When King Henry VIII died in 1547 he was succeeded by his children – first young Edward VI, then Queen Mary I and finally Queen Elizabeth I, who came to the throne in 1558, aged 25. Her reign has been regarded one of the most glorious in English history.
The Queen gathered around her at court all the most powerful and ambitious characters of the age. She played on her subjects’ chivalry to ensure their loyalty and devotion and the greatest men in the kingdom competed for her attention and favour.
Although the Queen did not compete in tournaments herself, they remained popular events held in her honour. Elizabeth’s knights took part in a special tournament to celebrate her accession on the 17 November each year. These Accession Day tournaments grew ever more elaborate reaching spectacular proportions. The tournaments took place at Whitehall Palace and included not only tournament games but also poems, speeches and plays praising the Queen. Thousands of people attended to cheer on the champions and to get a glimpse of the Queen herself.
The royal armourers at Greenwich worked solely for the monarch and as Queen Elizabeth did not wear armour she permitted favoured courtiers to order armours from the workshop, for which they paid heavily. Some spent so much on tournaments and armour to stay in favour that they sank deep in debt.
The Royal Armouries has the finest collection of these Elizabethan courtiers’ armours.
Many of the owners can be identified in the ‘Jacob Album’, which consists of the drawing of decorated armours made by master armourer Jacob Halder.
Long after her death a figure of Elizabeth I was displayed at the Tower of London wearing skirted armour – probably her father Henry VIII’s tonlet armour. However, it had no basis in historical fact.
In the 1590s George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, was Elizabeth’s Champion. One year he asked to be excused as he had broken his arm. Elizabeth said no!
Wrought iron does not rust as quickly as cast iron. At Fort Nelson the ‘Boxted Bombard’, a large medieval cannon made of wrought iron, is still in good condition despite being left outdoors and unprotected for hundreds of years.