How did knights in armour go to the toilet?

Full plate armour was brilliant in battle, but a little impractical when it came to using the privy

An empty knight's armor sitting on a chest.

When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, he wore just a long mail shirt, so answering nature’s call was relatively simple.

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It was a very different prospect, however, when Italian and German craftsmen developed full plate armour in the 1400s – which was a boon on the battlefield but vexing for a knight in the latrine.

Suits of armour still didn’t have a metal plate covering the knight’s crotch or buttocks as this made riding a horse difficult, but those areas were protected by strong metal skirts flowing out around the front hips (faulds) and buttocks (culet).

Under this dangled a short chainmail shirt to prevent an enemy jabbing anything sharp upwards between the legs. And beneath that, a knight also wore quilted cotton leggings so his limbs wouldn’t chafe.

But to stop the steel leg plates sliding down painfully onto the ankles, they had to be held up by a waist belt, or by being attached to the torso plate.

While wearing all that, a knight desperate for the toilet would have most likely needed the assistance of his squire to lift or remove the rear culet, so that he could squat down.

The fact, however, that the leg armour was often suspended tightly from the waist belt, worn over the leggings, might have required it to be detached first before a chivalric chap could comfortably drop his trousers.

This would have been a particular nuisance if the knight was suffering from dysentery, so it was likely that he may have simply chosen to soil himself.

Answered by one of our Q&A experts, Greg Jenner

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This article was first published in BBC History Revealed magazine