Norman conical helmet

Found at the site of the Battle of Hastings

I am researching the site of the Battle of Hastings and have located what I believe is the rim of an original early Norman conical helmet (1066). It was found downstream of the battle site deep in silt under the battlefield stream that runs down one side of the site. It opens into a wide and deep gulley which I believe was referred to in the Chronicle of Battle Abbey and Wace - coloquially known as the Malfosse.

The item was found below the level of a horseshoe which has been identified as either 13th or 11th century and probably Saxon in origin. When found the metal band was black and clearly was in an anaerobic environment. It turned brown within an hour of retrieval and was about 12" below the stream bed. It was located with a metal detector.

What is interesting about the item is that it is not how you would imagine a typical Norman conicle helmet rim. It does not have multiple rivel holes like modern interpretations found on most modern armour web sites. Upon further research it is clear from the works of armour experts such as Guy Francis Laking (European Armour and Arms) London 1920 that Norman conical helmets are an enigma. At the time of his most detailed work (1920) only six authentic helmets existed out of sixteen that were known to exist (page 44). Many forgeries exist based upon later designs. Yet clearly all the Normans shown in the Bayeux Tapestry were wearing some form of conical helmet - although Laking comments that many of these are little more than tringles balanced on the heads of the Normans, providing little detail.

It seems therefore that whilst we mere mortals may believe Norman conical helmets were common, they were not so common as to be able to survive until this day. Further confusion is produced by the fact that the earliest known versions have three holes in them, where it was assumed the rivets that held the cross structure were located that held the bowl of the hat in place - yet any school child would query why would there be three holes - and where are they located? Three holes would not support a cross shaped strap holding the pieces in place - four holes would be required for that.

All the existing helmets which appear to be in museums are later versions from which it should be assumed the earlier versions developed. Laking states:

The whole helmet is forged out of one piece, conical in form, and truncated at the top, pierced about one inch from the apex, with a Russian cross and three holes. The simplicity of its form, together with the apparent absence of any means of attaching the lining, and the presence of three holes (probably rivet holes) would seem to suggest that parts of the helmet are missing ; the missing parts were probably bands of bronze or iron; if these could be added, such a helmet as we see in the Bayeux needlework would be the result. The pierced cross might be for ventilation, and the three holes would be for the purpose of attaching the metal bands. It was found in the river Somme, near Abbeville, France. It is in all probability of the Xlth century.

What I believe we have found at the Battle of Hastings site is the missing part that Laking so much wished to identify. Unlike the ones previously found we have the part that was the rim and not the conical element - the band of iron used to attach the visor and possibly the lining.

Why a visor? - because that is what the band around the rim would logically hold. If I am correct and this is the only one in existence it shows exactly how the helmt worked and why there were two rivets on this rim - to hold the visor in place. Laking knew that the common belief that these early helmets were simple fixed conical items could not be correct, because of the rivet holes. A quandry that was further confused by the seal of the Conqueror.

This shows clearly that William was known to have a visor on his helmet. He could not possibly have used such a seal without it being known to everyone that this was his specific head-dress, because this was his mark and as important as his coat of arms.

The evidence to support this visor that was able to be raised is endorsed by the story told in the Bayeux Tapestry where William raises his visor on the battlefield - an explaination that does not hold weight unless the visor was movable. To take your helmet off in battle to view your face was not possible unless the mechanism to raise the guard was movable.

Let us now look at what we have found

The item is 72cm in circumference and a band of iron 36mm wide and about 1mm think. This is exactly the right size to fit a normal head with chain mail over the head as shown in the Bayeux Tapestry. Further we have one of the rivets actually in the hole. The rivet shows it has a flat inner surface meaning the attachment was fixed on the outside of the band and the inside was flush with the bowl - suggesting it was attached in the production process by force downwards onto the bowl, with only one part of the bowl touching the rim at the rear where the mark shows at the back.

Close examination of the inside of the metal shows it has a grey appearance where it has been cleaned in a electronic cleaning tank and in the small section that has been cleaned there are no scratch marks. This suggests to me that it is possible that the rin was forced onto the helmet and may have held the lining - especially as there are areas of the rim that look like they may have some dye present.

This object appears to be in excellent condition for its age, which is clearly due to the location it was found and I am looking for expert appraisal - images follow please email me nick @ (without spaces - spam avoidance) and send the link to this page to anyone interested in early medieval history.

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