c. 1200, "short, loose, sleeveless cloak," variant of mantle (q.v.). Sense of "movable shelter for soldiers besieging a fort" is from 1520s.
The meaning "timber or stone supporting masonry above a fireplace" is attested by 1510s; it is a shortened form of Middle English mantiltre "mantle-tree" (late 15c.) "beam of oak or some other hard wood above a fireplace or oven" (with tree in the now-obsolete sense of "beam"). But the exact meaning of mantle in that had become obscure by the 19c.
In a fire-place, the mantle or mantlepiece, may have been either a covered or chimney-piece; or the part below it to which a hanging, for the sake of making a flue for the wind to draw up the fire, was attached. The details, however, of this are uncertain. [Robert Gordon Latham, "A Dictionary of the English Language," 1882]
Mantel-clock "clock intended to sit on a mantle-shelf," is by 1824.
updated on November 17, 2018