Collections Up Close Special

With Royal Wedding celebrations in full swing this month we’re exploring armours which relate to one of the most influential marriages in British history. The Royal Armouries at the Tower of London is home to ornate armours which belonged to King Henry VIII and commemorate his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Henry was crowned and married Katherine in 1509 when he was 17 years old and she was 23. Katherine had previously been married to his elder brother, Prince Arthur who had died. However, Henry and Katherine’s union ended when after 24 years together Henry sought an annulment of their marriage in his quest for a male heir instigating one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

Henry VIII's armour and detail of tonlet decoration

Henry VIIIs armour and detail of tonlet decoration

The suit of armour is decorated with Katherine’s pomegranates and also has a border of intertwined letters H and K for Henry and Katherine. The armour also features scenes from the lives of the royal couple’s patron saints, St George and St Barbara.

Horse armour made for Henry VIII

Horse armour made for Henry VIII

This ornately engraved, gilded and embossed horse armour was a gift to Henry from Emperor Maximilian I, the ornamentation features both her badge, the pomegranate, and Henry’s Tudor Rose. The elaborately decorated suit of armour and this horse armour was partly imported from Flanders and some parts were probably made in Henry’s own armourer’s workshop at Greenwich in 1515.

The Tower of London also houses military uniform and polo kit belonging to Prince Charles, on display in the Power House exhibition in the White Tower.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close April

As the well-known Bond theme goes ‘Diamonds Are Forever’. Diamonds have a long history as treasured gemstones and are April’s birthstone. Diamonds are used as engraving tools as they have the highest resistance to scratching of any material known. Some of the Royal Armouries’ more ornate collection items are decorated with diamonds.

Most notably are two guns on display in the Treasures of the Royal Armouries in the White Tower’s 1st floor gallery at the Tower of London. The first is a pistol made in Germany in 1991, a SIG P226, which is decorated with white gold and blue enamel and an astonishing 1,517 diamonds.

SIG P226 decorated with diamonds

SIG P226 decorated with diamonds

The second is a six shot revolver made in American about 1992. It is a Smith & Wesson model 586 and decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds. Both guns were decorated by a London jeweller for their owners.

Smith & Wesson 586 decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds

Smith & Wesson 586 decorated in red gold, red enamel and diamonds

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close March

In March 44BC Julius Caesar was warned to ‘Beware the ides of March’. Caesar dismissed the warning that harm would come to him, only to be stabbed to death later that day by Senators in the Roman Senate. The ‘ides of March’ refers to March 15th in the Roman calendar, and is probably linked to the full moon as the ides fall on either the 13th or 15th day of each month. The prediction and Caesar’s fate were later dramatised in William Shakespeare’s famous play ‘Julius Caesar’.

Roman Gladius and mounts

Roman Gladius and mounts (IX. 5583)

One of the oldest items in the Royal Armouries collection is a Roman Gladius, dated mid to late 1st Century BC. The sword is of the ‘Pompeii-type’, named after four swords found in the ill-fated city of Pompeii. Swords like this have also been found in Britain, France and Germany. In addition to the sword blade is a set of bronze scabbard mounts, engraved with a warrior carrying a spear and shield, as well as two depictions of the goddess Victory. These items are on display in our Leeds Museum in the Early War section of the War Gallery.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close February

As St Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love and romance, is celebrated this month we’re taking a closer look at a rather beautiful object . In the Royal Armouries collection is a richly decorated pistol, its many amorous motifs suggest that it is a lover’s gift.

‘Forget-me-not’ Wheellock pistol

‘Forget-me-not’ Wheellock pistol

It was most likely made purely for show rather than for actual use. The decoration includes a sprig of forget-me-nots and the inscription ‘VER GIS MEIN NIT’ (forget me not). The forget-me-not flower is regarded as an emblem of loving remembrance, faithful love, constancy and undying hope. The very ornate piece is also dated 1581. It can be seen on display in the Presentation Arms case on the Fifth Floor of our Leeds Museum.

Forget-me-not detail decoration

Forget-me-not detail decoration

You can find out more about the objects in our collection by searching our online database.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close January

Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword

Pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword

This pattern 1796 Heavy Cavalry sword was presented to Henry Wiley Middleton on 1 January 1864. The sword is allegedly that of Sgt John Shaw of the Life Guards who ‘killed 13 men at the Battle of Waterloo’. However, it is recorded that Shaw’s sword broke in the battle and he had to resort to killing the last of the 13 Frenchmen with his helmet! This may have been another of Shaw’s swords or later attributed to him. It was later presented by Col. Mc Vicar to E. Young Esq, M.D., who then gave it to his grandson Henry in 1864, adding the inscription to record the sword’s interesting history.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close December

Saxony armour

In 1591, as a Christmas present for her husband, the Elector Christian I of Saxony, the Electress Sophia commissioned twelve special armours to be made for him. Unfortunately, Christian I died in September 1591 before receiving these gifts. One of the armours, a half-armour made for foot combat at the barriers, is in the Royal Armouries collection. The helmet is currently on display in the Tournament Gallery in our Leeds Museum.The armour retains its original blued finish and is etched and gilt with decoration.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Collections Up Close November

Pte. Thomas Queenan. Image ©Royal Armouries.

Pte. Thomas Queenan

Our Leeds Museum houses items which belonged to Private Thomas Queenan, who was killed on 4th June 1916 while serving in France. He lived near the site of our Leeds Museum and several of his belongings were donated by his family, including his 1914 Star, War and Victory medals, and his Queen Mary’s Christmas Box which contained a souvenir handkerchief of his West Yorkshire Regiment. Queenan was just one of many thousands of men from the region who lost their lives during the war who will be honoured in our Remembrance Day service.

Pte. Thomas Queenan is standing on the right in this image. Image ©Royal Armouries.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher