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A gorget //, from the French gorge meaning throat, was originally a band of linen wrapped around a woman's neck and head in the medieval period, or the lower part of a simple chaperon hood. The term subsequently described a steel or leather collar designed to protect the throat, a set of pieces of plate armour, or a single piece of plate armour hanging from the neck and covering the throat and chest. Later, particularly from the 18th century onwards, the gorget became primarily ornamental, serving only as a symbolic accessory on military uniforms, a use which has survived to the modern day in some armies.
The term may also be used of other things such as items of jewellery worn around the throat region in a number of other cultures, for example wide thin gold collars found in Ireland from the Bronze Age.
As part of armour
Most Medieval versions of gorgets were simple circular neck protectors that were worn under the breastplate and backplate set. These neck plates supported the weight of the plate armour worn over it, and many were equipped with straps for attaching the heavier armour plates. In a suit of fully developed armour of the 15th century the gorget was a set of four or more overlapping circular plates flexibly attached together, the top and bottom plates of which went under the helmet and breastplate respectively, protecting the gap between these rigid pieces. Cheaper versions were just a single plate, joined to its back piece at the sides.
Later, Renaissance gorgets were large pieces with a collar and extending down over the chest, protecting it and the heart. These were not worn with a breastplate as part of a full set of armour but instead were worn over clothing. Some gorgets of this period were "parade" pieces that were beautifully etched, gilded, engraved, chased, embossed, or enamelled and very expensive. Gradually the gorget became smaller and more symbolic, and became a single crescent shape worn on a chain, which became increasingly longer so that the gorget no longer protected the throat in normal wear.
As part of military uniforms
As early as 1688, regulations provided for the wearing of gorgets by Swedish army officers. For those of captain's rank the gorget was gilt with the king's monogram under a crown in blue enamel, while more junior officers wore silver-plated gorgets with the initials in gold.
During the 18th and early 19th centuries, crescent-shaped gorgets of silver or silver gilt were worn by officers in most European armies, both as a badge of rank and an indication that they were on duty. These last survivals of armour were much smaller (usually about three to four inches in width) than their Medieval predecessors and were suspended by chains or ribbons. In the British service they carried the Royal coat of arms until 1796 and thereafter the Royal cypher.
Gorgets ceased to be worn by British army officers in 1830, and by their French counterparts 20 years later. They were still worn to a limited extent in the Imperial German Army until 1914, as a special distinction by officers of the Prussian Gardes du Corps and the 2nd Cuirassiers "Queen". Officers of the Spanish infantry continued to wear gorgets with the cypher of King Alfonso XIII in full dress until the overthrow of the Monarchy in 1931. Mexican Federal army officers also wore the gorget with the badge of their branch as part of their uniform until 1947. This practice ended in 1947 but the gorgets are still used by all units when on guard duty. Recently the Mexican army's new 2010 model dress uniforms have re-incorporated the gorgets.
The gorget was revived as a uniform accessory during Germany's Third Reich, seeing widespread use within the German military and Nazi party organizations. During World War II, it continued to be used by German military field police, which wore metal gorgets as emblems of authority. German police gorgets of this period typically were flat metal crescents with ornamental designs that were suspended by a chain worn around the neck. Following the German example, the Finnish Defence Forces still use a metal gorget as a distinguishing mark of the duty conscript of a company, and the highly prussianised Chilean army still use the German style metal gorget in parades and in the uniform of their own Military Police.
Gorgets in Sweden
The gorget was discontinued as a rank insignia for Swedish officers in the Swedish Armed Forces as of 1792, when epaulettes were introduced. However, use of the gorget was revived in 1799, when the Officer of the day was given the privilege of wearing a gorget which featured the Swedish lesser coat of arms. It has since been a part of the officer's uniform (when he or she functions as "Officer of the day"), a custom which continues to this day. The same use of the gorget also continues in Norway, worn by officers / corporals responsible for guard changes, and "Inspecting Officers" (officer of the day).
The scarlet patches still worn on each side of the collar of the tunics of British Army general officers, and senior officers. There are two types, the first Red with a Crimson centre stripe, is for Colonels and Brigadiers, Red with a Gold centre strip for General Officers, they now signify an Officer of the General Staff, to which all British Officer are appointed on reaching the Rank of Full Colonel, the historic colour differentials are no longer worn. Air officers in the Indian and Sri Lankan air forces also wear gorget patches with one to five stars depending on their seniority.
RAF officer cadets wear white gorget patches on their service dress and mess-dress uniforms. Very similar collar patches are worn by British army officer cadets at Sandhurst on the standup collars of their dark-blue "Number One" dress uniforms. These features of modern uniforms are a residual survival from the earlier practice of suspending the actual gorgets from ribbons attached to buttons on both collars of the uniform. Such buttons were often mounted on a patch of coloured cloth or gold embroidery.
The functional gorget today
In colonial Australia gorgets were given to Aboriginal people by government officials and pastoralists as insignia of high rank or reward for services to the settler community. Frequently inscribed with the word "King" along with the name of the tribal group to which the recipient belonged (despite the absence of this kind of rank among indigenous Australians), the "breastplates", as they came to be known, were highly regarded by those who received one.
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- Lossing, Benson John (1859). Mount Vernon and its associations: historical, biographical, and pictorial. W.A. Townsend and Company. p. 345.
- Norris, Herbert (1999). Medieval costume and fashion. Mineola, N.Y.: Dover Publications. p. 181. ISBN 9780486404868.
- Lewandowski, Elizabeth J. The complete costume dictionary. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, Inc. p. 123. ISBN 9780810877856.
- Dermot F. Gleeson, "Discovery of Gold Gorget at Burren, Co. Clare", The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Seventh Series, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jun. 30, 1934), pp. 138-139, JSTOR, with photo.
- Preben Kannik, Alverdens Uniformer I Farver", p.151
- Hicks, Brian (July 11, 2007). "What the heck is that doodad on our state flag?". The Post and Courier (Charleston, South Carolina).
- National Museum of Australia: Aboriginal Breastplates