Royal Armouries

The Silvered and Engraved Armour of Henry VIII

Images

colour photo of King Henry VIII's armour and horse armour on horseback

The Silvered and Engraved Armour of King Henry VIII decorated by Paul van Vrelant. Probably English, Greenwich, about 1515 (II.5)

  • colour photo of King Henry VIII's armour and horse armour on horseback

    The Silvered and Engraved Armour of King Henry VIII decorated by Paul van Vrelant. Probably English, Greenwich, about 1515 (II.5)

  • monochrome photograph of engraving on the side of an armour for a horse

    Horse armour Flemish, decorated by Paul van Vrelant, 1516

  • monochrome photograph of engraving on the side of an armour for a horse

    Horse armour Flemish, decorated by Paul van Vrelant, 1516

  • colour photo of etched decoration on the leg of Henry VIII's armour

    The Silvered and Engraved Armour of King Henry VIII decorated by Paul van Vrelant. Probably English, Greenwich, 1512 (II.5)

  • monochrome photo of small maker's stamps on Henry VIII's armour

    The Silvered and Engraved Armour of King Henry VIII decorated by Paul van Vrelant. Probably English, Greenwich, 1512 (II.5)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

Date: 1515 | Object number: II.5, VI.1–5

Statistics

Object Provenance: Flemish or English, Greenwich, about 1515
Object Number: II.5, VI.1–5
Height of armour as mounted: 1850 mm
Cuirass height shoulder to waist: 355 mm (14 in)
External waist: 880 mm (34.7 in)
Chest: 1055 mm (41.7 in)
Weight: 30.11 kg (66 lb 6 oz)

The Silvered and Engraved Armour of Henry VIII

Description

The first known product of Henry VIII’s new workshop at Greenwich was the famous ‘Silvered and Engraved’ armour, made about 1515. The armour is silvered overall and formerly gilt, and engraved through the silvering. The decoration commemorates the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, whose initials H and K are joined by true lovers’ knots around the base.

On the breastplate is a figure of St George and on the backplate one of St Barbara. The rest of the armour is decorated with an all-over pattern of scrolling foliage flowering with the Tudor rose and fruiting with the pomegranates of Aragon. On the back of each greave is a female figure emerging from the calyx of a flower; the neck-band of the figure on the left greave is inscribed GLVCK (‘good fortune’). The wings of the poleyns bear the sheaf of arrows badge of Ferdinand II of Aragon and the combined Tudor rose and Katherine’s pomegranate badge, while the toecaps of the sabatons have the castle badge of Castile and the Tudor portcullis. The base or skirt has and applied copper alloy border incorporating the repeated intertwined letters H and K for Henry and Katherine.

The decoration of the horse armour matches that of the man’s armour, and is based around scenes from the lives of the two Saints. On the left boss of the peytral, Saint George is brought before the procurator Dacian and refuses to recant his Christianity. On the left side of the crupper are three more scenes from the life of Saint George. At the front he is tortured in a bull-shaped cauldron of molten lead, but is protected by the Lord. At the rear the Saint is tortured on two wheels fitted with swords, but is undamaged by them.

On the upper panel is his execution. On the right side of the peytral Saint Barbara talks to masons about building a third window, representing the trinity, into a tower they are constructing. On the right front of the crupper Saint Barbara is driven through a gateway by her father Dioscorus. At the rear of the she is escorted by men with bundles of twigs for whipping, while a bagpiper plays in the background. On the upper panel she is executed by her father Dioscorus for refusing to recant her Christianity, and in the same scene, her father is shown dead after being struck by lightning.

At the front of the peytral is a scene of Saint George slaying the dragon, and at the rear of the crupper the initials H and K, with a rose, are supported by putti. The side panels or flanchards are decorated with winged mermen holding shields with combined rose and pomegranate badges, flanked by portcullis and sheaf of arrows badges for the King and his Queen. The lower border of the bard is decorated with the King’s motto DIEU ET MON DROIT, interspersed with roses and pomegranates.

The maker’s mark, a crowned helmet stamped on the back of the skull, is similar to the mark used by Peter Fevers, one of the Flemings working for the king at Greenwich. This identification is not certain however, and it is quite possible that the armour was made by the Italians Filippo de Grampis and Giovanni Angelo de Littis who were working at Greenwich from 1512–15, as it bears considerable stylistic similarity to contemporary Italian armours such as those made by Niccolò Silva. It is equally possible the man’s armour was made in Flanders by an unidentified armourer.

The bard was certainly made in Brussels as it bears the M and crescent mark now attributed to Guille Margot. The armour is known to have been acquired as a plain harness and decorated in England. The decoration is the work of Paul van Vrelant, originally from Brussels, who held the appointment of the King’s ‘harness gilder’ from 1514 until at least 1520. He was paid £66 13s 4d for ‘graving harness’ in June 1516, part of a contract for £200 in three instalments for the making, engraving, gilding and silvering of a bard ‘like sample according to a complete harness which of late he made for our body’, first contracted in 1514. Vrelant was to provide the gold and silver, wages of workmen, coal and quicksilver, but not the ‘barb, saddle, neckpiece and all in stele’. This bard is clearly that of the silvered and engraved armour, which was listed among the bards in the custody of George Lovekyn, clerk of the stables in 1519:

‘gilt with a trail of roses and pomegranates with the story of St George and St Barbara, and a crynny and shaffron wrought by Powle’.

Transferred to the Tower from the Palace at Greenwich 1644. Used as one of the two figures of Henry VIII after Meyrick’s reorganisation of the Line, 1826-27, positioned in a niche opposite the Line proper.

References

J. Britton, Memoirs of the Tower, London, 1830, 277
J. Hewitt, Official Catalogue of the Tower Armouries, London, 1859, 6, II.8
Viscount Dillon, Illustrated Guide to the Armouries, Tower of London, 1910, 110, II.5
C. Blair, ‘The Emperor Maximilian’s gift of armour to King Henry VIII and the silvered and engraved armour at the Tower of London’, Archaeologia 99, 1965, 1–52
G. Rimer, T. Richardson and J.P.D. Cooper, Henry VIII, arms and the man 1509–2009, Leeds, 2009, 170–5

Statistics

Object Provenance: Flemish or English, Greenwich, about 1515
Object Number: II.5, VI.1–5
Height of armour as mounted: 1850 mm
Cuirass height shoulder to waist: 355 mm (14 in)
External waist: 880 mm (34.7 in)
Chest: 1055 mm (41.7 in)
Weight: 30.11 kg (66 lb 6 oz)

Related Objects

Henry VIII in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Themes Menu

Line of Kings