Medieval shields were decorated with symbols which were used as a means to recognise the knight, both at tournaments and on the battlefield. This form of recognition was necessary as a Medieval Knights armor included a visor which covered the face of the knight. The decoration on a shield, or shield symbols, allowed knights to be easily recognised.
Different Medieval Shields
There were many different medieval shields. The style of different Medieval shields changed as different types of body protection were developed.
- Kite shields - The kite shields were featured in the Bayeux tapestry. Rounded at the top of the shield and tapered at the bottom providing body cover as chain mail was the only protection in the early Middle Ages
- Heater Shields - The 'heater' shields, strongly associated with jousting knights. These were smaller as they complimented full suits of armor and were suited to horseback
- The Buckler - The Buckler was a a small round, metal shield which could be hung from a belt. This type of shield was reserved for hand-to-hand combat
- The Pavise ( Wall Shields) - The Pavise was the shield used by Crossbow men. This type of tall shield provided protection when reloading his crossbow
- The Targe (or Target shields) were the traditional Scottish round shield
These were the main types of different Medieval shields. Other shield designs were developed such as the 'bouche' which was designed to be used with the lance.
Construction of Medieval Shields
Medieval shield construction started with the type of materials that would be required for a particular type of shield. These were chosen according to the style of combat and armor worn by the owner to determine the weight and style of the shields. Medieval shield construction used the following materials:
A Medieval shield construction might also include a strap called a guige that allowed it to be slung over the knight's back when not in use or on horseback.
Medieval Shield Symbols
Medieval shield symbols included a knight's coat of arms, a heraldic design. Different symbols were originally used to decorate the clothing, or surcoat, worn over the knight's armor for recognition purposes. Fast recognition was necessary on the battlefield - colors, shield designs and shield symbols such as various animals.
Medieval Shield Symbols - Colors
The colors used with Medieval shield symbols were yellow (Or), white (Argent), red ( Gules), blue (Azure), black (Sable) and green (Vert)
Medieval Shield Symbols - Designs
The designs used with Medieval shield symbols were plants and animals depicted on the field of the shield. The field of the shield could be divided into different sections called "honourable ordinaries".
- Diagonal Cross ( Saltire)
- Horizontal Stripe (Fess)
- Vertical Stripe (Pale)
- Diagonal Stripe ( Bend)
- Angled Stripe - (Chevron)
The Archers Medieval Shields - The Pavise
The Pavise was the name given to the shields used by the Crossbow men. The word 'pavise' originates from Pavia, in Italy, where pavise shields were originally made. On the battlefield the English Medieval crossbowman was particularly vulnerable when he was reloading his crossbow. Crossbowmen therefore protected themselves with a tall shield which was known as a pavise. The crossbowman would duck behind the pavise to re-load his crossbow during a battle. The pavise was a a large convex shield, measuring 4 to 5 ft. high and broad enough to cover the entire body. A pavise shield would be carried slung on the back of the crossbowman. These shields were then propped up in front of them, in a permanent position, before the Medieval battle commenced. The pavise shields of the crossbowman could also be used as defensive screen formed by linking pavise shields together. Such a defensive screen was known as a 'Pavisade'. These shields were also known as Wall Shields. The Medieval era of the Middle Ages was strongly religious. English Crossbowman would have fought in crusades, as well as battles in England. Many Pavise shields were therefore painted with religious scenes. The crossbow archers hoped that the enemy would believe that they were committing a sacrilegious act if the Holy images on the shields were damaged.
Medieval Shields - The Buckler
The Buckler was a a small round, metal shield which could be hung from a belt. This type of shield was reserved for hand-to-hand combat. The Buckler style of shields measured between 8 and 16 inches in diameter. The buckler was a light shield and easier for the bearer to wield a weapon without sacrificing protection.