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

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

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.

Painted Sallet

Over the last six weeks we’ve had two students from the University of Huddersfield, Jonathon and Vikki, in residence within our Curatorial Department. Here’s an object which caught Vikki’s eye whilst working behind the scenes.

German Sallet

German Sallet

This German Sallet dates from about 1490, from the early 13th century to the early 16th century helmets were commonly decorated with paint, and by the end of the 14th century, whole jousting armours were painted black to prevent rust. Painting was a very cheap way to decorate armour, but only a few examples of painted helmets survive today. Painting a helmet was also a good way of easily recognising people on the battlefield.

German Sallet

German Sallet

This Sallet, the popular choice of helmet in Germany throughout the 15th century, is remarkably covered with painted patterns. The upper part of the sallet is covered in a flame pattern and the lower part including the visor has a red, white and green chequered design. Inside the squares are stars, portcullises and an interlace pattern in red and white.

Blogger: Vikki Bielby, Student Work Placement – Curatorial Department

Collections up Close June

On 18 June 1815 the opposing forces of Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington, joined by the Prussian Army met at Waterloo. The battle began just after 11am and the conflict continued throughout the afternoon. Both sides suffered heavily.

Napoleon had returned to France and resumed the throne as Emperor. However, his aims to dominate Europe were impeded by Allied armies advancing on several fronts. Napoleon had planned to advance into Belgium and separate Wellington’s army from the Prussians and then destroy them both. However, after a long day of battle, Napoleon’s army was defeated, and the battlefield was strewn with 40,000 dead and wounded men.

Wellington's sword

Wellington's sword

The White Tower at the Tower of London is home to the Duke of Wellington’s uniform coat, telescope and sword. The Duke was Constable of the Tower from 1826–1852. The coat is finely made with blue fabric with scarlet facings and has epaulettes of gold thread decorated with crossed batons under a crown in silver. The gilt buttons bear an image of the White Tower in silver. His telescope has a brass plate attached which reads, ‘TELESCOPE BY BERGE OF LONDON USED BY THE DUKE OF WELLINGTON AT THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO, PRESENTED BY THE DUKE TO SIR ROBERT PEEL’.

Napoleon's Sword

Napoleon's Sword

Also in the Royal Armouries collection is a sword presented to Napoleon I by his friend Alexandre Des Mazis. Des Mazis was a contemporary of Napoleon at the École Militaire and was his close friend. They later served together as officers in the Regiment de la Fère at Valance in 1796. The sword is on display in the War Gallery in Leeds, near a large model of the battlefield made in 1842–43.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Waterloo: A Family's Story

On 18 June 1815 at the battle of Waterloo, the Allied armies under Lords Wellington and Blücher defeated the French, bringing to an end the Napoleonic Wars which had raged for over 15 years. Amongst the Royal Armouries’ archives is a collection of papers relating to the military careers of three brothers; William, Henry and Charles Dawson, which comprises extracts from official publications and from the letters they sent home. The archive was put together by their father, Pudsey Dawson, and their younger brother Pudsey Junior.

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

Extract from the officer’s list of the 52nd Regiment, including Lieutenant Charles Dawson

William Dawson joined the Royal Navy and served with distinction, on one occasion taking command when his captain was killed and capturing a French frigate. He rose to the rank of Captain and the command of his own ship, but died from fever in Madras in 1811, aged 29. Henry and Charles were officers in the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment, serving during the campaign in Portugal and Spain. Both were wounded in the terrible siege of Badajos, and Henry was killed in 1812 during the retreat from Burgos, aged 24. Charles survived the Peninsular campaign to fight at Waterloo, where he was again severely wounded.

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

Hand drawn colour map of the Battle of Waterloo, showing the dispositions of both armies on the night before the battle

The archive includes four maps relating to the Waterloo campaign, showing the countryside of the surrounding area and the troop dispositions on the day. The 52nd fought on the right of the line, close to the famous Chateau Hougoumont, and took part in the repulse of the Imperial Guard which finally broke the French army. Although Charles had survived the war he died aged 25 in 1817. This remarkable collection acts as a sad memorial of a father to his sons, and gives us an insight into some of the personal stories of the Napoleonic Wars.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

A Model Battle

The Royal Armouries in Leeds is home to a model of part of the battle of Waterloo; the model was made by Captain William Siborne in 1842–43. Siborne had not been at the battle but on hearing that the site was to be altered he decided to make a model of the site exactly as it was on 18 June 1815 at 2pm.

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

A section of the Battle of Waterloo model

The model of the battlefield is 18 ft 4 in. by 7 ft 5 in and made up of ten sections. The model is made to a scale of 15 feet to 1 inch and the figures are to a scale of 6 feet to 1 inch in order that they might remain identifiable. The farm buildings are also this scale to avoid incongruity.

The model shows the area around the Brussels-Wavre crossroads, including the farm of La Haye Sainte, which was a critical position during the battle. The farmhouse was key to the centre of Wellington’s position. It was held by an Allied German garrison who fought bravely. When they ran out of ammunition they went on fighting with rifle butts and throwing stones, but eventually the French captured this important position. The Duke of Wellington and his staff are shown in the model to the North-West of La Haye Sainte.

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

Close up of Battle of Waterloo model

The model was first exhibited in London in 1844 but we do not know for certain where the Royal Armouries model moved then until 1868 when it was shown in Germany. Further exhibitions on the continent were then abandoned due to representations from the French Government.

The model returned to Dublin in possession of a Mr Evans, who seems to have put up the money for it and to have foreclosed. It was later rediscovered in the possession of a Mr Barrington in a storehouse near Dublin in 1907. Mrs Barrington-Malone inherited the property, and transferred the model to the Staff College, Camberley.

In 1925 it was taken into charge of the Tower Armouries, and moved to the Tower of London in 1935, where it was restored by a Mr Cawood. The model was displayed in the Small Arms Room of the White Tower until 1949. Then it was cleaned again, possibly by Russell Robinson, and stored until 1962 when it was moved to Dover Castle. It was returned in 1982, and finally put back on display in Leeds in 1996.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Fake Spotting – Top Tips

Fakers and forgers have always sought to deceive collectors with cleverly constructed copies, but would you be able to tell the difference? Standard thickness plates and screw threads, and spots of metal and scratches from electric or gas welders and evidence of the use of grinding tools are all obvious signs of modern methods. If the clues are more difficult to spot, scientific analysis through x-rays and microscopes can help to reveal the underlying composition of an object.

Duck's Foot Pistol

Duck's Foot Pistol

Here are our top tips on how to spot a fake:

1. Does it work?

Do visors lift as they are supposed to, do hinges open and close, do gun mechanisms operate? Often, logic and common sense are lost in the fabrication of fakes!

2. Does it use the correct materials?

Bronze is often a good indicator; old bronze is yellower, whilst more modern bronze tends to have a reddish hue.

3. Is it like the real thing?

For example, Samuel Pratt’s fake helmets were often much bigger, heavier and more intractable than the genuine articles. It was often impossible to actually wear them due to their weight and shape, and the vision slits were often in the wrong places.

4. Is the style of decoration of the right period and the right subject matter?

Modern aesthetics often feature in later fabrications, particularly in the decoration, as ideas about what looks good change over time.

5. Does it exhibit the right amount of wear/damage?

For example, with Japanese swords, original scabbards are often discoloured/blackened inside from use over time. Modern reproductions are often convincing on the outside, but remain clean on the inside.

6. Is the corrosion/patination in the right place?

These processes tend to reflect how an object has been used and kept over time, showing evidence of where it has been resting, whether it has been exposed, or kept in something, or damaged. With real objects, corrosion and patination is often localized and can be quite severe in places, with areas rusting away to almost nothing. With fakes, corrosion and patination is often evenly spread and too regular. Also, it is very rarely anything other than superficial; fakers are generally loath to spoil their hard work!

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Fake, Forgery or Replica?

Ever wondered how sneaky forgers managed to dupe and deceive the experts with fake arms and armour? Our Curators Emeritus Ian Bottomley and Peter Smithurst in their Fakes, Forgeries and Replicas Seminar sought to uncover some of the forger’s duplicitous tactics.

Fakes and forgeries often become more prolific when the demand and prices are high; consequently, the gothic revival and the rise of romanticism during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries provided ideal conditions for the fakes market to thrive as the craze for medieval pieces grew.

Examples of Samuel Pratt's handiwork

Examples of Samuel Pratt's handiwork

One of the most infamous fabricators of fakes of the 19th century was Samuel Pratt of Bond Street. Pratt was originally a vendor of antique furniture, but he colluded with a metalworker called Grimshaw and began to deal in ‘antique’ arms and armour. Some of the armour that he sold was real, but much was fake, being either copies or ‘improved’ items, such as a fifteenth-century sallet which Pratt modified into a basinet in around 1850.

Blogger: Natasha Roberts, Curatorial Assistant

Collections Up Close May

The seasons have finally changed from the cold snowy winter to summer sunshine, at least some of the time. Reflecting these changes there is an armour in the Royal Armouries’ collection which is decorated in colours depicting the changes of the seasons.

Japanese Armour

Japanese Armour

Laced in white at the top for snow, with a band of pink below representing the cherry blossom of spring, below that is green for summer and finally orange representing the maples of autumn. The richly decorated Japanese armour dates from 1850 and is on display in our Leeds Museum’s Oriental Gallery.

Detailing showing the change in seasons

Detailing showing the change in seasons

The national flag of Japan features a red disk in the centre representing the sun. The flag is commonly flag is commonly known as Hinomaru (“sun disc”) and officially as Nisshōki (“sun-mark flag”). Although long considered the national flag of Japan it was only in 1999 that it was officially designated.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher