The evidence for british mailshirtsMadoc
Iron Age Cemeteries in East Yorkshire. Dr Ian Stead, British Museum Press 1991 (way out of print)
Retrieval of objects from archaeological sites, Robert Payton, Archetype publications
Polden Hill Hoard, Brailsford, Proceedings of the Prehistoric society vol 41 1975
Stanwick Hoard, MacGregor, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol 28, 1962
New mail closure, M C Bishop, Arma, 1989
Folly lane Britannia monogram, Glimour and Niblett, Britannia 14, 1999
It is believed that the "celts" invented mail sometime in the late first millenium BC. It proved to be so popular that it remained in use for another two thousand years, in one form or another. There have been enough fragmentary finds, and one complete set, which indicate that is was being used, although we are unsure as to how exactly how common mail was among the Britons.
The find at Kirkburn, which is very much pre-roman invasion by maybe a couple of hundred years, indicates that British Warriors are using what is termed the "italic" style of shoulder doubling with fastener. It is possible the shirt is roman in origin, but given other more fragmentary finds of mail then it's equally possible it is of native manufacture. The other finds are, on average, of larger section link than the typical roman types and often of the simpler butted construction method, which adds weight to the conclusion that mail is made locally for native consumption.
The popular myth of naked Britons relying on their own courage for protection against the Roman oppressor is one that is firmly embedded within us and finds of mail very much threaten that viewpoint. It is more true to say that warrior elites, of any period and culture, often display their status as both warriors and wealthy people with the trappings of their profession and mail (given it's likely cost in materials, skill and time) would be right at the top of that list.
Re-enactors have a habit of "dressing up" with the best that
was available. After all, everyone wants to portray the wealthy,
successful warrior. There is nothing wrong with this approach,
as our feelings are that the activity of war was mostly carried
out by this minority anyway.
Other Mail Finds
Mail has been found at a number of other sites Britain, dispelling the myth that Mail is uncommon in this period.
It is interesting that continental mail, is often larger and coarser in comparison to the British finds. The stuff from Tiefanau and Thorsberg is 12 and 13mm in diameter.
Mail closures or clasps
There have been very few mail closures published and only one found in place with a complete shirt.
It was my belief that iron age closures were single piece affairs but the evidence does seem to point to a similarity between the Roman and late iron age examples, although many finds are ambiguous as to their context. It is therefore likely that British mail shirts, not only followed the same design for "italic" doubling on Roman shirts (or perhaps that Roman shirts copied the native types !) but used the same fastening techniques with similar closures.
The Kirburn clasp is the only one found in situ.
It is made of iron but nobody (at the british museum) seems quite sure whether it is a single or two piece affair, but it follows the typical roman pattern.. The original is some 19cm across:
The studs that fit the fastenings are a stud and washer arrangement.
The stanwick find is 19th century and believed to be dated to 100 BC to 50AD. It contains a set of two bronze piece clasps and some rivets used for mounting .
The actual piece is only some 7cm across.
Also recovered are the rivets, with mail attached to the back.
Polden Hill is again a 19th century find and believed to be late iron age or early Roman. These clasps have alot in common with the typical roman types.
originals are 9.2cm.
These are a metal detector unstratified find as published in Arma and bear a very close relationship to the Polden Hill type above.
Other articles on British armour:
Cleaning and removing plating from Mail shirts
Mail cape for a British Mailshirt