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Imagine the following situation: a late 16th century knight loses his horse in a battle and is forced to flee into a forest to escape capture. He lost all his weapons but still has his plate on (a full set from head to feet). Will this aspect save him from an animal attack?

(For the sake of keeping this narrow, let's consider that only the following will attack him: A pack of wolves, a bear, a snake.)

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    $\begingroup$ Many a spanish soldier ventured in the jungle with plate armor, steel helmet and sword looking for El Dorado. They died by the dozens due to snake bites, jaguar and aligator attacks, and fearsomest of them all, malaria-carrying mosquitoes. $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 12 at 9:58
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    $\begingroup$ Mostly yes because wolfs and bears (if not very hungry) would avoid a clunking, shiny strange looking thing. $\endgroup$ – SZCZERZO KŁY Jun 12 at 10:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft you don't always wear plate armor and a steel helmet. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jun 12 at 11:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft "Life is not a Dungeons&Dragons game." Citation needed. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jun 12 at 21:22
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRichardson: the evidence is admittedly circumstantial, but the lack of magic items, a distinct dearth of gold coinage, and a shortage of spell-casting mages tends to imply that we do not live in a D&D game. As always, however, I reserve the right to be wrong should better evidence be produced. $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis Jun 12 at 22:02
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First of all, a note: late 16th century is a bit of a late time for plate armor. High-end armor of that time would already be designed with firearms in mind, which means a thicker cuirass with reduced mail and plate coverage to save weight. By that time, plate was also widely available to infantry, so doesn't at all imply cavalry or knighthood.

Generally, plate armor is designed to protect you from sharp things coming from the usual directions in combat. Where protection is not necessary, comfort takes priority, so it's not a solid second skin.

A pack of wolves will surround the victim and keep biting the limbs - which have limited armor coverage. The back of the legs, in 16th century plate armor, would very likely be unprotected or covered only by leather, which can be bitten through.

However, plate armor was commonly worn as an addition to mail, especially by cavalry, and older mail cuisses with total coverage would still be found in the 16th century. Mail is so effective against bites that it's used to this day for shark filming (or, sadly, trolling them to please the tourists).

If the knight is actually fighting back, he will likely be able to fight off the wolves (till they flee), and reliably so if wearing a mail layer. The plate armor will mostly just make him sweat more.

Bear claws and teeth can also be resisted by mail and plate, but bears can be quite large. Medieval armor offers limited resistance against full-body crushing blows. The bear will be able to break the knight's limbs, crush his chest, damage muscle with bites even through mail, and cause death through internal bleeding. Unless the bear is scared away or killed, armor is not sufficient protection.

Finally, a venomous snake has little respect for chivalry. While they won't attack unless disturbed, most venomous snakes are small and hard to notice, and there's plenty of holes in the armor. Just like in ancient tales, the mighty knight will fall to the snake.

That is, if exhaustion and thirst don't get him first.

P.S. Regarding exhaustion, infantry armor was designed to support marching in it for weeks. Modern weight-accurate reproductions are very comfortable to spend days in. A knight's armor is less comfortable for long walks, but a forest offers some shade. So it's possible and likely that one would keep their armor, since it wasn't easily replaceable, unless doing so was an immediate threat to their life.

P.P.S. This answer implies that the specified animals attack and persist in their attack. In reality, a walk in a European forest wouldn't present much danger. Most predators don't wake up with "Attack another predator, preferably an elite fighter of their species" on their to-do list for the day. Now, stranded in the Taiga or the Amazon... but the real danger would be mosquitoes and other insects, not large predators.

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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft Actually infantry pattern plate armor is very comfortable for walking. Not shirt and pants, but it takes very little time to forget how much weight you're wearing. Now, running in it, even just a mile.... the first 5 or 6 times I literally wished I was dead. $\endgroup$ – Therac Jun 12 at 11:39
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    $\begingroup$ @John You only protect what you need to protect, and you don't want to rub metal plate against your steed. Late 16th century cavalry armor will likely leave part of the lower leg exposed. Also, I was accounting for the full range of activities, walking-gathering-sitting-sleeping etc. $\endgroup$ – Therac Jun 12 at 12:01
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    $\begingroup$ @Rekesoft Weight-wise, you're looking at about 20kg vs 25kg in total, mostly because cavalry could get away with more padding and under-layers. It's the way infantry armor is supported and articulated (or mostly just attached to the mail and harness) that makes the difference. Armor was designed for comfort first (even more so than today), specifically to allow for spending days in it. A knight stranded on foot would probably begin with ditching some layers of the padding, which is cheap to replace, and which incidentally is most of his protection against animals. $\endgroup$ – Therac Jun 12 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ Wolf attacks are rare. They were more common in Europe than America but still rather rare. If the wolves bite and hurt their teeth on armor they might decide to give up -or not. An armored man could probably kick or strangle a wolf to death, which might deter them. A bear could knock an armored man around enough to hurt him, or might give up. A vemonous snake would only strike once or a few times and might not find a chink in the armor. A giant constrictor would probably not be able to suffocate the armored man. $\endgroup$ – M. A. Golding Jun 12 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @M.A.Golding : No predator in Europe will seek out humans to prey on them. The (very rare) cases of animal attacks on humans happen when a human stumbles too close upon an animal, and the animal is startled and attacks in self-defense. Even in almost every case of bear attacks on humans, the human survives, because once the bear knocked a man to the ground and no longer sees him as a threat, it simply runs away. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 13 at 4:49
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IMHO an unarmored man, let alone a armored man, would be rather safe, but not totally, walking through a forest in Europe. There were people too poor to afford any armor who worked in forests and spent all their time there, after all. And a man would be less safe walking through some forests in other continents.

Wolf attacks are rare in Europe and even more so in America, but they do happen and wolves do kill and eat humans. But even the Beast of Gevadaun supposedly killed only one unarmored man, the rest of the victims being women and children, and some unarmored women and children managed to fight it off. Most of the victims were children, guarding flocks of sheep, who were used to chasing off ordinary wolves with dogs and stones, and weren't prepared for a child-eating wolf at first.

An armored man should be able to kick or strangle a wolf to death. There are lots of dead branches lying around in most forests so the armored man could pick up a branch and club a wolf. Thus an armored man could probably beat off a lone wolf attack.

A rabid wolf would run around biting animals and objects and would attack an armored man. The armored man could probably kill or drive off a rabid wolf as easily as a normal wolf, but might possibly get rabies from touching any saliva on the armor later.

When really hungry, a wolf pack will attack large and dangerous and/or unfamiliar prey, so wolf packs can, and sometimes do, attack men. The wolves would find an armored man to be really hard to bite. Would they give up or keep trying to kill him?

Wolf hunting was a sport for European nobility and royalty. Louis the Grand Dauphin (1661-1711), son of Louis XIV, is credited with killing over a thousand wolves in his lifetime. His relatives, including women and children, also hunted wolves.

Bear attacks are rare, but do happen sometimes.

Even the smallest species of bears is large enough to kill a man, though many people survive bear attacks with various amounts of wounds. The brown bears in Europe are larger and stronger than American black bears, being Ursus arctos, the same species as the dreaded grizzly bear in North America.

Nobles in Europe often hunted bears for sport, and probably worn less than full plate armor for protection. For example, Emperor Louis IV (1282-1347) died of a stroke during a bear hunt aged 65.

Even though the largest European brown bears should be as strong as grizzly bears I find it hard to believe that they could break or dent steel armor. But a brown bear could knock an armored man around a lot and he could get really banged up inside his armor if his padding wasn't good enough. So a bear attack could injure or kill an armored man even though the claws would never touch his flesh. But I don't know what the odds would be.

A venomous snake would bite if stepped on or startled, but would only strike once or a few times, and its fangs would be unlikely to penetrate a chink in the armor. If the armored knight noticed the snake he could stomp on it, kick it away, or jump out of reach of the snake.

A giant tropical constrictor snake wouldn't be able to suffocate the armored knight and might cut itself on the sharper edges some armor had. In the worse case, the snake could die wrapped around the armored knight and the knight might be trapped there and starve to death.

The largest herbivores found in some, repeat some, European forests in your time frame could knock around an armored man a lot, more than a bear could, and might injure or kill him from being banged around inside the armor.

But all in all, a typical European forest in your time frame would be fairly - but not completely - safe for a man without armor to walk through, especially if he was being hunted by human enemies outside, and even safer - but not completely safe - for an armored man.

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    $\begingroup$ European forests are, and were, even safer than that. Humans have hunted so many animals to extinction even in ancient times, that only those survived who developed an instinctive fear of humans. Almost no wild animal (and absolutely no wild animal in Europe) seeks out humans to attack them. They don't behave like in most video games. Currently Romania has one of the biggest bear and wolf populations in Europe, and there was one single deadly bear attack during the past few decades, when earlier this year a drunken man started actively harassing a bear. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 13 at 4:39
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    $\begingroup$ ... there are a few non-deadly attacks every year, but in none of them did the bear actively seek out to attack humans: either tourists wanted to play with cubs and their mother got defensive, shepherds tried to chase away a bear attacking their flock, or people blindly stumbled into a bear's hiding place. My grandfather worked in the forest almost his entire life, and he met with bears three times in total. In all three cases the bear ran away as soon as they noticed each other. He never ever met a single wolf. Wolves notice you from much further away than you notice them, and run away. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 13 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ @M. A. Golding solid answer but just to clarify one thing, you don't get rabies from touching rabid saliva you need blood contact with it or well... put it in your mouth. $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jun 13 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ @vsz You seem to have missed a very dangerous animal that actively attacks people, killing and injuring them quite often - boars. Armor would also not be very effective against them as they usually charge towards a person and cause massive damage from the impact force alone. Especially mother boars with children around are aggresive while looking for food around dumpsters. $\endgroup$ – Rachey Jun 13 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Rachey : that's true, but we still have to keep in mind that boars also don't actively hunt for humans. They defend their territory if a human gets too close, but they won't go to humans who are standing far away, to attack them. This also raises another interesting topic: herbivores injure and kill more humans than predators. Predators are much more risk-averse: even a minor injury might lead to being less effective in the hunt, and then starving to death. Herbivores can take more risks. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 13 at 13:28
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Regarding the weight of the armor argument, no its weight won't kill you, modern day soldiers have a very similar equipment weight when marching and in combat, and have a worse distribution. The ultra heavy plate and chain mail is a Hollywood myth. You can do gymnastics and run an obstacle course.

Against the wild animals, it depends. As Therac said, the wolves would probably not penetrate the the plate, the mail, or the padding, which is used today to train police dogs. But the bear probably is strong enough just to crush you and the snake will find a hole.

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    $\begingroup$ Modern US military AML (approach march load) is actually in excess of 100 lbs - about twice the weight of a medieval knight's armor and weapons. The combat load is less, but still well above any medieval combat load. Of course, soldiers are larger and stronger these days, but even relative to that they're considerably more loaded. $\endgroup$ – Therac Jun 12 at 15:48
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Interesting question.. As has already been mentioned, 16th C armour was quite different from that seen in the 15th C. mostly because of the advent of increasingly effective firearms and secondly due to the increased mobility of warfare as history moved into the modern age. Early 16th C battles like Flodden (1513) were one of the last instances where fully armoured men would have faced each other. However, fully armoured infantry were becoming replaced by partly armoured as is seen in the landschnecht (spelling!) mercenaries found in 1500s Germany and Switzerland. I suspect you are referring more to the type of armour seen on battlefields in the 1400's. At Bosworth field and Towton?

Would this be any good vs wild animals? well, yes, it would be, in the extent that it would stop you getting bitten however, armour is not designed to be worn for long periods of time, certainly not by infantry. I own a set of infantry armour of the type that would have been worn at Towton (1461) by a well to do gentleman at arms. This is far from the custom sets of tightly fitting armour worn by the super rich aristocrats at the time. By the 1400s, armies in England and those opposing English armies were fighting mostly on foot, horses were used to transport the army (as during the Agincourt Campaign) and for scouting or for pursuing a broken foe but were never used against infantry. Bannockburn (1314) had shown what a small, well trained army of phalanxed pikemen could do to armoured horse; by the time Edward III and his son the Black Prince had perfected the longbow armed mounted archer (mount used to transport archer) using mounted men against formed longbow archers supported by armoured men at arms (infantry) was shown to be utter folly. The main problem using the type of armour I own is weight. TV gives us the impression that it is relatively easy to move and function wearing armour. This may be the case with the thin aluminium worn by modern actors but, speaking from experience, you have to be in peak physical condition to wear real armour and function in it, let alone fight, for longer than a few hours. Multiple period historical chronicles of the aftermath of battles describe beaten and fleeing troops stripping off their armour to escape. To the modern reader, unschooled or with no experience of actually wearing armour, this seems like a rash thing to do, but the reality is, if you need to run very quickly then your best bet is to ditch the armour as quickly as possible because you will certainly be able to outrun those who are still armoured - ie the victors, unless they are able to mount to pursue you. And this is the crux of it - running - which is critical to surviving wild animal attacks. OK you can't outrun a pack of wolves or a bear but you could feasibly run somewhere safe.

now my armour consists of this - skin up: - 1" thick padded linen arming jack (jacket) with 1" think padded linen leggings - maille (chain mail) leggings and hauberk (vest) these are by far the heaviest items. The Hauberk weighs 25 kilos, each leg, 9 kilos. - over the maille goes armoured lower arms and upper arms (14 gauge steel (4 kg each)) hinged and protected elbowx - greaves (lower legs) and thigh pieces (14 gauge steel (10 kg each)) hinged and protected knees - back and breast plate of 14 gauge steel (15 kg) with interlocking steel plate kilt which comes to mid thigh - steel gauntlets (5 kilos) - steel shoulders (spauldrons) (8 kilos) - steel gorget and beevor (4 kilos) this protects the neck and lower half of the face - lobster tailed sallet (helmet) with half visor - as an alternative to gorget, beevor and sallet you could wear a visored bascinet (usually with a pigs or hounds shaped visor to allow comfortable breathing) which has a maille avantail covering the neck and shoulders. These were going out of fashion circa 1420 but were still being used by some poorer men mid 1400s and are used for full contact fighting in modern times as they are safer than the sallet/Beevor - they fell out of fashion because visibility and comfort (O2) is seriously compromised and they also weigh 12 kilos and that weight is right on your neck. Under either helmet option you would wear a padded arming cap (looks like a thin version of a russian tank helmet (1" thick padded linen).

You can add up the weight yourself - when wearing the above for reenactment or for fighting full contact with blunt weapons I typically lose about 1 kg in sweat. It is literally exhausting. Now yes, a mid 40s modern man like me, even a fit one does not have the sheer physical strength of a 20 something 1440s man at arms who would have been trained to wear such form an early age, but even so, would not have worn it for anything other than combat or training for combat. Indeed historical chronicles frequently stress the size of baggage trains and going back to even 1066 we know that Harald Hardrada was beaten at Stamford Bridge by Harold Godwinson's Saxon army because his force was surprised and was unable to do its armour (in those days maille) which had been left on board the longships whilst Hardrada and his men feasted. Indeed, one of the only accounts of armoured incursion was Henry V's small mounted force of men at arms and archers who marched across Normandy and Picardy to the Pas de Calais during the Agincourt campaign. The fact that Henry ordered his archers and men at arms to ride in their armour, and not to take it off for the duration of the (forecast) 5 day ride was unusual enough to have been cause for comment by the chroniclers of the time. The purpose was to move very fast, with no baggage train and no tents. It poured with rain for most of the march and the men were suffering from dysentery. Most slept in hedges or on the open ground. On top of this, wearing steel plate either makes you overheat or it makes you very cold indeed, especially if you are wet. Your body heat is conducted through the wet arming jack to the steel - a brilliant radiator of heat. Having worn armour for one single day in the wet, without dysentery, I have nothing but huge admiration for the discomfort and fortitude of the men who won Agincourt.By the time the battle was fought they had been on the road, in torrential cold rain for several days and their armour would have been pretty rusted. Armour being carbon steel which, unlike stainless steel, does not shatter.

So would I fancy being in the woods wearing armour of this type when trying to escape wild animals? not on your nelly! Would I fancy being in the woods wearing the sort of armour an archer of the period would have been wearing? Absolutely. Archer armour of the period was usually: - gambeson with chains. This is a very thick padded linen jacket, a good 3 inches thick and it has long linked chains sewn into the arms from shoulder to wrist. The single biggest mistake that writers of this period make is to repeat the myth of 'leather' armour. Leather armour is a victorian fallacy, created to explain the 'coat of plates' or brigandine - which was a leather jacket with steel plates sewn on the inside of the jacket and frequently used instead of the back and breastplate described above. The lightest and most effective armour of the time was the padded gambeson, which is surprisingly effective against slashes and cuts but is exposed by arrows, bolts and thrusts by solid shaped points (spears, the pointy bits of pole weapons and the very nasty rondel dagger (think 16" 3 or 4 sided steel spike)The arm chains are there to give some protection to limbs from blades. Gambesons protect effectively from concussive blows. - On the legs the archer is seen often wearing padded leggings with either maille leggings or plate leggings of the type described above, or maille and plate on top. - a plate steel gorget with a sallet (usually without visor or beevor) would be worn on the head. - aside from the bow, the archer would be armed with mallets, axes, (for making the sharp stakes used to defend their position from horse attack) arming swords (one handed) and just about always either a vicious rondel dagger (above) or a more traditional ballock (bollock) dagger whose hilt is shaped... well... like bollocks. These daggers were specifically designed for murdering armoured men and the archers at Agincourt and Crecy did terrible carnage to the French men at arms once the men at arms were off their feet and lying in the mud - again - this shows the problem of wearing armour.

So the armoured infantry attack of the time would have been a bit like the tactic you see forwards use on the rugby pitch or the offensive line on an american Football pitch when they make a closely packed formation to protect the ball - it is effective because they keep their formation cohesion and use united strength. Imagine 4,000 men at arms, all armoured as above, all holding either pole axes or bill hooks, with hammers and rondels on their belts packed in tightly together, moving towards you at a rolling pace - about as fast as you can go in armour - shoulders hunched and heads down to present the strongest part of the armour to archers (the shield was out of use by the mid 1300s due to the improvements in armour). They key to their effectiveness was their momentum. They would smash through any line of unarmored troops. Provided they kept on their feet, they were the tank of the age. However, when off their feet, bogged down in mud - they were hugely vulnerable and when this happens we see men shedding their armour as quickly as they can, they would often keep a small, accessible and very sharp knife to hand so they could quickly cut the straps and the points (strings) which held the armour to their bodies. When such a formation was fought to a standstill or, worse, fell over and piled up on top of itself, lightly armoured men like archers, with suitable tin opener type weapons would have them at their mercy.

Whilst this doesn't directly answer your question, I wanted to give you some feeling to what period armour was actually like for the vast majority of armoured men and knights. It was only the super rich who could afford the Milanese or German customised plate which was designed to distribute the weight across the body and made from the most super hardened carbon steel possible with period technology. The vast majority wore a collection of bits and bobs, antique suits adapted and remodelled and pieces captured and adapted from other men. Even the customised suits restrict movement to some extent and also make it difficult to cover ground quickly.

*** - in response to the 'modern soldier has 100lbs of kit twice the weight of a medieval knight's kit'. and Heavy 'plate mail' being a Holywood myth. Both these statements are incorrect. Full armour from around 1450 weights at least 100lbs on its own. There is no such thing as 'plate mail' there is plate armour and there is maille (chainmail does not exist). They were frequently worn in combination which was the most affordable protection for most armoured men from 1330-1485. a modern soldier's kit is about twice the weight of what an archer between 1330 and 1530 would have carried onto a battlefield. It is certainly not twice the weight of what 99% of armoured men would have carried, if anything, it is lighter.

Yes, there were some very wealthy men with customised suits of armour which weighed as little as 60lbs but these were extremely rare and vastly expensive, being custom made from the finest steel possible.

Anyone who doubts this is very welcome to come to my house on the Anglo Scottish border and try wearing my armour - a faithful reproduction of an averagely wealthy landed gentleman at the time of the Wars of the Roses!

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! This is a pretty big answer, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's also a giant wall of text that's quite hard to read. Would you mind breaking it up a bit more to make it clearer? Other than that, you've clearly put a lot of thought and effort into this answer, so have an upvote! $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jun 14 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ What an amazing answer, the set you own sounds like a set of munition plate, and yes I was having in mind the expensive custom made milanese and german sets of armor, but I apologise for miistaking the period, with that beeing said I really hope you will continue to give me your insight in the next armor related questions I want to post. $\endgroup$ – TobyB Jun 14 at 13:54
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I thought I remembered something.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MEUOW7cERI

And several other such vids about the same guy. He developed a suit of armor intended to protect him from a grizzly. Eventually he got a thing that could protect him from getting hit by a truck, by a thrown log, and from rolling down a fairly steep hill. Combination of padding and armor. Plus, I suspect, a certain tolerance for pain.

After all, if a bear throws a log at you from a truck at the top of a hill...

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    $\begingroup$ Although this doesn't specifically answer the question (not 16th century plate-armour), I'm voting to not delete it as it contains material which may inspires the OP, but say this would have been better suited to being a comment than an answer. (- From review.) $\endgroup$ – Don Qualm Jun 12 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, this ought to be a comment but +1 for "if a bear throws a log at you from a truck at the top of a hill..." I hate it when they do that $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Jun 13 at 13:19
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I have not delved deep into armor myself, but I have spent countless hours on Shadiversity's youtube channel.

I believe the knight would be able to pull through in all 3 situations, for the following reasons:

  1. Knights were rich people (a plate mail would cost the equivelant of 5-10 million of todays dollars) who devoted their entire time in training their fighting skill. This is very important, and I agree that improvisation tactics such as fighting with a piece of wood would come easily to such a fighter.

  2. I disagree with the most voted answer about holes in full plate. The way to really beat an armored knight is to incapacitate them somehow, maybe by tiring them/stunning them with a strong crashing blow to the helm, and then quickly use a dagger on a gap. That's why crafters would do their utmost to avoid gaps in the armor. Could a snake find such a small gap within a towering metal giant? Not fast enough, if the latter is an experienced fighter on their guard.

  3. Bears are dangerous opponents, sure, but teeth do not beat metal. Also, in order to bite, they would have to do it on a small body piece, ie a limb. They might crash it alright, but I don't think they would be "allright" with the material being steel. Even worse, if they don't bite-and-run, which I don't think bears are used to, they are putting their most vulnerable part, their face, in reach for the knights gauntlet fist. This would be enough to scare them.

All in all, the combination of a proved piece of armor along with considerable skill would beat such opponents.

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    $\begingroup$ I was about to upvote this, but then discovered two problems: 1. There is no such thing as "chainmail" or "plate mail". "mail" or "maille" means a chain shirt. It's just "plate armor", or "full plate". 2. Bears definitely do bite-and-run. Almost all bear attacks on humans are actually bite-and-run, or slash-and-run. Bears don't prey on humans (maybe polar bears do?), they attack when threatened, and even then they rarely fight to the death. When the human no longer presents a threat (i.e. is bitten or scratched and is laying on the ground in pain), the bear runs away in most of the cases. $\endgroup$ – vsz Jun 14 at 4:07

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