Mysteries of the Horned Helmet

One of the most mysterious objects in the Royal Armouries’ collection is the ‘Horned Helmet’, made for Henry VIII. It formed part of a magnificent armour, commissioned in 1511 by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I as a gift for the young king, who would have worn the armour for court pageants rather than in combat.

The Horned Helmet

The Horned Helmet

The decoration on the grotesque mask is etched, with life-like facial details even down to the stubble on the chin and crow’s feet around the eyes, and there is a pronounced drip beneath the nose. The mask is complete with a pair of spectacles, which heighten further the strangeness of this helmet. A pair of ram’s horns, beautifully modeled in sheet iron, complete this extraordinary piece and make it so remarkable that it was chosen as the object to represent the Royal Armouries museum in Leeds when it first opened in 1996.

Research into the identification of the source which inspired the mask of the Horned Helmet is continuing, but the copper alloy (possibly originally gilded) spectacles were never fitted with lenses. It is believed that the spectacles form part of the identity of a ‘fool’, a figure commonly found in late 15th- and early 16th-century imagery, suggesting that everyone, however noble or lowly, has elements of foolishness in their character.

Details of the Horned Helmet

Details of the Horned Helmet

A number of images of fools exist which show them wearing or carrying spectacles of this kind. The spectacles themselves are of so-called ‘rivet’ type, an almost universal design which hinged in order that they might grip the bridge of the wearer’s nose. Spectacles of this type are known in Europe from at least the middle of the 14th century.

Work on the iconography of the mask of the Horned Helmet continues, but there is increasing support for the view that it is that of a fool and that the spectacles are entirely a part of the representation of such a grotesque figure. An explanation for the presence of the horns, which at the time the helmet was made were usually the sign of a cuckold or of the Devil, also has to be finally established. Currently opinion is that it may not have been thought appropriate to fit horns to a helmet which was to be given to the King of England.

Blogger: Graeme Rimer, Academic Director

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

Arcade Games

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is now home to four retro arcade games. The games have been selected for their links to our wide-ranging collection – from medieval armours, Japanese swords to the Second World War.

You can try your hand at piloting a Second World War plane in 1942, playing Arthur the medieval knight in Ghosts ‘N Goblins,  hand-to-hand combat in two-player game Street Fighter, and being a legendary samurai warrior in Samurai Shodown.

Arcade Games at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Arcade Games at the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Arcade games became popular in the 1970s, spurred on by the smash hit ping-pong video game PONG released in 1972. Space Invaders, released in 1978, proved to be an even greater success. During the 1980s video gaming became a worldwide industry, with popular games including Pac-ManBattlezone and Donkey Kong and the advent of two-player fighting games, such as Street Fighter.

However, advances in home video game console technology followed on, and eventually overtook, arcades. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, networked gaming across the Internet had also appeared, replacing the need for a venue for head to head competition, once provided solely by arcades.

Video games grew from simple moving block graphics to a global industry of enormous proportions, now played by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Even today, there is still a keen interest and nostalgia for these earlier games.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

A Short Sharp Shock

The most well-known form of Japanese bow is usually the long war bow which was the original prime weapon of Samurai warriors on horseback. These impressive bows were constructed from a layer of deciduous wood sandwiched between layers of bamboo, and could measure up to two and a half metres in length. The eighteenth-century Japanese bow shown here, however, is made from whalebone and is much smaller, measuring a mere 63cm when strung.

It is a kago hankyu, also known as a riman kyu after Riman Hayashi of Kii province who invented this miniature device. The bow fits into a lacquered carrying frame, and eleven arrows are slotted in alongside it. The arrows are constructed from dark red bamboo, and most of them have gilding between the fletchings. Six of them retain their small armour-piercing heads, whilst another has a small broadhead pierced with a heart shape.  The base of the case is decorated with a triple overlapping diamond kamon (family crest) in gold.

Palanquin bow

Palanquin bow

The diminutive proportions of the kago hankyu could almost suggest that it was made for a child as a plaything. However, the bow and arrows were actually fully functional and potentially lethal. Indeed, their small size was a crucial part of their practical use. They had to be short because they were carried as defensive weapons by Japanese daimyo (nobles) and their senior staff when they were travelling inside palanquins (a covered sedan chair).

During the Edo period (1603–1868), the daimyo had to spend a lot of time in transit, complying with the demands of sankin kotai, the enforced biannual attendance at the court of the shogun. This resulted in a lot of long journeys in procession with large retinues of samurai and servants. If they were attacked on the road, a daimyo would be confined inside the palanquin, folded up into a kneeling position, and therefore had to be able to use his bow and arrows rapidly and effectively in very cramped conditions.

Kago yari short spear

Kago yari short spear

The daimyo also employed other weapons made on a smaller scale for the same reason, such as this kago yari (short spear) from the early Edo period, which is just over 80cm long.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Lion Armour on Tour

The Lion Armour is one of most finely decorated and recognisable armours in the Royal Armouries’ collection. As its name suggests the armour is decorated with embossed lion’s heads and is intricately damascened in gold. The armour is thought to have been made for the French King Henri II sometime between 1545 and 1550.  How the armour came to England isn’t known but there a number of 17th-century portraits surviving showing different sitters wearing the armour including General George Monck, Duke of Albemarle (1706–70) in a painting by John Michael Wright.

Lion Armour (Circa 1545-50)

Lion Armour (Circa 1545-50)

As one of the treasures of the Royal Armouries’ collection the Lion Armour rarely goes on loan, however earlier this year the armour was part of a temporary four-month loan to the Musée de l’Armée in Paris for a special exhibition ‘Under the Aegis of Mars: Armoury of the Princes of Europe’ which ran from March until June. The Exhibition was a unique opportunity for the Lion Armour to take its place along side some of Europe’s most important 16th-century armours from collections across the world.

Technician Giles Storey reinstalls the Lion Armour in the Tournament Gallery

Technician Giles Storey re-installs the Lion Armour in the Tournament Gallery

In preparation for the loan the armour was removed from display and carefully separated in to its eighteen component parts. Each of the parts was extensively photographed before and after conservation and a detail report describing the condition of each piece was produced. These condition reports, which are created whenever an object leaves the collection on loan, travel with their objects and are used to help us to identify and record any changes to the objects which may or may not take place. On arrival back in Leeds in July the armour was checked against the condition reports produced in January for the fourth and final time, after which the armour was carefully re-assembled and placed back on display in the Tournament Gallery of our Leeds Museum.

Blogger: Nyssa Mildwaters, Conservator

Quoit Dangerous

This cumberjung is a unique weapon within the collections of the Royal Armouries. It is a double-ended flail, consisting of a wooden shaft turned with mouldings for gripping, and sharpened discs or quoits attached to the brass chains at either end. The faces of the quoits are padded and covered with knotted thread in concentric bands of white, faded red and blue. In its entirety, the flail weighs just over 1 kilogram. It was made in Gujarat on the west coast of India in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.

Gujarati quoit flail

Gujarati quoit flail

To use the cumberjung one would grip the handle at either end and manipulate it so that the quoits whirled through the air at either side, slicing into an opponent. It could be a ruthless weapon in close combat, but much skill and practice were needed for it to be properly effective.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Flintlock Repair Work

This English flintlock is a William III Land Service musket dating from approximately 1689-1702. The lock-plate is engraved with the cipher of William III and Mary II and the maker’s mark ‘WP’ is stamped on the right side of the lower breech and repeated near the muzzle. The barrel is also marked ‘EG’ crowned, referring to Edward Godward, c.1695-96. The dog-catch of the lock has been previously restored.

Flintlock musket before conservation

Flintlock musket before conservation

The metal components on the flintlock were in very good condition prior to entering the conservation lab as they were only showing yellowed oil on the metal surfaces. The wooden stock was structurally unstable due to multiple large horizontally running cracks appearing mostly around the lock and around the muzzle. A large area of wood loss was present where the barrel is pinned to the stock. Some earlier repair material was present suggesting previous attempts on the cracks with what seemed to be wax. Tinted wax had also been used to fill a deep dent near the muzzle at some point in the past.

After carefully checking that the musket was not loaded, the lock-plate was taken off and disassembled in order to remove superficial dirt and residues with solvent swabs. The barrel was similarly cleaned and the stock was given a mechanical cleaning to rid it of superficial loose dirt. Any previous repair material was carefully removed as it had failed and no longer provided any adherence. The cracks were then refilled with adhesive.

Repairing the damage - before and after conservation

Repairing the damage - before and after conservation

The large area of wood loss was a problem as the pin located at the centre of the area of loss was loose as a result. To fix this problem it seemed best to try and refill the gap with a suitable material. The fill needed to be strong but also flexible in order to not get damaged with the wood’s natural movement. The material used needed to be reversible which in addition would make it easier to redo the fill if the first attempt was unsuccessful due to the critical location of the gap. The colour of the fill was also taken into consideration in order to achieve the best colour-matching result.

Tinted polyester webbing provided great support on the inside and helped mould the internal shape of the fill. To help estimate the trajectory of the pin a slightly wider cocktail stick was pushed through the opposite end of the hole which could serve as an outline for the pin and which could be easily removed half-way through drying time.

Blogger: Leila Mazzon, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department

Collections Up Close July

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds displays several archery prizes, one of which is a medal from the Stockwell Archers, presented to George Ellis Esq., “for the skill displayed by him in Archery on the 9th July 1832”.

Archery medal in the Royal Armouries collection

Archery medal in the Royal Armouries collection

Archery has a long-standing place in history as both a method for hunting and for warfare. It later developed into a competitive sport. The first known organised competition in archery was held at Finsbury in 1583 and had 3000 participants.

By the 17th century, due to the introduction of guns, the bow was no longer used as a primary weapon. Archery as a sport was later revived in the 18th century. This was attributed to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, who took up the sport. He became patron of many societies established during the late 1700s in which both men and women took part.

Female toxopholite in competition

Female toxopholite in competition

Competitions have always formed an important part of archery, the most significant being the Grand National Archery Meeting, first held in York in 1844. Archery prizes have included engraved arrows, archers bracers and medals. The museum’s displays include medals from the Derbyshire Archers dated 1823, the Tottenham Archers dated 1825, the Stourbridge Archery Society dated 1850 and the Grand National Archery Society dated 1880.

In 1900 archery was introduced into the Olympics but was then dropped after 1908. Other than a single appearance in 1920 the sport was not re-introduced until 1972. In 2012 the archery contest will be held at Lord’s Cricket Ground with 128 competitors taking part.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Supergun Moves into Place

In the Royal Armouries collection are sections of one of the most infamous pieces of 20th Century artillery – the Iraqi Supergun. We have two sections of the barrel, weighing 2.1 tonnes, which have been the next objects moving into The Voice of the Guns gallery at Fort Nelson.

Development of the Iraqi weapon remains shrouded in secrecy – along with the murder of its inventor – but if all the tubes had been fully assembled the Supergun would have stretched over 150 metres and would have been able to send projectiles into a low orbit.

Inside the Iraqi Supergun

Inside the Iraqi Supergun

British Customs’ officers seized eight sections of the gun in March 1990 at Teesport Docks – as part of a consignment en route to Iraq.  Allowing the Bahamas-registered vessel to sail with its consignment would have contravened a ban on arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s state. Investigations revealed the gun was part of Saddam’s  “Project Babylon”.

If assembled, the gun would have been the biggest gun in the modern world. The weapon was the brainchild of Canadian Dr Gerald Bull, who was assassinated shortly before the parts were discovered.

Serious Leg Work

This mail leg, also known as a chasse, is probably Mughal, from 17th century India. It consists of alternating rows of riveted and welded rings tapering towards the ankle.

Mail chasse before conservation

Mail chasse before conservation

Over time many rings have broken leaving holes in the object. As well as being visually disruptive, the holes pose structural problems to mail as if a ring is missing the weight of heavy mail is not distributed evenly putting the remaining rings under strain. The effects of this strain can be seen on this piece where several rings have bent or even separated surrounding the existing holes.

Delicate work inserting new rings

Delicate work inserting new rings

Missing rings need to be replaced in order to prevent further damage to the object. How the replacement rings are made has to be carefully considered. The rings must be of a comparable diameter and thickness to the original rings in order to properly distribute the weight. From a distance they should blend in with the original rings so as not to disrupt the appearance of the object, however they must be easily identifiable as a repair when closely examined in order to avoid confusion with the original material. To comply with the requirements three different sizes of rings were used depending on the location on the chasse.

Repaired chasse after conservation

Repaired chasse after conservation

The replacement rings are butted, meaning the ends of the ring are hammered over each other but not riveted, and stamped with a tiny ‘RA’ symbol to distinguish them from the original rings, before being carefully inserted into the mail. When repairing a piece of mail it is important to follow the original pattern and layout of the links. If a ring is put in the wrong orientation the surrounding rings will tend to bunch together, disrupting the object visually and structurally.

Blogger: Sean Belair, Student Work Placement – Conservation Department