We've all seen guards in movies walking around with full plate mail, clunking with each step.

Now, I know that plate mail was much more mobile, and much less heavy, than movies and literature imply. But what about the fatigue of wearing that armor for long lengths of time?

How long did guards wear their armor, and how much did they wear? (especially compared to troops and other people of the era).

It might help to contrast between:

  • Standing guards

  • Patrolling guards

If there is such an applicable distinction.

Were there different "levels" of guards? Such as light patrolling guards, but a few heavier guards in reserve?

And how much armor did they wear on a typical day? Did they up-armor during special events? Did they up-armor during a call-to-action / emergency, or just run out there in whatever they had?

As for the specific era: I'm looking for general information, so anything with swords, shields, and armor is acceptable. You'll know the appropriate bounds on timeline better than I.

Thank you for your time.

  • 1
    A casual glance at wikipedia shows that plate armor is circa 17th; medieval is 5-15th. So there is no clanking. Mail dates from Rome to 15th. The key question is whether guards (if there were guards) were wealthy enough to afford mail.
    – MCW
    Mar 21, 2016 at 18:17
  • 1
    Era - you specified medieval (5-15th) in the title; I remove the tags for Bronze age (3000 to 1200 BCE) and Iron Age (1200 BCE to 1BCE). Questions that span five milennia are out of scope as "too broad"
    – MCW
    Mar 21, 2016 at 18:21
  • 3
    This question has a lot of assumptions on the author's part that make it useless as a history question. I vote to close. A physically fit person, walking around all day with a 60lb pack is tiring, but hardly fatiguing. If guards were rotated on 4 or 6 hour schedule there is no way that they would be fatigued as armor weighed less than a moderately heavy pack and was better distributed weight wise. Mar 21, 2016 at 18:38
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    Well, I'm a complete history novice. I'm trying to gain perspective and I haven't been able to find this topic in traditional venues. Is there any data about how long guard shifts were? Mar 21, 2016 at 19:33
  • 3
    The Swiss Guard of the Pope still wears plate armor for certain occasion, yet they seem to survive it. You may underestimate the fitness level of a trained soldier.
    – Greg
    Mar 22, 2016 at 8:23

3 Answers 3


Normally I would flag a question like this as too broad since it does not define a time period or place.

Nevertheless, here I think we can answer the question by dispelling the misapprehensions you seem to have:

(1) Full plate armor was used between 1350-1600.

(2) It was very expensive and used only by the elite (knights and above).

(3) No "guards" wore plate armor unless someone was so important as to be guarded by knights, which might be, say, a king

(4) Even if a knight were to guard a king, it would be unlikely he would do so wearing plate armor

  • 1
    Thank you for the perspective. So yes, guards wore less armor than knights. Restricting the question to the plate mail era, for some contrast, what kind of armor would guards wear? Would they wear, say, breast plate as a balance between mobility and protection? I appreciate your patience, as I'm very new to this community and your expectations. Mar 21, 2016 at 19:36
  • @Katastoc Voyage - In terms of armor that was worn, quilted armor (gambeson) was relatively common, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gambeson. Note that similar forms of armor were in use since ancient times (Greco-Macedonian linen armor) and across cultures (Greeks, Aztecs, etc).
    – Doug B
    Mar 22, 2016 at 18:27
  • I've tried on a medieval breastplate and backplate at the Tower of London and you'd only wear them if in imminent danger of being hit by an arrow or sword. They were just plates of metal connected by straps which went on your shoulders. Guards wouldn't have been wearing them. Mar 23, 2016 at 16:40

I think it worth noting that the armor suit below was made for King Henry VIII around 1544, when he was old, overweight, and crippled by gout and his jousting injury. For a fit 20 or 30 something soldier to wear such a suit for several hours would have been hot and sweaty, but quite bearable except in the hot summer sun or the cold of winter.

enter image description here

Even for 5'11"" (1.8m) Henry at over 300 lbs (135kg) and enhanced with gold, this suit of armour commissioned for Henry weighs only 50 lbs - roughly half the weight of a modern USMC march pack. Soldiers were more than capable of fighting, running, and even jumping while wearing it. If a guard was of a financial position to afford full plate armour it would most certainly have been worn on duty.

Note however that wearing a jousting helm when not jousting would be unlikely. For general use a helm with more visibility would be in order, as a more suitable trade-off. Even in combat a helm with greater visibility would be preferred.

Note that the Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) marched across much of, if not all, the Anatolian Plateau in full armour - as evidenced by his drowning in hip-deep water after being thrown from his horse, weighed down by said armour.

  • 2
    Note that pound for pound, something like armor, distributed over the entire body, is easier to handle than a pack, which disproportionately strains certain parts of the body.
    – user15620
    Jun 21, 2019 at 17:57
  • Wouldn't drowning in hip deep water imply the armor was exhausting to wear? Dec 31, 2019 at 22:53
  • @KatasticVoyage: Have you ever been thrown from a horse? It happens fast, and if one inhales water at the wrong instant drowning becomes a real threat, particularly before artificial respiration/resuscitation was understood. Dec 31, 2019 at 22:56

I don't have the quotations. But I think I remember that Emperor Maximilian I (died 1519) had a child sized suit of armor made for his grandson the future Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) even though Charles could only use it for a few years.

I think I also read something about ceremonial suits of armor being made for the pages of a 17th century Emperor, probably boys not yet of full stature.

Russian Tsar Peter II (1715-1730) is sometimes depicted in armor, despite dying at the age of 14. Of course he might have been painted in imaginary armor.


This Roman boy in partial armor is possibly Imperator Caesar Marcus Ophelius Diadumenianus Antoninus Augustus (209-218) https://www.google.com/search?q=emperor+diadumen&biw=1280&bih=885&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjwnN3rxtjLAhVFqB4KHVqpAfgQ_AUIBigB#imgrc=5UTiC55CwFtYVM%3A[2]

In short, there is evidence that boys sometimes wore more or less complete armor. So bigger and stronger bodyguards could also do so.

But the medieval guards of an Emperor, king, or noble usually just used normal dress. Often they might be dressed in the ruler's livery colors or have his badge on their clothing or have uniforms in the late medieval period. Body guards might use armor in battle or in fancy ceremonies, but probably not for everyday use.

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