AskDefine | Define cuirass

Dictionary Definition

cuirass n : medieval body armor that covers the chest and back

User Contributed Dictionary



From cuirace.


  1. A piece of defensive armor, covering the body from the neck to the girdle.
    • 1786: The cuirass covered the body before and behind, it consisted of two parts, a breast and back piece of iron, fastened together by means of straps and buckles, or other contrivances. They were originally as the name imports, made of leather, but afterwards of metal, both brass and iron. — Francis Grose, A Treatise on Ancient Armour and Weapons, page 19.
  1. The breastplate taken by itself.

Extensive Definition

Early in the 15th century, the entire panoply of plate, including the cuirass, began to be worn without any surcoat; but in the concluding quarter of the century the short surcoat, with full short sleeves, known as the tabard, was in general use over the armour. At the same time that the disuse of the surcoat became general, small plates of various forms and sizes (and not always made in pairs, the plate for the right or sword-arm often being smaller and lighter than its companion) were attached to the armour in front of the shoulders, to defend the otherwise vulnerable points where the plate defences of the upper-arms and the cuirass left a gap on each side.
About the middle of the century, instead of being formed of a single plate, the breast-plate of the cuirass was made in two parts, the lower adjusted to overlap the upper, and contrived by means of a strap or sliding rivet to give flexibility to this defence. In the second half of the 15th century the cuirass occasionally was superseded by the brigandine jacket, a defence formed of some textile fabric, generally of rich material, lined throughout with overlapping scales (resembling the earlier imbricated form) of metal, which were attached to the jacket by rivets, having their heads, like studs, visible on the outside.
In the 16th century, when occasionally, and by personages of exalted rank, splendid surcoats were worn over the armour, the cuirassits breastpiece during the first half of the century, globular in form was constantly reinforced by strong additional plates attached to it by rivets or screws.
About 1550 the breast-piece of the cuirass was characterized by a vertical central ridge, called the tapul, having near its centre a projecting point; this projection, somewhat later, was brought lower down, and eventually the profile of the plate, the projection having been carried to its base, assumed the singular form which led to this fashion of the cuirass being distinguished as the peascod cuirass.
Corslets provided with both breast and back pieces were worn by foot-soldiers in the 17th century, while their mounted comrades were equipped in heavier and stronger cuirasses; and these defences continued in use after the other pieces of armour, one by one, had gradually been laid aside. Their use, however, never altogether ceased, and in modern armies mounted cuirassiers, armed as in earlier days with breast and back plates, have in some degree emulated the martial splendour of the body armour of the era of medieval chivalry. Both the French and German heavy cavalry were still issued cuirasses leading up to World War I. In the early part of that conflict they painted their cuirasses black and wore canvas protection covers over the neo-roman style helmets.
Some years after Waterloo certain historical cuirasses were taken from their repose in the Tower of London, and adapted for service by the Life Guards and the Horse Guards. For parade purposes, the Prussian Gardes du Corps and other corps wear cuirasses of richly decorated leather.

See also


cuirass in Czech: Kyrys
cuirass in German: Kürass
cuirass in Dutch: Kuras
cuirass in Norwegian: Kyrass
cuirass in Polish: Kirys
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