The Tudor dynasty (1485-1603) is one of the best known and most studied periods in English history. From the unsettling conflicts of the Wars of the Roses to the succession crisis following Henry VIII’s death, the saga has all the makings of a Shakespearian tragedy. The story of the Royal Armouries collection is closely linked with this period, with objects being collected for display at the Tower of London as early as the reign of Elizabeth I. Ahead of our Tudor themed weekend to mark the 470th anniversary of the death of King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547), we give you a summary of just a few of the remarkable items in our collection dating from the Tudor Court of the 16th century.  

The ‘Horned Helmet’

Armet - The Horned Helmet (1512)
Armet – The Horned Helmet (1512) (IV22)

Dating from the early 16th century (1512-14), the horned helmet is one of the most famed items in the Royal Armouries collection. The armet originally formed part of an armour presented to King Henry VIII by the Emperor Maximilian I. The armour was made by Konrad Seusenhofer and has a somewhat mysterious history. In the past, for example, it has also been linked to Henry’s court jester, Will Somers.

Three-Quarter Armour

Three-quarter armour (1550).png
Three-Quarter Armour (II.179)

This armour for a boy dates from 1550 and probably belonged to Edward VI. The armour was made in the Royal Workshops at Greenwich, founded by Henry VIII, and at the time of its making the workshop only made armour by order of the King. You can see a number of child armours on display in the Tournament Gallery at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, including two made for brothers aged eight and ten.

The Silvered and Engraved Armour of Henry VIII

Henry VIII's armour and detail of tonlet decoration
Henry VIII’s armour and detail of tonlet decoration (II.5)

Made in 1515, the silvered and engraved armour of Henry VIII is the first known product of the King’s workshop at Greenwich. Its intricate decoration commemorates the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon (1509).

Replete with beautiful flowering Tudor roses and pomegranates of Aragon, to illustrate this happy (and fated) union, the armour also bears the sheaf of arrows badge of Ferdinand II of Aragon, as well as a combined Tudor rose and Katherine’s pomegranate badge. Most noticeable is the decoration around the base of the tonlet (skirt), where the initials of H and K are joined by true lovers’ knots in copper alloy.

Three-quarter field armour of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton

Three-quarter field armour (1600)
Three-quarter armour of Henry Wriothesley (II.360)

As you can see from this ornate armour, the 3rd Earl of Southampton was not the retiring type. The armour dates from 1600, late in the reign of Elizabeth I, it is thought to be of either French or Flemish origin and is currently on display in the War Gallery at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Shakespeare dedicated a number of his works to Southampton, including Venus and Adonis.

Painting of William Palmer, Gentleman Pensioner

William Palmer, Gentleman Pensioner of 1539
William Palmer, Gentleman Pensioner of 1539 (I.1548)

This oil portrait probably depicts William Palmer, Gentleman Pensioner of 1539, with his pollaxe and basket hilted sword.The Honourable Band of Gentlemen Pensioners was established by Henry VIII as a personal body guard ‘’composed of cadets of noble families and the highest order of gentry’ (Pegge 1791: 2-18). Under their captain Henry Earl of Essex they accompanied the King at the battle of the Spurs in 1513 and at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. As depicted in the portrait, their characteristic weapon soon became the pollaxe with a spiked head, and versions of the axe still carried by their successors.

Field and Tilt Armour of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Field and tilt armour
Field and Tilt Armour (II.81)

Robert Dudley is probably the best known of Elizabeth I’s favourites. Having risen to the heady heights of the Elizabethan Court, Dudley famously fell from the Queen’s favour, spending much of his life trying to regain her adoration. This armour dates from 1570 and is on display in the Royal Armouries’ Tournament Gallery. It is thought to have been made for Dudley to wear at the lavish entertainment he staged for the Queen at his seat, Kenilworth Castle, in 1575.

Armet, possibly belonging to Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby 

Armet (1580)
Armet for Peregrine Bertie, Lord Willoughby d’Eresby (IV.577)
Painting (1700-1799)
Portrait of Lord Willoughby d’Eresby (I.67)

As is clear from his portrait, Peregrine Bertie was a man of great social standing. The Grandson of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Bertie married the daughter of the Earl of Oxford and inherited a barony in 1581. The armet is on display in the Tournament Gallery at the Royal Armouries, and if you study his portrait you can see a helmet which closely resembles this piece.

Want to learn more about the Tudor objects in the Royal Armouries collection, come along to our Tudor Weekend on the 16th and 17th September.