Spanish Conquistador armor – defensive Conquistador weapons used by Spanish cavalry and infantry in the New World including Conquistador helmets, shields and body armor.
The Spanish Conquistador army was by no means a uniform, state subsidized military body. These were tough fighting men, many of whom were veterans of the European battlefield, but they were also individualists. While respect for order and rank was inherent, these soldiers were none-the-less a mixed bag of adventurers and fortune-seekers.
What type of weapon a Conquistador wielded often depended upon his personal wealth as much as his rank. While the wealthy and members of the nobility could afford the finest Conquistador weapons, horses and armor, the average soldier would make do with what he could afford or acquire during his career. Few Spanish Conquistadors would look the same when dressed for battle.
Spanish Conquistador Armor – Body Armor of the Conquistador Infantry
Full suits of armor were uncommon amongst the Spanish Conquistadors for a number of reasons. The supply of metal armor, especially in the early stages of the conquest, was limited to the weaponry brought from Europe. Most of the soldiers could not afford full plate armor, particularly the infantry. However, many foot soldiers preferred to fight without full armor due to the greater freedom of movement allowed.
For those in possession of full armor the hot and humid climate of the New World posed a new obstacle. Not only did the humidity promote rust, heavy full plate armor was also uncomfortable and energy-sapping in the heat. Most foot soldiers were content with sleeveless chainmail vests – the Jacqueta de Mala or longer Cota de Mala – leaving the limbs largely exposed.
Due to both armor shortages and practical considerations, many Spanish Conquistadors soon adopted the native armor used by Aztec and Inca warriors. In Mexico, Cortez had quilted cotton jackets made for his men, copying the standard form of Aztec body armor. This thick cotton armor was surprisingly effective against both projectile and close-range weaponry, while being light-weight and perfectly suited to the climate. Leather jackets were also used as basic torso protection.
Spanish Conquistador Armor – Conquistador Cavalry
Those Spanish Conquistadors who could afford horses could also afford high-quality full plate armor. Conquistador knights, relying on their horses for both mobility and speed, could also bear the weight of heavy armor. As the most effective troops available to the Spanish in the New World, these mounted troops could often turn a battle through shock tactics.
Being heavily armored was vital in order to successfully charge the enemy under a hail of arrows, stones and spears. Not all mounted soldiers were equally protected, but most would have worn more armor than standard infantry. Steel breastplates were preferred over chainmail alone, while a knight could also afford to protect his limbs with further plate or chainmail armor.
Spanish Conquistador Armor – Conquistador Helmets
One of the most important parts of a Conquistador’s armor was his helmet. Native armies used a fearsome combination of long-range weaponry and close-range smashing weapons. Aztec and Inca weaponry relied heavily upon slings and arrows at a distance, while closing with hardwood clubs and bludgeoning weapons.
A strong metal helmet was invaluable. While many Spaniards were left to acquire their own body armor, or adapt to the use of native equipment, Cortez had simple metal helmets manufactured for his men in Cuba.
Spanish steel, and Spanish armor, was some of the finest available in the world. But, as with body armor, quality helmets were something of a luxury for the Conquistadors. Simple, often outdated, helmets were common, though these were still technologically superior to native head protection.
Conquistador helmets were based largely around the simple chapel de fer (or war hat) design, a metal helmet offering protection to the head and neck. Common variations included the salade and later the domed cabasset and burgonet. Traditionally, Spanish knights favored a closed helmet in order to protect against opposing cavalry lances. The absence of mounted enemies in the New World made the use of open-faced, lighter helmets more popular.
The standard Conquistador shield was circular, slightly convex (to deflect blows) and approximately two feet in diameter. While the sturdiest shields were made of metal, others were made of wood or heavy ox hide. Some shields had a metal spike protruding from the center offering a basic offensive capability.