To protect themselves in battle, warriors in earlier times wore a coat of mail (a ‘shirt’ of interlinked iron rings), subsequently armour and later on a leather brigandine together with a cuirass. The growing efficiency of firearms in the 17th century changed the face of warfare; man-to-man combat occurred increasingly less and soldiers engaged in the battlefield at a greater remove. Armour eventually fell into disuse and assumed a ceremonial function.
The Rijksmuseum owns 175 full suits of armour and individual pieces. Almost every one has a story to tell, such as the funeral armour of the naval heroes Michiel de Ruyter and Piet Heyn, or the armour of the 16th-century knight Pankraz von Freyberg. There are even bullet holes in some of the parts, such as in Stadholder Henry Casimir I’s buffalo leather brigandine. Jacob van Heemskerck’s armour, with a missing left cuisse (thigh defence), too, appeals to the imagination; the Dutch admiral was fatally wounded by a Spanish cannonball that shattered his left leg.