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Surviving examples of the elegant Morion helmet used from the middle 16th to early 17th centuries

Neil Patrick

The iconic morion, though popularly identified with early Spanish explorers and conquistadors, was not in use as early as the conquest of Mexico by Hernan Cortez or Francisco Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in South America. Thirty to forty years later, it was widely used by the Spanish, but also common among foot soldiers of many European nationalities, including the English; the first English morions were issued during the reign ofEdward VI. Low production costs aided its popularity and dissemination although officers and elite guards  would have theirs elaborately engraved to display their wealth and status. 

 

A morion is a light helmet for soldiers on foot or horseback with a distinctive comb along the top and an upturned brim. They are decorated with studs and often with etching, paint, and gilding. Source

A morion is a light helmet for soldiers on foot or horseback with a distinctive comb along the top and an upturned brim. They are decorated with studs and often with etching, paint, and gilding. Source

 

Cabasset, Palace Armoury in Valletta, Malta. Source

Cabasset, Palace Armoury in Valletta, Malta. Source

 

Exhibit in the Higgins Armory Museum, 100 Barber Avenue, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Source

Exhibit in the Higgins Armory Museum, 100 Barber Avenue, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA. Source

 

Heaume-Morges Source

Heaume-Morges Source

The crest or comb on the top of the helmet was designed to strengthen it. Later versions also had cheek guards and even removable faceplates to protect the soldier from sword cuts.

The morion’s shape is derived from that of an older helmet, the Chapel de Fer, or “Kettle Hat.” Other sources suggest it was based on Moorish armor and its name is derived from Moro, the Spanish word for Moor. The New Oxford American Dictionary, however, derives it from Spanish morrión, from morro ’round object’. The Dictionary of the Spanish Language published by the Royal Spanish Academy indicates that the Spanish term for the helmet, morrión, derives from the noun morra, which means “the upper part of the head”.

Morion.Source

Morion.Source

 

Morion 1550-1570. Source

Morion 1550-1570. Source

 

In England this helmet (also known as the pikeman’s pot) is associated with the New Model Army, one of the first professional militaries. It was worn by pikemen, together with a breastplate and buff coat as they stood in phalanx-like pike and shot formations, protecting the flanks of the unarmored musketeers.

Morion Charles IX louvreSource

Morion Charles IX louvreSource

 

Morion helmet, c. 16 or 17th century, probably Spanish.Source

Morion helmet, c. 16 or 17th century, probably Spanish.Source

 

Morion with coat of arms of Nuremberg, 1580; Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg Source

Morion with coat of arms of Nuremberg, 1580; Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg Source

 

It provided protection during the push of pike maneuvers known for their high casualty rates. Although mostly issued to Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian troops, many Cavaliers wore the morion as well, leading to confusion in battles; soldiers risked being shot by their own allies. It was for this reason uniforms were introduced to identify armies. First these were simple colored sashes but soon the Roundheads introduced red coats which were retained by the army after the 1660 Restoration of Charles II.

Morion Source

Morion Source

 

Smooth metal helmet with protective neck and ears. Source

Smooth metal helmet with protective neck and ears. Source

 

Spanish Conqueror helmet. Source

Spanish Conqueror helmet. Source

 

Surviving morions from its 1648 siege have been unearthed and preserved at Colchester Castle along with a lobster tail pot, a helmet associated with Cromwell’s heavily armored Ironside cavalry.

Some captured Spanish armor was worn by Native Americans as late as the 19th century as protection from bullets and a sign of their status. The most famous of these was the Comanche chief Iron Jacket who lived in Texas and wore armor that originally belonged to a conquistador.

The Royal Armoury Source

The Royal Armoury Source

 

two iron helmets of Spain Source

two iron helmets of Spain Source

 

Exhibit in the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California, USA. Source

Exhibit in the Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, California, USA. Source

 

In the Philippines, the native Moro people adopted the morion and burgonet design for helmets (as well as chainmail and horn coats) during the Spanish–Moro Wars and the Moro Rebellion. The indigenously produced helmets are usually made of iron or brass and are elaborately decorated with floral arabesque designs, usually in silver. They had a large visor and neck guard, movable cheek guards, a high crest, and three very tall feathered plumes reaching 60 cm (24 in) inserted on the front