Royal Armouries

The 1540 Armour of King Henry VIII

Images

colour photo of Henry VIII's full-length armour

Armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's full-length armour

    Armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • monochrome photo of the date 1540 on an armour of Henry VIII

    Detail of armour of Henry VIII, English, Greenwich. 1540 (II.8)

  • monochrome photo of a large armoured codpiece from an armour of Henry VIII

    Codpiece of armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's armour helmet with decorated banding

    Detail of helmet of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • colour photo of close up of decorated banding on Henry VIII's armour

    Detail of decoration on armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • monochrome photo of armoured figures on foot and horseback

    Figure of Henry VIII in the New Horse Armoury, 1870s. © Private collection 2013

  • three colour diagrams of different compositions of a garniture armour

    Arrangements of garniture pieces, armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

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

Date: 1540 | Object number: II.8, VI.13

Statistics

Object Provenance: English, Greenwich, dated 1540
Object Number: II.8, VI.13
Height as mounted, assembled for foot combat: 1880 mm (74.2 in)
Weight: 35.33 kg (77 lb 13 oz)

The 1540 Armour of King Henry VIII

Description

This armour is the greatest of the Greenwich garnitures made for King Henry VIII1. It is possible that it was intended for wear at the May Day tournament which was held during 1–5 May 1540. The event included tilts, tourneys, and foot combats over the barriers. This tournament was the last Henry is known to have staged, and there is no record that he actually participated. No doubt his age (he was 49 years old) and his great bulk made this inappropriate.

The armour can be easily identified as the ‘Complete harness parcell grauen and gilte with all manner of peces of advantage for the felde Tilte Turney and fote’ that was listed at Greenwich in the 1547 inventory of the King’s goods.

Not only does the armour have all the requisite extra pieces, but it has a double set of them. In addition, it has the second of only two known examples of a feature that was unique to the Greenwich workshop. This is an inner breastplate or ventral plate strapped to the body and designed to lift the weight of the cuirass and arm defences from the shoulders by means of the central bolt to which the breastplate and plackart were secured.It is recorded that François I disclosed this secret device to Henry in 1520, offering to have his armourers make one for Henry if he sent one of his arming doublets for a pattern. The earlier example is on the ‘Genouilhac’ armour made for the King in 1527, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Unfortunately the breastplate that would have been used for the field, tilt and tourney is lost; only the breastplate for the foot combat survives. The foot combat breastplate was not fitted for a lance rest, although a lance rest for the armour does survive. It is most likely that the armour had a reinforcing breastplate, also like that of the ‘Genouilhac’ armour, and a symmetrical right pauldron (without a cut-out for the lance) for use in the foot combat. The original foot defences, probably sabatons of plate, are also lost.

The groin defence, or cod piece, was intended to be worn for the foot combat together with the articulated culet or rump defence. It is of considerable size, and was reputed to have been used as a charm in the old days at the Tower; young women would stick pins into the lining in order to improve their prospects of conception. Unusually it is fitted with additional articulated plates at either side of the main plate. A substantial part of its original lining bands survive, though none of the original linings do.

Erasmus Kyrkenar was the Master Workman at Greenwich who was responsible for the construction of this armour. We do not know precisely when Kyrkenar took over as master from his predecessor Martin van Royne, as few lists of workmen survive between 1521 and 1540, but we do know that in 1540 ‘old Martin’ was still on the payroll – in second place but with a higher salary than Erasmus – which would suggest that van Royne was a pensioner or some kind of Master Emeritus.

The few surviving records of the works of Henry’s armourers show that they were not idle. Erasmus Kyrkenar’s accounts for the year 1536/7, for example, show that they were making a succession of armours to-order for the nobility of England. These were mostly garnitures for the tilt and field with extra pieces that were priced at £10–12, and also some for the field-only that were priced at £8.

Henry’s 1540 armour is decorated with etched and gilt borders throughout. Most of these are narrow, and decorated with conventional scrolling foliage. Those on the two sets of tilt reinforces, however, are broad; based on designs by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein’s ‘Englischen Skizzenbuch’ (English sketchbook),[2] executed between 1534–38, contains several motifs which appear on the armour, including foliage scrolls, mermen and mermaids, sphinxes, cherubs, and floral sprays.[3]

The etching and gilding could have been carried out by either Giovanni di Maiano, who was still in the King’s employ in 1542, or by Francis Quelblaunce, who was appointed in 1539 as ‘gilter and graver of the Kinges harnis’. The date, 1540, is etched at the front of the collar. It is perhaps the later of the two great Greenwich armours made for the King during this late period of his reign.


Notes

1 English, Greenwich, dated 1540. Transferred from the Palace at Greenwich 1644. Used for the figure of Henry VIII in the Line of Kings display after Meyrick’s reorganisation, 1826-27; Britton, 1830, no. 4; Hewitt 1859, II.6; displayed with the ‘Italian’ bard, VI.13–16.

2 Hans Holbein’s English Sketchbook is now preserved in the collection of the Kunstmuseum, Basel. It was acquired from the Amerbachkabinett, which was formed in the sixteenth century by Bonifacius and Basilius Amerbach, both professors of the University of Basel.

3 A foliage scroll with a merman holding a shield is found on the border of the grandguard (No. 1662.165.23 ) and another similar merman is found on the other grandguard. A foliage scroll with sphinxes at either side of the floral spray is shown next to the triton on the grandguard (No. 1662.165.24 ), and the winged cherub’s head found next to the floral spray and at intervals around the borders is close to those shown in nos. 1662.165.11. Nos. 1662.165.28–9 illustrate cherubs like those found cavorting around the side edge of the grandguard. At the upper centre of one of the grandguards are the arms of England, supported by a merman, the sketch by Holbein for which is no. 1662.165.43, and a mermaid, while on the other one are the arms of the king with similar supporters.

Statistics

Object Provenance: English, Greenwich, dated 1540
Object Number: II.8, VI.13
Height as mounted, assembled for foot combat: 1880 mm (74.2 in)
Weight: 35.33 kg (77 lb 13 oz)

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John Newbery’s Historical Description and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

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

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