Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate

X-radiography can often reveal unexpected things about even the most common objects in our collection, this is just one of reasons it is such a useful tool for conservators and curators alike.

During an important project looking at the construction of 17th-century duplex and triplex armour in our collection using a combination of X-radiography, metallurgy and metal hardness testing, one of the triplex breastplates was shown to have a surprising internal construction. Triplex breastplates, as the name suggests, are made of three layers of wrought iron sandwiched together on all sides.

Breastplate front view

Breastplate front view

The aim of this type of construction, which was not known about until the project was undertaken, was to produce a shot-proof armour without adding noticeably to the breastplate’s weight. The way in which the layers of metal in a triplex breastplate are held together, with the outer and inner layers folding together along all sides of the breastplate, mean that the middle layer is totally invisible by any means of non-invasive examination other than X-radiography.

Following the radiography of one particular breastplate it was possible not only to observe the internal metal layer but to see that it in fact consisted of a large portion of an English pikeman’s tasset. In addition to this it was possible to determine that the tasset’s decorative rivets had been removed prior to inclusion in the breastplate and that the surface of the tasset had been decorated with incised horizontal lines to give the appearance that the object was made up of individual lames or strips of metals rather than from one solid piece. Also faintly visible running along the bottom edge of the tasset is roped decoration.

Xray of Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate (Circa 1650)

Xray of Triplex Harquebusier’s Breastplate (Circa 1650)

The breastplate itself is English and dates to around 1650 and was originally part of the Littlecote Armoury which came to the Royal Armouries in the 1980s. The origin of the tasset is not known for certain however it is though to date to around 1630, which if correct means it was in use for around twenty years before being incorporated into the breastplate. Re-use like this is not uncommon as armour and its component metal have long been expensive commodities however, as with the triplex breastplate re-use is often hidden and can only be clearly seen using X-radiography.

As this breastplate reveals any object in our collection, even the plainest or most generic looking, may potentially house hidden secrets waiting to be found.

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservator