Something to get your teeth into…

The Royal Armouries has just acquired a very unusual piece – a vampire killing kit that was recently put up for auction in North Yorkshire.

Vampire Slaying Kit - a mahogany casket with pistol, crucifix, rosary beads, three glass bottles, mallet and four wooden stakes

The complete Vampire Slaying Kit, recently acquired by Royal Armouries, Leeds comprises a mahogany casket complete with pistol and bullet mould, crucifix, prayer book, rosary beads, glass bottles labelled holy water and holy earth, a mallet and four wooden stakes

This intriguing kit comprises a mahogany casket, packed with everything a vampire hunter might need. The box is split into two tiers. The top layer contains a percussion cap pistol with an octagonal barrel – for firing silver bullets and a bullet mould. The lid holds a crucifix and rosary beads, to ward off ‘evil spirits’.

Other compartments contain three glass bottles, two of which are labelled ‘holy water’ and another ‘holy earth’. As a last resort there’s a mallet and four wooden stakes, plus The Book of Common Prayer, dated 1857.

The Book of Common Prayer opened to the title page, and a wooden crucifix

The Book of Common Prayer from the Vampire Slaying Kit, dated 1857

A handwritten extract from the Bible, quoting Luke 19:27, reads, ‘But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.’

I’m really pleased to be able to add this fascinating object to our world-class collections, which as well as conventional arms & armour, also contains a number of unusual objects. One category within our collections is known as ‘Firearms Curiosa’ – unusual and quirky pieces sometimes made to test new technology and ideas, sometimes to deceive, and sometimes just for fun! This kit definitely falls into this category.

Although often claimed to either be made for genuine vampire slayers, or as novelties for travellers to Eastern Europe, this is probably not the case with this piece. I’ve been researching vampire-killing kits for five years, and there is no evidence of their existence prior to 1972, around the time of the famous ‘Hammer’ horror movies. For some people, this makes them ‘fakes’, but is it possible to have a fake if there is no original to copy?

I argue that they are instead ‘invented artefacts’ – movie props without a film. We will be subjecting our kit to some sensitive scientific analysis to see if we can find out more about it, but chances are that it was made relatively recently. This is not a bad thing – museums today collect far more widely than just traditional art and historical pieces, and the level of interest generated by this kit shows how culturally important it is. It’s hard evidence of the undying love people have for supernatural fiction, from Dracula to Twilight and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It also reflects centuries of folklore relating to vampires and the best ways to dispose of them, which for some people, even in the 21st century, remains a frightening reality.

We hope to put the kit on display by Halloween. In the meantime it will be available for researchers to examine by appointment.

Take a look at my article in issue 288 of the Fortean Times – ‘To Kill a Vampire’ for further details.

Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms, Royal Armouries, Leeds

Towton on Twitter

On 29 March 1461 the largest and bloodiest battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought about 12 miles southwest of York, between the villages of Towton and Saxton. According to the chroniclers more than 50,000 soldiers from the Houses of York & Lancaster fought in blizzard conditions on Palm Sunday 550 years ago.

Towton 1461

Towton 1461

On Saturday 9 April join us on Twitter from our Towton History In Your Hands Seminar to learn more about the arms and armour of the period, find out how the battle unfolded and see images of contemporary pieces from the Royal Armouries collections. We’ll be Tweeting the day’s events live as they happen from 10.30am.

To join simply follow @Royal_Armouries on Twitter or search for #RAseminars on Twitter to join in the action. We’d love to hear any questions you have about the Battle of Towton so please ask away, on the day or in advance – we’re waiting to hear from you!

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

Japanese Swords on Twitter

Japanese, 15th century katana - attributed to the Shizu group

Japanese katana - 15th century

Our ever popular Japanese Swords Seminar is taking place on Saturday 12 February, in fact it’s so popular that tickets have sold out! But don’t despair, even if you didn’t manage to get hold of a ticket, as  we’ll be Tweeting events live as they happen throughout the day.

This session, delivered by Keeper of Armour & Oriental Collections Thom Richardson, and Curator Emeritus Ian Bottomley, will give participants a unique chance to learn about the making and care of these important cultural objects. Including the chance to handle genuine objects from our study collections which are not usually on display.

To join simply follow @Royal_Armouries on Twitter or search for #RAseminars on Twitter to follow the day’s events as they unfold. We’d love to hear any questions you have about our Japanese sword collection so please ask away, on the day or in advance – we’re waiting to hear from you!

 

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