of our culture and community.

To that end—we want to share that experience with all of you! Today, we’ll be sharing an Arms Guild Journeyman (JourneyPerson) Project completed by our current Master of Arms while he was but a Squire as well as Minion to yours truly! (I kid, I kid…) In this Project, Seth Cranford delved into the history of the heater shield, as well as its uses and purposes, and gave us a wonderful summary of why this type of shield was so influential in its time. Though the writer shows obvious bias toward the heater as a multipurpose tool, it is hard to argue with the points made in its favor. I encourage you all to continue reading below and judge for yourselves!

The History, Uses, and Construction of the Heater Shield

From the 11th to the mid- to late 14th Century, shields such as the Anglo-Saxon round shield and the kite shield reigned supreme in the world of warfare. Granting both considerable protection and a certain amount of mobility, it seemed that these were the tools to last the ages. That is until the development of one of the most important advances in the 13th to late 14th centuries: the heater shield. Similar to the kite shield, the heater shield featured a triangular design and a four-strap shield mounting method.

The differences between the kite and heater were the size and the way they were used in combat. For instance, the kite shield was large, generally stretching from chin to toe to allow full-body protection from oncoming attacks. The top was rounded to allow a glancing surface from sword blows, the body had a convex shape, and the sides were angled downward into a point to allow for better mobility. The heater, however, had a flat top to allow a better sight-line on the back of a horse (which is where it was granted its name, as it resembles the bottom of a heating iron), sported less of a convex curve, and was half the size of its predecessor. In this way, it sacrificed protection for a great deal more mobility. This made the heater a perfect choice for use in jousting tournaments. It granted line of sight and was much less cumbersome. These key differences between the kite and heater shields added a more versatile option for those fighting from horseback using the heater, and solidified the kite shield as a tool primarily used by ground forces.

Bayuex Tapestry, Cavalry Charges Shield Wall,,%2049,%20Cavalry%20charge%20hits%20shield%20wall%201_jpg.htm

As the popularity of the shield increased, its design became more complex. This led to the creation of a square design used primarily in jousting tournaments (though it is speculated that they were sometimes used in battle as well), which sported a notch in the upper right hand corner to allow for a lance or spear to rest inside it. This led to an army’s cavalry to become a nigh unstoppable force on the front lines. At the head of the cavalry, soldiers would ride with heater shield and lance, using the lance’s reach and the height of their horses to pierce through and destroy an opposing force’s shield wall. In addition to their various uses in combat, both types of heater shields were used for ceremonial purposes. A good example of this comes from studying the effigy of Sir Robert de Shurland, who died sometime after 1330.

Effigy of Sir Robert de Shurland,

Sir Robert de Shurland’s effigy, and another shield that survived the 14th century, are the basis of most knowledge we have on how the heater shield was constructed. To start making these types of shields, armorers would cut four to five slats of Limewood (or European Linden) to the appropriate shapes and sizes. Next, they would make an adhesive called Casein glue, created by the Monk Theophilus, who wrote about it in a manuscript called Schedula Diversarum Artium. This glue is made from soft cheese thinned by hand and water. Using this adhesive, the craftsman would glue the pieces of wood together; either setting the pieces at a slight angle to form a convex shape, or laying them flat to create a smooth surface (as it was easier to wrap a flat surface in hide than a curved one). Once the adhesive was set and dried, they would take wet rawhide and tightly wrap the entire shield. Rawhide was used because it was much harder than other leathers, and held its shape once dried. Other materials such as canvas and soft leathers were sometimes used if there was no rawhide to be found, but this generally resulted in more work and a heavier shield, since more layers were needed to provide the same durability.

Schedula Diversarum Artium, Theophilus,

The final step in the process was adding the four straps to the back of the shield. The first was riveted to the far left side to slide over the forearm and rest just before the elbow. The next two were farther to the right and laid out to cross one over the other. This allowed the knight to have freedom of movement with his left hand by sliding his wrist through only one of the straps, making it possible to hold the reigns of his horse. When it was necessary, he could grab hold of the other strap for a better grip on the shield. The fourth and final strap was the one used to carry the shield in various ways. This was a longer piece of leather that would be attached right next to the left-most strap, and then again next to the one by the wrist, forming a loop. Once the leather was attached to the shield they would cut it in half and attach a buckle to one side to allow the strap to be adjusted to the soldier's preference. In this way, the heater could be carried across the back, over one shoulder, or over the head and on the other shoulder.

Heater Shield Mounting, Der Mittelalterliche Reiterschild, Jan Kohlmorgen, page 14

In the late 14th century to the beginning of the 15th century the popularity and creation of more protective plate armor grew. This, paired with the development of lighter, rectangular shields called the pavise eventually rendered the heater obsolete. However, I still believe that the development of the Heater Shield was one of the most important advances in the 13th to the late 14th centuries. It allowed for a great variety of uses, was just as durable as the Round Shield, just as versatile as the Kite Shield, and gave birth to a new style combat across Europe.

Cranford, Seth 2014


The Bayeux Tapestry, The Bayuex Tapestry Museum

Bull, Stephen. An Historical Guide to Arms & Armour. New York: Checkmark Books, 1991. Print.

Ffoulkes, Charles. The Armourer and His Craft from the XIth to the XVIth Century. Charleston: Nabu Press, 2012

The Bayeux Tapestry. Cavalry Charges Shield Wall. Photograph.,%2049,%20Cavalry%20charge%20hits%20shield%20wall%201_jpg.htm

Effigy of Robert de Shurland. Photograph.

Theophilus. Schedula Diversarum Artium. Photograph.

Kohlmorgen, Jan. Heater Shield Mounting. Illustration.

In addition to this paper, Seth made a traditional heater shield to the best of his ability and wrote up a construction guide for others to use. It was an amazing construction with (in my opinion) excellent strapping and reinforcement. Feel free to ask him about his experience with the process, and for anyone interested in making their own—happy building!

Thank you all for reading along, and we hope you learned something along the way. Until next time! (Like and subscribe for more content, etc., etc. 😉 )

Stay safe out there,

Josie (She/They)

Jocelyn McCoy-Washington

Viscount in Service to the Populace and Crown

Dame Knight of the White Shield, Steward to Their Majesty

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