15th Century Portuguese Armour III – The War Hat

Dada a extensão deste artigo, achei por bem publicar as versões inglesa e portuguesa em separado. Para a versão portuguesa, cliquem aqui.

Fads and trends come and go, but the war hat (also known as a kettle hat) is eternal – so much so that, in its basic form, it survived well into the 20th century. Today’s post takes a look at the war hat, a piece of head protection often (and wrongly) considered a poorer cousin to other medieval helmets, and how it was used in Portugal during the late 15th century.

War Hats: A Brief Introduction

For such an enduring typology of helmet, the history of the medieval war hat can be summarised rather quickly. Though similar types of helmet had been used in Antiquity, war hats as we know them sprung up somewhen in the second half of the 12th century [1]. Early war hats were built much like Spangenhelms: a skullcap made of riveted bands of iron or steel with a brim attached along its lower edge. This method of construction, which survived well into the 14th century, was quickly joined by a whole host of other types and shapes. By the mid-13th century, period sources show one-piece semispherical skulls with attached brims, Spangenhelm-like war hats, bucket-shaped war hats, and other, more peculiar shapes, such as the short-brimmed Iberian capelina [2]. War hats might in fact be the single most varied type of helmet throughout the entire Late Middle Ages.

Left: detail of a spearman wearing a war hat, from the sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, folio 2r (ca. 1230); Centre: man-at-arms wearing a one-piece war hat, detail from a Resurrection miniature (ca. 1230-1250); Right: detail of Goliath from the Morgan Bible, folio 28v (ca. 1250).
Reconstruction of Charles VI of France’s gilded war hat on display at the Louvre.

At their most basic, war hats are brimmed hats made of iron or steel. Because they are relatively inexpensive pieces of equipment, quick and easy to produce in large quantities to outfit an army, they became commonly associated with foot soldiers and infantry in general. Though they don’t shield the face itself, they afford a high degree of protection from missiles and blows from above, whilst simultaneously keeping the sun away from their wearers’ eyes and allowing for unimpeded sight and breathing. Yet, far from being a ‘poor man’s’ helmet, this versatility, as well as their simple but highly customisable base design, explains why war hats (cascos, chapéus-de-armas, capacetes or barretas in 15th century Portuguese [3]) were also worn by knights, men-at-arms, and even kings. Charles VI of France had a gilded chapel de fer, discovered in pieces during construction works in the Louvre’s Cour Carré in 1984 [4], whilst King D. João I of Portugal supervised preparations for the assault on the city of Ceuta in 1415 ‘(…) assy com huũa cota uestida e com huũa barreta na cabeça e a sua espada çimta’ [5]. Suffice it to say that, as a typology, war hats were just as beloved as other contemporary helmets – not as prestigious, perhaps, but certainly just as practical and dignified.

War Hats Galore

Like most other pieces of armour, late 15th century war hats tended to fall into several regional categories. To try and list every available type of war hat, every regional variation, would be an exercise in futility and frustration (prime material for a PhD, in short). Unlike other types of helmet, such as sallets or armets, several different styles of war hat could be found in the same region at the same time, older styles mixed with newer styles, extravagant one-offs side by side with run-of-the-mill designs. However, some designs arose which are more commonly found, or associated with, certain areas of Europe. These included:

Capacete (ca. 1470), Royal Armouries,

Iberian War Hats – The (stereo)typical Iberian war hat was the capacete (in Portuguese and Castilian) or cabasset (in Aragonese), worn throughout the entire peninsula [6]. Capacetes are characterised by their wide brims with slight medial keels at front and back of the helmet, along with sharp medial ridges and – present often but not always – tall, rather almond-shaped skulls, usually ending in a small stalk-like projection, swept back. Capacetes were mostly made in Castile, especially Burgos, and Aragon, around the area of Calatayud [7].

War hat, probably Burgundian or Flemish (ca. 1475), Metropolitan Museum of Art, 04.3.228.

Burgundian War Hats – Some of the most distinctive features of Burgundian war hats (or, war hats invariably associated with Northern France, Burgundy and Flanders) are fluted skulls and long brims, which fall at a very close angle along the sides and the back of the wearer’s head and neck and therefore afford a greater degree of protection that other war hat. Another common style of Burgundian war hat, very similar to the Iberian capacete, featured a pear-shaped skull topped by a very thick, very pronounced stalk [8].

War hat, Southern German (ca. 1460), Churburg Collection (?).

German War Hats – Some of the most well-known types of Eisenhut (lit. ‘iron hat’) in German-speaking lands have rounded, somewhat bulbous skulls and long, low brims flaring out, so low that they cover a substantial portion of the wearer’s face and sight. For this reason, war hats of this type were often fitted with narrow eyeslits just below the base of the skull, as per the example on the right [9]. War hats of this type were usually worn with tall bevors, to fully enclose the face in steel.

As stated, this is but a limited sampling of available styles of war hat in 15th century Europe, which ignores overlaps and similarities in design – the aforementioned kinship between some Burgundian war hats and capacetes, for example; the German-style war hat could be found in Scandinavia as well as in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, it is necessary we are aware of some of these designs to see how war hats worn in Portugal compared to them.

The War Hat in Portugal

War hats are, along with sallets, the most popular type of helmet worn in 15th century Portugal. Municipal and royal ordinances are filled with ‘gibanetes com (…) capacetes com suas babeiras’ [10] required of those deemed wealthy enough to serve with them. It’s easy to understand why, given their low cost but also, and more importantly, their suitability to war in Northern Africa, the largest and most frequent theatre of war the Portuguese found themselves in.

For our period, there were two main types or styles of war hat worn in Portugal. The most common of these can be seen in the Pastrana Tapestries, in the Santa Clara Tryptich, and in many other late 15th and early 16th century Portuguese works of art: it consists of a plain skull, drawn to a point (a central apex), with either a very subtle medial ridge or no ridge at all , and a medium-to-shortish brim angled rather close to the head – what I shall refer to as a barreta. The brims are either softly keeled or often straight all along the circumference of the helmet, with no ridge even if the skull has one.

Left: detail of the Santa Clara Triptych (ca. 1480); Centre: detail from Assault on Asilah (ca. 1475); Right: detail of the stained glass Triptych of the Passion at the Monastery of Batalha (ca. 1514).

These helmets were fastened beneath the chin using either a single strap or a Y-shaped strap, both types attested to in iconography. This same overall design, but without a point and with a smooth, tight-fitting skull, is seen just as frequently in the Tapestries and in other sources:

Left: detail of the Siege of Asilah  (ca. 1475); Centre: war hat, crowned with a laurel wreath, from the effigy of Duarte de Meneses (ca. 1464) [all rights of the photo belong to Hugo Carriço]; Right: Saint George, detail of a series of frescoes from the church of Santa Maria do Castelo in Abrantes (late 15th century) [all rights of the photo belong to the Tubbuci association].

Much like the sallets shown in the Tapestries, these barretas could feature a wild array of decorative techniques. Rivets, either brass or gilded, abound – most of them domed or mushroom-headed rivets, alongside other shapes (diamond rivets, flower rivets). Particularly exuberant examples from the Tapestries feature brass edging and appliqués, sometimes simulating fluting (almost definitely influenced by Burgundian fashion), and plenty of fabric coverings. As with sallets, too, there are many examples in Portuguese art of war hats with plume holders, as well as ‘pangolin tails’ (small metal lames) to better protect the nape of the neck.

Left: war hat with a small crest/finial, decorative brass sunrays and apliqués along the brim, detail of the Siege of Asilah  (ca. 1475); Centre: fabric-covered war hat, with gilded plume-holder, detail from Siege of Asilah (ca. 1475); Right: Decorated war hat with plume holder, flower rivets, brass apliqués, and a ‘pangolin tail’ , detail from The Taking of Tangier (ca. 1475).

The second type of war hat commonly found in Portugal was the capacete (strictu sensu, i.e. the Iberian capacete), which the Portuguese were almost as fond of as the other Iberian kingdoms. Some of the only surviving late 15th century Portuguese helmets are capacetes, including Duarte de Almeida’s, [11] and a capacete and bevor in Lisbon’s Military Museum (stamped with the crow’s foot mark of Calatayud armourers) [12]. Unlike war hats, capacetes weren’t normally covered with fabric (if ever). Decoratively, they were often limited to a metal band around the base of the skull (usually brass, plain or gilded) or, in some more extravagant examples, appliqués to the brim [13]. Capacete crests tended towards the small side, in keeping with their subtle stalks [14]. Additionaly, I could find no examples of capacetes fitted with ‘pangolin tails’, which their longer brims with pronounced rear keel might have precluded.

Portuguese ginetes with barretas and Castilian-style bevors. Detail from Appearance of the Virgin to a Master of the Order of Santiago (ca. 1520-1525).

War Hats and Bevors

War hats, like sallets, were often paired with bevors (babeira or barbote in Portuguese) as well as maille standards. This was a matter of course with war hats: although solid and capable of withstanding any weapons thrown at them, strikes to the unprotected face and neck could be still deadly. It was therefore necessary to cover these gaps with other pieces.

There was no substantial difference between bevors worn with sallets or war hats – they remained the same one-piece or multi-lame affairs we see in the Tapestries. However, by the end of the century, the Castilian habit of pairing war hats with long bevors with eyeslits seems to have taken root in Portugal. Portuguese art from the Manueline period (the reign of king D. Manuel I, 1495 to 1521) often shows barretas (but not capacetes) paired with this long Castilian bevor.

War Hats in Reenactment

Much like their historical counterparts, war hats are a versatile and cheap choice in reenactment. They also look deceptively simple. Because of that, it’s common to see reenactors trying to pass their 14th century war hats as 15th century ones – it’s just an iron hat, after all. Well, the devil is very much in the details, even if the basic shape remains somewhat unchanged for a century or two.This is also the reason why even some veteran reenactors will occasionally buy them on the cheap from, shall we say, less than stellar makers, to then retrofit and improve by installing proper liners, removing shoddy leatherwork, replacing rivets, etc.. A cheap war hat isn’t cheap because of its cheap fittings, however; it’s cheap in spite of them. War hats need a keen eye for detail and proper proportion (especially skull shape, brim width, keels, and angles), and the more complex the hat, the keener the eye that is needed. So don’t fall for Indian mass produced rubbish dished out by the hundreds: any reputable armourer can make you a proper war hat, and it won’t break the bank either.

Case in point: my war hat, made by Roman Furájtar (my sincere thanks to him). The design was based on several hats from the Tapestries as well as a soupçon from extant pieces, such as the Royal Armouries’ IV.532, and the MET’s no. 14.25.582 [15]. Now, fair warning, a shortcut was used: I asked Roman to make it in two welded halves. I won’t dodge the tomatoes and the rotten fruit. I will say that I wouldn’t have gone down this path – which I tend to rail against as a rule – hadn’t I seen firsthand Roman’s ability with this method of work, the end result of which is almost indistinguishable from a war hat raised from a single piece of steel (you almost need a magnifying glass to see any traces of a weld).

My barreta. Notice the small black spots left over from the polishing stage. Details like these add a lot of authenticity and character.
Inside view of the war hat, showing the liner and the chin strap.

As with any custom-made piece of armour, the design process involved a lot of research and a lot of dialogue with the armourer, to make sure every detail was in place. The angle and size of the brim offered some initial difficulty, but we got to a satisfying result quickly enough. I decided this war hat should have an almost vestigial medial ridge which doesn’t quite reach the brim, to lend it a certain air of a munitions-grade piece that had been polished and finished off with nice fittings. The savings made on having the war hat itself made in two halves were somewhat offset by these other details, including the brass mushroom rivets, and the historically accurate liner (made out of historical materials and sewn in place by hand by Tomasz Tomecki of AD1410 fame). The final tally, for a stunning and historicaly correct piece that had to pass through at least six countries to get to my hands, was around 450€ (including postage costs from all these trips). Source your makers correctly, know exactly what you want to have made and what they can do, and war hats might just be the cheapest yet best late 15th century helmet you can get.

[1] See Blair, C. (1972). European Armour: circa 1066 to 1700. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., p. 32.

[2] Seen in abundance in the manuscripts of the Cantigas de Santa Maria. There is some debate regarding the differences between capelinas and other types of 13th century war hat in Iberia (see for example Bruhn de Hoffmeyer, A. (1982). Arms & Armour in Spain: A Short Survey, Volume 2. Madrid: Editorial CSIC, p. 144-149). Capelinas, which appeared in the early 13th century, were direct adaptations of the old capelo, or nasal helmet; they were, in essence, capelos with an added brim. By the mid-14th century, other types of war hat had replaced the capelina, but the name lingered on – in Portugal, it was only replaced by barreta in the early 15th century.

[3] See Agostinho, P. (2012). Vestidos para matar: o armamento de guerra na cronística portuguesa de quatrocentos. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra, pp. 76-78. As with capelinas and other terms, it can sometimes be confusing to know the specificities behind each word. Casco and capacete are generic terms for ‘helmet’ in Portuguese, whilst barreta and chapéu-de-armas specifically mean war hats. Agostinho states that barreta and chapéu-de-armas are synonyms. I would posit further that barreta is linked with a specific type of 15th century war hat – one with a round, semi spherical skull and a rather short brim, in emulation of a barrete (a cap similar to a contemporary bucket hat). Compare the many depictions of war hats in this post with the hat in the portrait of King João I, in Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art.

[4] See Vaivre, J. (1991). “Deux défenses de tête de Charles VI”, in Bulletin Monumental, 1 (149), pp. 91-100.

[5] ‘Thus armed with a hauberk and a war hat on his head and a sword at his waist’ [my translation]. In Zurara, G. (1915). Crónica da Tomada de Ceuta por El Rei D. João I. Lisboa: Academia das Sciências de Lisboa, p. 195.

[6] Capacetes are often discussed separately from war hats, as if some exotic typology unto itself. Though several variations of capacete exist, they still fall under the war hat supercategory, sharing the same basic construction principles and uses with all other regional and stylistic variations.

[7] On armour production in Calatayud, see Tarradelas, V. (2015). Calatayud, Cuna de Armeros. Calatayud: Centro de Estudios Bilbilitanos/Institución «Fernando el Católico».

[8] As depicted, for example, in the beautiful Burgundian manuscript of Bocaccio’s Teseida held at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek. One particularly good and extant specimen of this style, probably a leftover of Charles the Bold’s siege of 1474-75, was found outside the city of Neuss, and it’s currently kept in the Clemens-Sels Museum in Neuss (featured in Matthias Goll’s thesis, arm_ref_2094).

[9] These war hats share some similarities – added depth and eyeslits – with German-style sallets, such as objects no. 14.25.576 or 04.3.229 at the MET, or objects no. IV.410 and IV.429 at the Royal Armouries, to name a few.

[10] ‘Brigandine with (…) its war hat with its bevor’ [my translation]. As recorded in the book of Álvaro Lopes de Chaves, secretary to King D. Afonso V and King D. João II, in Chaves, A. (1984). Livro de Apontamentos (1438-1489). Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional Casa da Moeda, p. 56. This is but one example of a recurring formula (brigandine with war hat and bevor) in contemporary documentation.

[11] Kept in Toledo Cathedral, along with the surviving elements of Almeida’s harness. Lime most other capacetes, Almeida’s is stamped with Calatayud’s crow’s foot mark. For details, and especially good pictures of the marks, see La Rocca, D. (2011). “Afonso ‘the African’ and his Army: The Pastrana Tapestries as a Visual Encyclopedia for the Study of Arms and Armour”. In Ibarra, M. A. de B. (2011). The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries, p. 31.

[12] Published in Barroca, M. J. and Monteiro, J. G. (Coords.) (2000). Pera Guerrejar – Armamento Medieval no Espaço Português. Palmela: Câmara Municipal de Palmela, pp. 253-254.

[13] Two good examples of this is are the capacete from Teruel’s Provincial Museum, with an apliqué rope design applied to the brim, and the mysterious black capacete of Spain’s Real Academia de la Historia, inv. no. 673 (see Rodríguez, J. (2006). Antigüedades Medievales. Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia , pp. 85-86; 192-195).

[14] A good example of this is King Fernando II’s capacete at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Viena (Hofjagd- und Rüstkammer, A 645), from ca. 1490, made in Calatayud, topped by a very small crest in the shape of a cross.

[15] I have yet to ascertain why this particular war hat is classed as ‘probably from the 17th century’. Nevertheless, it shares almost every feature with the barretas shown in the Tapestries, which goes to show how basic and enduring war hats really are.


Agostinho, P. (2012). Vestidos para matar: o armamento de guerra na cronística portuguesa de quatrocentos. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra

Barroca, M. J. and Monteiro, J. G. (Coords.) (2000). Pera Guerrejar – Armamento Medieval no Espaço Português. Palmela: Câmara Municipal de Palmela

Blair, C. (1972). European Armour: circa 1066 to 1700. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd.

Bruhn de Hoffmeyer, A. (1982). Arms & Armour in Spain: A Short Survey, Volume 2. Madrid: Editorial CSIC

La Rocca, D. (2011). “Afonso ‘the African’ and his Army: The Pastrana Tapestries as a Visual Encyclopedia for the Study of Arms and Armour”. In Ibarra, M. A. de B. (2011). The Invention of Glory: Afonso V and the Pastrana Tapestries, pp. 29-41

Mann, J. (1933). “Notes on the armour worn in Spain from the tenth to the fifteenth century” in Archaeologia, V. 83,  pp. 285-305. London: Society of Antiquaries of London

Riquer, M. (2011). – L’Arnès del Cavaller. Barcelona: La Magrana

Rodríguez, J. (2006). Antigüedades Medievales. Madrid: Real Academia de la Historia

Tarradelas, V. (2015). Calatayud, Cuna de Armeros. Calatayud: Centro de Estudios Bilbilitanos/Institución «Fernando el Católico»

Vaivre, J. (1991). “Deux défenses de tête de Charles VI”, in Bulletin Monumental, 1 (149), pp. 91-100

Zurara, G. (1915). Crónica da Tomada de Ceuta por El Rei D. João I. Lisboa: Academia das Sciências de Lisboa


Honnecourt, V. (ca. 1230). Album de dessins et croquis. Paris: Bibliothèque nationale de France, BNF Français 10903. Retrieved from https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b10509412z/f5.item.r=villard%20de%20honnecourt.

Maciejowski Bible (ca. 1250). New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, M.638.

Master of Lourinhã (ca. 1520-1525).  Appearance of the Virgin to a Master of the Order of Santiago  [oil on oak wood]. Lisbon: Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Unknown master (ca. 1475). Siege of Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Siege_of_Asilah_(Cerco_de_Arcila)

Unknown master (ca. 1475). Disembarkation in Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Disembarkation_in_Asilah_(Desembarco_en_Arcila)

Unknown master (ca. 1475). The Taking of Tangier [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/The_taking_of_Tangier_(Toma_de_T%C3%A1nger)

Unknown master (ca. 1475). Assault on Asilah [wool and silk]. Tapestry. Pastrana: Parish Tapestry Museum. Retrieved from http://tapestries.flandesenhispania.org/index.php/Assault_on_Asilah_(Asalto_de_Arcila)

Unknown master (ca. 1514).  Triptych of the Passion  [stained glass]. Batalha: Monastery of Batalha

Unknown master (ca. 1230-1250). Resurrection [tempera and ink on parchment]. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 25.204.3. Retrieved from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/170006543

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