A medieval knight returns to a Swiss castle after a victorious battle. With a hearty cry, he throws his precious gauntlets to the forge. As he rushes to a celebratory party, they sit out of sight in a dark corner. Shortly afterwards, a fire broke out, the shop was destroyed and the gloves were lost for over 600 years.
OK, so maybe it didn’t happen like that. But maybe it was. When a surprisingly well-preserved piece of armor from so long ago is rediscovered, it’s hard not to speculate a little romantically about its origins.
Demolition work nearby Kyburg Castle, northeast of Zurich, threatened a site known to be the location of a medieval town. A rescue excavation was therefore carried out in winter 2021 and early 2022. “We knew that all archaeological remains in the ground would be destroyed during this construction work,” said Lorena Burkhardt, the head of the excavations.
Excavations uncovered a weaving cellar which had burned down in the 14th century. Much of what was found was prosaic: a hammer, pliers, tweezers, wrenches. But this was enough to indicate that blacksmith work had also been carried out in the area.
And then there was the big find. An almost complete right-handed iron glove from the 14th century, as well as some parts of a left-handed glove. According to Zurich Cantonal Archaeology, the expert body employed by the local government, almost all other gloves discovered over the years date from a later period. announced the discovery this month. And while a few 14th-century pieces have been found in Switzerland, “none of these pieces are as well preserved and exhibit as many design and decorative details as the Kyburg Gauntlet,” the group said.
The glove would probably have been worn by a medieval soldier or knight, but until now it is not clear who wore it and for what purpose.
“We know of tombstones of knights from the 14th century who wore similar gloves,” Ms. Burkhardt said. “Ultimately, however, we cannot say whether the gauntlets were actually made for a knight or for someone else who needed to equip themselves for war.”
But there are clues indicating the high status of the wearer. “What is certain is that the gloves were manufactured to a high standard and the purchase of these pieces of armor was correspondingly expensive,” Ms Burkhardt said. “It is therefore likely that the gloves were intended for a nobleman or other high-ranking person.”
The fingers of the glove bend in four places to allow movement; individual iron plates are superimposed and connected by rivets. The material inside the glove would have been leather or textile.
“It is also remarkable how well preserved the piece is,” Ms Burkhardt said. “With the exception of one break, all iron components of the right hand are fully preserved. »
“The fact that we found the gauntlet plates with these other items indicates that the piece of armor was made in the forge,” Ms. Burkhardt said. “It is also possible that it was in the workshop for repair, although we have not yet been able to detect any obvious damage or traces of repair.”
The glove will be on display at Kyburg Castle for three weeks in September. “We are only at the beginning of research into the object,” Ms. Burkhardt said.
Even when such an exceptional discovery is made, not all historical questions are answered. Assumptions and sometimes captions are used to fill in the blanks.
The most famous Swiss knight of the time was Heinrich von Winkelried. Although records show that a knight of that name did exist, the story that he single-handedly slew a dragon with a spear is of course not true. And the recently found glove certainly did not belong to him.