What is a buff coat exactly

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What is a buff coat exactly

Postby bigdummy » 26 Oct 2008 20:47

I find a lot of contradictory information on this. Were they made of buffalo leather, whale skin or or regular cow hide? How far back were they used, do they really go back to the Renaissance as some encyclopedias claim, or are they confusing leather and textile armor? Were they effective protection against swords? If so why do they seem to work better than leather in modern tests?

Does anyone know of leather armor in widespread use in Europe before the 17th century, and / or of leather armor (including cured leather) which has proven to be effective protection against swords, arrows, spears etc. in modern testing?

BD
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Postby bigdummy » 26 Oct 2008 20:53

This is some cuir bouilli armor which somebody sent me photos of from Myarmoury a couple of years ago (I can't remember who i'm somewhat ashamed to admit now) it is supposed to be from Italy dated during the Renaissance.

Image

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Postby swordflasher » 26 Oct 2008 23:46

I'd like to know too.

I'd assumed a buff coat was just a coat of undyed leather or suede.
I didn't realise it was some kind of leather armour.
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Postby Phil C » 27 Oct 2008 00:17

Off the top of my head-

David Edge is your man for this- he has several threads about the topic on myarmoury.

Buff(alo) is shoulder hide cow leather and became popular in the C17 underneath armour, as a means of protecting clothes from the armour and almost as a sort of gambeson- filling in the gaps where the armour would be too restrictive. This leather is treated and goes from a whitish colour in its natural state( almost like rawhide) into an ochre yellow form.

As armour diminished it then became a form of armour in its own right with many and various forms but mostly a take on a sort of long skirted coat- the flexibility to wear it coming form using differing thicknesses of leather , multiple overlapping layers and skilful tailoring. Some Spanish examples have buff bodies(sleeveless examples are known in the UK) with elaborate velvet sleeves to give a hint of fashion as well as displaying wealth.

Debates rages as to how available they were due to cost as accounts vary from a reasonably affordable price to exorbitant. The most famous of which being that the dead of the London regiments could be identified as they wore buffcoats who were noted for being wealthy men and supplying their own kit. I can think of no examples of them worn in a "civilian" setting as any form of privy armour.

The oddest thing about them is that they just "apear" in fully formed use with no transitional phase. Light textile and leather covered armour was known in the C16th as a cover for jacks o' plait, jacks and some brigandines but these were composite material forms with leather as an outer layer and full harness would be worn straight over clothes as it was self supporting and required no arming points etc that earlier harness did. The idea of using a full thickness leather armour seems to have no start point though David Edge has the earliest known account of one worn at the late C16th where a man is recorded as surviving an injury due to having worn a buffcoat. The only thing to rival it was a fellow who made a load of silk layered gambesons for his men- however they were made out of pink cloth, due to be all that was available, and his men refused to wear them!

In terms of protection they are excellent- able to bounce pistol shot and deflect swordcuts easily. A well made example (either made by Mark Beabey or Sarah Juniper) is a marvel to behold unfortunately many reproductions sold and used by C17th reenactors are little more than soft leather costume.

Expect to pay around £600 for a decent one. It will take years of wearing to break in too, and some Scots accounts show that they have a distinct dislike in the rain- though the ochre treatment ought to limit the softening effects of being soaked.
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Postby bigdummy » 27 Oct 2008 02:20

Thanks very much Phil, this is very interesting.

What I don't grasp is what is it about buff coats that made them so much more effective than other forms of (all) leather armor ? I don't seem to find much evidence of leather armor being used in Europe really, though you do see it in Asia as lamellar.

Is it just that they became so sophisticated in tailoring as to be able to put the thick layers where they were needed and still retain flexibility ...integrating the whole thing into a single seamless garment?

And ... nothing to do with buffalo or whale hide then, it's just cow leather right?

BD
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Postby Phil C » 27 Oct 2008 09:38

Just cow leather- yes.

They are an enigma exactly because they seem to just "appear" from a period or centuries long tradition of very little or no leather armour and in a pattern that seemingly has no real precedent in fashion or armour.

They are not seamless- in fact they are covered in seams though the thickness of the leather allows more closed and butted seams that removes the unsightly and uncomfortable ridges that could arise from sewing them together, and there are forms that are more complicated than others in their construction but essentially they overcome the inflexibility of the buff through tailoring- layering, multiple parts, cut outs and curved sleeves etc

You can see how they work as reproductions here-
http://www.wallershorse.co.uk/index.html
http://www.vanessatreasure.co.uk/boutiq ... r_buff.htm
and here Sarah shows a buff doublet that I like but have seen no provenance for ( though it's probably in art somewhere, knowing that she doesn't make stuff up)-
http://www.sarahjuniper.co.uk/17c.html

As to why they were succesful- who knows?

Maybe a long tradition of non-armour wearing leading to people not having trained to ride wearing the stuff, it being perceived as archaic, just not available in great quantities, minimal people to maintain it, massive changes in military tactics, especially in the use of cavalry and firearms coming from the Swedish and continental wars meaning that actual contact was minimal preferring to "longball" with shot and ride away rather than get in close and smash the opposition's lines and so on.

All things that require lighter and more servicable armour.
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