Chain Maille, why so many spellings?
Before we delve into what it is (we’ll do that in a future blog post) let’s clear something else up. The spelling. Yes, this is important.
Mail (as in chain mail armour) has been in use since some time after William, and his not so friendly Norman brethren, popped over in the 11th Century.
Along with all the rampant slaughter and gentrification of the South they brought the Old French Maille meaning “mesh of net”, which in turn probably derived from the Latin Macula meaning ”mesh in a net”.
A lack of dictionaries and poor attention to detail at the time meant there were several variations in Old French including maille, maile, or male, which then became mailye, maille, maile, male, or meile in Middle English.
Given all these variants which is it to be?
The right answer is that there is no right answer… Except when there is… when referring to the armour variety (think people hacking at each other with over sized swords hoping not to get an arm lopped off) then it should be simply ‘mail’, or ‘mail armour’.
The chain bit was only added as recently as the 18th century. Some find it pretty redundant, I think it helps differentiate from something found in your inbox.
All these lovely spellings give us lots to choose from, chainmail or chain mail tends to evoke images of King Arthur and his merry knights bashing each other with swords and spikey balls on sticks, that or those chain letters from the 80s you were supposed to send on to all your mates that would somehow make you rich, or something.
No ones really heard of mailye or meile and probably wouldn’t be sure how to pronounce either of them let alone spell them. Maille on the other hand has a nice look and feel to it, pretty much like our jewellery, which is why we’ve opted for Chain Maille, pure aesthetics.
Francis Grose A Treatise on Ancient Armour and Weapons, 1786.