About Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries is the United Kingdom’s national museum of arms and armour, and one of the most important museums of its type in the world. We will be blogging about all aspects of our three museums - our head office in Leeds, our historical home in the White Tower at the Tower of London, and Fort Nelson in Hampshire. Content comes from many contributors throughout the Museum including the Communications, Conservation and Curatorial teams.

Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard…an introduction

Written by Special Projects Manager Alex Woodall.

On starting my intriguingly-titled post as Special Projects Manager at the Royal Armouries in November 2015, I had little idea of what this role in the interpretation team would involve. But I could not have been more delighted to discover that my initial special project is the challenge of overseeing an exhibition of objects in Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.


K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse © Birmingham Museums Trust

Jointly owned by the cities of Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent, and managed by Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, the Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver ever discovered.  It was unearthed in 2009 in a field near Lichfield by a local metal detectorist. The Royal Armouries is staging an exhibition of some of its objects as they are displayed outside the West Midlands in their first ever UK tour.

I initially visited the hoard some years ago at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery soon after its discovery. I can remember being dazzled not only by these tiny things – their intricate gold filigree and stunning cut garnet cloisonné work – but also by the beguiling mystery and serendipity of such a find, some of the objects then still caked in mud, and still without much research as to what they were, and how they came to be buried in this field.

Today, they are part of an ongoing conservation process, with research on the objects continually developing, for example using cutting edge technology to explore the metals, and with experts deciphering the ornate animal symbolism. New developments and discoveries are made practically every week.


K328 – Cloisonné bird with garnets, probably from a hilt grip © Birmingham Museums Trust

So far, my work on this project has included regular meetings with cross-departmental project team members, putting together exhibition planning documents and briefs for designers, alongside team visits to see the current displays in Birmingham and Stoke and learning more about the context of the objects. But the real highlight so far has been the opportunity to see the whole hoard up close while it was off display for a time in the conservation studios – it was breath-taking to be confronted with things which up until that point I had only really studied in photographs.

The objects within Warrior Treasures are mainly sword decorations: pommels and hilts, although to me (with an art gallery background), on first glance they seem more like beautiful jewels than things that might be associated with warriors. Their craftsmanship is overwhelming, with some of the filigree wires measuring just 0.2mm. Yet they are all objects that have been damaged, not recently, but prior to their burial when they were stripped from swords and seaxes (single-edged fighting knives): evidence of this damage provides another avenue for investigation.


K108 and K699 – Pair of collars from a sword hilt decorated with fine gold filigree wires © Birmingham Museums Trust

Alongside the hoard objects, the Royal Armouries will be commissioning a response from a contemporary maker and film which will explore aspects of these techniques and decorations. We will also be complementing the display with a small collection of Anglo-Saxon burial objects which are usually part of our early war display. A space within the exhibition will also allow for storytelling and live interpretation to take place, and there are exciting plans afoot to have a comprehensive events programme including a study day, partnerships with other organisations, and a packed schedule of holiday and term-time activity for families and schools.

Watch this space for guest posts from various partners and to see how the exhibition unfolds.



“Sent under plain wrapper – Killer Chrysanthemum included”

Behind the scenes as the Royal Armouries at the Tower prepare for Christmas, by keeper of Tower Armouries Bridget Clifford.

‘Tis the season when Santa’s little elves are packing as if their lives depended on it – and museum curators are not immune from the bug.  In the Royal Armouries case, the jewel that is the ‘Battle of Agincourt‘ exhibition will close on 31st January 2016 and the unique assemblage of objects, archive material and books will depart back to their parent organisations never to meet again. In October a new interactive gallery will re -occupy the vacated space, but in the interim the Tower Armouries has a chance to display some of its more quirky pieces which usually lurk in the furthermost corners of its reserve collections and rarely see the light of day.

As the oldest visitor attraction in the world and heir to the Office of Ordnance stores and traditions, the Royal Armouries has collected a wealth of curious objects through the centuries. Unfortunately rather than telling a joined up story, more often than not they present a patchwork quilt of Ordnance history and interests. One gets the distinct impression that some objects found a home in these stores because no one else knew quite what to do with them.


A relic of an 18th century naval disaster

The sinking of the Royal George in 1782 while undergoing routine maintenance cost over 800 lives.

Exhibitions do not display themselves – a lot of behind the scenes work has to go on before the public are invited to view. Currently we are unable to make mounts on site at the Tower, so the objects have got to go to the museum in Leeds to be fitted up for their mounts with both then returning to the Tower. This has posed quite a prickly problem for the curators on site, as everything has to be packed securely – both for their own  and everyone else’s safety.  Despite our best hopes, the blue fairy failed to materialise and magic it all done, so we found ourselves cast in the role of Santa’s helpers.

I must say, the wrapping paper left something to be desired – very plain and a bit bobbly –and much ingenuity was required to render some of the pieces travelling North less lethal.  My favourite was the Killer Chrysanthemum – a vaguely floral number constructed from the tips of old socket-bayonet blades.  No matter how much packing we arranged around this deadly bloom, we still managed to find a spike.


Cactus – nothing compared to the killer chrysanthemum!


…and under wraps

Meanwhile, Tower curator Malcolm Mercer turned out to be a dab hand with masking tape, securing errant tissue snakes before they uncoiled and slid off the objects they were supposed to be protecting.  His dexterity with the gibbet – a two- parter with decided wriggle – will be the talk of the Tower for some time to come.

The gibbet before – with supporting elf lurking…

…and after – tamed and now with over excited elf to one side.


We are also very proud of the swine’s feathers also known as brandistocks – transformed from a mid-17th  Century spikey number into  a workmanlike (and blunt) paddle through the magic of bubble wrap and tissue, with a stiffener of plastazote.  What the colonists of Virginia made of these strange 3-pronged staff weapons when 1,500 of “the best swynnes ffeathers” were produced by the Board of Ordnance from stores in October 1676 to equip the military expedition sent there is not recorded, but this is probably their the last military issue.  They remained among the stores in America “left att Virginia as a standing Trayn & Magazine and nott to be returned againe for England” and one wonders if they were put to a more domestic use and helped foster local enthusiasm for spit-roast barbeques? (For more information on this episode of American history, see Geoffrey Parnell’s article “The Artillery Train Sent to Virginia in 1676” in Man at Arms  (vol 17, no 2)March/ April 1995 pp 10-17).


Suprise! A cages and unleashed swim’es feather. (You’ll just have to imagine the paddle transformation – no photographs available)

Finally everything was packed, and the majority of items cocooned in a flight case for their trip.  Certainly a Christmas delivery with a difference, and Malcolm and I will find present wrapping 2015  a doddle in comparison.


A Christmas hamper with attitude!


Star Wars: The excitement awakens

Written by Curator of Firearms Jonathan Ferguson.

Excitement for The Force Awakens is high here at the Armouries, so I thought I’d take a quick look at some of the fictional arms and armour on display in the footage we’ve seen so far…

‘Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?’

Like the rest of the production design for the new movies, the weapons and armour are heavily inspired by the original trilogy, but with a modern twist. The most obvious change is to the armour worn by the new ‘First Order’ Stormtroopers, Snowtroopers, and the new flamethrower-equipped ‘Flametroopers’. The armour resembles the classic white 1977 design, but with a fresh-looking, more streamlined design. Though there is a lot of continuity between the prequel Clone Troopers, the original trilogy Stormtroopers, and the new version, this is more than just a logical progression or enhancement of the old designs. The designers have actually gone back further. Interestingly, just like the new X-Wing fighter, the new armour is closely based on the original 1970s concept art by Ralph McQuarrie;

imageRalph McQuarrie’s beautiful concept art for the Stormtrooper.

The design of the body and limb defences in this artwork is particularly close to the new Stormtrooper armour; note the shape of the pauldrons (shoulder defences) especially. The helmets of the different trooper types created for the film are all riffs on McQuarrie’s original helmet design, with a bit of the old movie style thrown in. Unlike the concept art however, Stormtroopers do not appear to have taken to wielding lightsabers! Like modern ballistic or riot armour, the hard plates are attached to a black undersuit. This is an idea taken from the films, as the concept art seems to show white underneath and between the armour plates. Given the total lack of protection from blaster bolts that Stormtrooper armour appears to afford in the films, my personal theory is that the Stormtrooper armour actually is a combination environment suit/riot armour. Note that the artwork shows trooper equipped with large shields. Mind you, if it is riot armour, it didn’t work too well against those Ewoks in ‘Jedi’! Returning to the helmet, the faceplate has interesting psychological implications in terms of dehumanising and anonymising the wearer. Clearly it would also intimidate the local population and the enemy. Real-life military forces tend to avoid covering their faces unless engaged in covert or special operations. Riot police and military forces involved in riots do frequently use masks or face shields, however, largely for practical reasons (fire, thrown objects etc). Interestingly, real-world designers have come up with Stormtrooper-style facial armour for modern ballistic helmets, and some have even been tried by military forces;

See link: The ‘Helmet Electronics and Display System-Upgradeable Protection’ or ‘HEaDS-UP’, made by a company called Revision and trialled by the US Army in 2013/14. http://news.discovery.com/tech/gear-and-gadgets/army-tests-cutting-edge-halo-like-helmets-131025.htm

Overall, this retro aesthetic reflects the very conscious efforts to re-connect the new movies to their roots and help us all forget about those prequels (with apologies to any fans of those who may be reading)!

‘An elegant weapon… for a more civilized age’

It wouldn’t be Star Wars without lightsabres, and of course we’ve seen two from the new film. Luke Skywalker’s sabre, originally of course his father Anakin’s, is a major plot point and looks like it sees some use as well. It was built using a metal Graflex camera flash tube, adorned with various found objects and of course a blue energy ‘blade’ created using optical special effects. The other sabre belongs to new villain Kylo Ren, and has caused some fan controversy by sporting two miniature energy blades at the hilt, similar to the cross on a medieval sword. It’s hard to see how this would be of much practical use, as any blade contact is likely to be with the emitter portion of the ‘cross’, which would surely be sliced off! Still, it’s something new and together with the distinctively ‘angry’ jagged look to the blade, marks Kylo Ren out as something new and different to the Sith we’ve seen previously. Given the samurai movie inspiration for the lightsabre and the Jedi/Sith, I wouldn’t be surprised at some stage to see a ‘tanto’ (knife) sized weapon at some point. It would certainly add a new dimension to the fight choreography. By the way, Star Wars was not the first to feature a ‘laser sword’, as an early draft of the script called it. The idea probably originated in a 1933 sci-fi story in ‘Weird Tales’ magazine called ‘Kaldar, Planet of Antares’ and written by Edmond Hamilton.

New villain Kylo Ren and his unusual lightsabre

New villain Kylo Ren and his unusual lightsabre

‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side’

I work with our firearms collection, so I have a particular interest in the new blaster guns. These too are a throwback to the original movies. Notably, Han Solo’s iconic ‘DL-44’ blaster pistol makes a return. As many fans will know, this was a modified Mauser C96, one of the first semi-automatic pistol designs and the first to see commercial success (over one million were made). Fans spend a great deal of time and money replicating the props of the movies, and blasters are no exception. A handful of live firing prop replicas have even been built in the United States. Strangely, as IMFDB.com points out, the new props are modified replica ‘Schnellfeuer’ machine pistols rather than the true C96. This was presumably done because replicas of the Schnellfeuer are more easily available. Fans love ‘in-universe’ explanations, and if I were to try my hand at one, I’d say this is a replacement for Han’s original (which changes in detail between movies anyway).

A Mauser C96 pistol being loaded with 7.63x25mm ammunition from a ten round stripper clip. Once the rounds have been loaded, the metal strip is removed and the bolt closes.

A Mauser C96 pistol being loaded with 7.63x25mm ammunition from a ten round stripper clip. Once the rounds have been loaded, the metal strip is removed and the bolt closes.

The next most famous blaster is probably the Imperial ‘Blastech’ E-11 blaster carbine (aka the ‘Stormtrooper blaster’). ‘In-universe’, this is still in use 30 years on, though now designated the ‘Sonn-Blas F-11D’. Given the outline plot of the movie, it seems likely that this reflects manufacture of an updated E-11 design by factories controlled by the First Order, rather than whoever is running the Galactic government at this point. It seems that the old Imperial blaster maker ‘Blastech’ is now back under Republic/Resistance control. This has happened many times in our real world too, most obviously the many copies (licenced and illicit) of the original Kalashnikov AK rifle, made by different manufacturers and given different designations. Even more appropriately perhaps (given the inspiration for the Empire and First Order), when resources were tight for the Nazis in the Second World War, they looked to the British Sten submachine gun to create a weapon that would be cheaper and quicker to produce than their existing designs. This German Sten also altered a few details including the magazine housing (to take the German MP.40 magazine) and it too was redesignated, becoming the Vorgrimler MP.3008. I doubt the Star Wars designers were aware of this parallel, but it’s an interesting example of art imitating life.


Sterling L2A3 (Mark IV) submachine gun with stock folded. The 32 round magazine is below. For the Star Wars movies, magazines were cut down to only 5 rounds to make the guns look less like contemporary firearms. This meant that the armourers had to keep a large number of shortened magazines on hand in order to frequently resupply the actors and extras with blank ammunition.

The original E-11 was built on the British Sterling Mark IV submachine gun of the 1950s, and the new gun hasn’t changed much. A new sight and details like white highlights have been added. Most obviously, the magazine housing of the Sterling has been flipped to the right hand side. This would make reloading rather awkward, but as blasters don’t seem to need reloading, this is obviously not a worry! The ‘70s props actually fired blank rounds, but the new versions are no longer live-firing, so we will be seeing CGI laser blasts only and no recoil from the guns themselves. This is a bit of a shame, because although there’s no reason for directed energy weapons to recoil like a traditional firearm, it did lend a bit of physicality to action scenes in the old movies.

Storm Trooper

A promotional image of a First Order Stormtrooper with F-11D blaster. He also has a holstered SA-44C pistol (see below).

Image from: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/File:SWTFA_stormtrooper_promo.jpg

Continuing the Star Wars tradition of using real guns as a reference, the unique E/F-11 variant carried by Captain Phasma (the chrome-armoured Stormtrooper officer) is fitted with an extending butt-stock originally designed by US firearms accessory company ATI. This is curious, as the Sterling SMG is already fitted with an under-folding shoulder stock. Perhaps if the troopers in the original movies had used the stock, they wouldn’t have missed quite as often!

star wars

Captain Phasma with her ‘tricked out’ F-11D blaster. In the real world, Special Operations Forces do frequently use standard issue weapons accessorised and customised to their preference. Royal or presidential bodyguard units also tend to carry modified weapons, sometimes chrome-plated. Phasma’s chromed armour and cloak definitely suggest some sort of elite status.

Image from: http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/File:SW7_603.jpg

A less obvious example of a real-world gun adapted for the movie is the blaster pistol issued to some Stormtroopers and dubbed ‘Sonn-Blas SE-44C Blaster Pistol’. Just as before, this too is based upon a real gun – a Glock pistol fitted with a carbine chassis system to change its appearance (the Glock being a rather well-known movie gun). The movie ‘Dredd’ also used this approach to create the ‘Lawgiver’ pistol.

There are several other interesting new designs listed there already, including a new Republic (or ‘Resistance’) blaster rifle. If you’d like to read more about these and the other firearms of The Force Awakens (and for that matter the other movies), the excellent Internet Movie Firearms Database already has a section on them (in fact I used it as my main reference for this post). The Episodes VII-IX section is small at the moment but will no doubt be expanded after the movie is released worldwide.

star wars2

Image from:  http://www.imfdb.org/wiki/Star_Wars#Sequel_Trilogy_.28Episodes_VII.2C_VIII.2C_and_IX.29

One day we hope to acquire a piece of Star Wars weaponry or armour for the national collection. Our ‘Collecting Cultures’ project has already resulted in the acquisition of a Pulse Rifle from ‘Aliens’. We also have a very interesting object in the collection with a Star Wars connection, which you might have seen on the ‘Quizeum’ TV programme recently. If not, we’ll be blogging about it soon. For now though, that’s all from me, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t sign off with the appropriate quote…

May The Force be with you!

William Siborne: Part 2 – the challenges of research

William Siborne, maker of the Royal Armouries ‘Battle of Waterloo’ diorama, played a major role in our understanding of the battle and left a lasting legacy of his work. For an introduction to the man and the model, make sure you first read our previous post here.

When Siborne began to look for information on the crisis of the battle to assist in the construction of his first model, he found that the official records lacked the level of detail he required. He therefore wrote to Sir Rowland Hill, General Commanding in Chief of the British Army, requesting permission to send a circular letter to officers who had fought at Waterloo, to ask them about their regiment’s role in the battle. His proposed solution was a radical one. No survey of this nature had been attempted before, and some senior military figures raised concerns that the differing versions of events that officers were bound to give, would merely result in a mass of contradictory information, and might weaken the authority of Wellington’s official dispatch.


London Gazette © Crown Copyright. The Gazette.

The Waterloo Dispatch was written on the evening after the battle, and although it was an official report to the Secretary of State for War, it was composed in the knowledge that it would be published in the London Gazette (the official journal of the British government) and then reprinted in the London and provincial newspapers. It was a matter of public record, and the fears that Siborne’s circular letter might produce some unwelcome results were not altogether unfounded. The pages of the United Services Journal were already occupied by a heated debate between General Sir Hussey Vivian and Major George Gawler relating to the roll of their respective brigades in the events following the repulse of the Imperial Guard. But Siborne was not to be dissuaded, and after explaining his research methodology more fully, and promising to submit a copy of the final plan for the model to the Duke for his approval, Lord Fitzroy Somerset, the Military Secretary, gave his consent albeit with the comment, ‘then let him issue his Circulars and the Lord give him a safe deliverance’.

Siborne conducted his survey, and in response received some 700 letters from British, Hanoverian and King’s German Legion officers who had fought at Waterloo. Some had served on the general staff, others had been regimental officers, but all branches of the service were represented except for the Royal Engineers. The letters covered every aspect of the campaign, and Siborne diligently checked every piece of information, and where necessary entered into detailed correspondence to clarify matters of detail. An examination of the original letters shows that rather than shake the foundations of the Waterloo Dispatch the letters added important details to the main features of the battle.

Siborne was naturally anxious to elicit Wellington’s views, but the Duke was notoriously reticent about giving interviews, and rarely spoke about the battle in which he had lost so many ‘old friends and companions’. However Siborne had informed Fitzroy Somerset that in addition to his circular letter he also intended to ask for information from the War Departments in Paris and Berlin, and when it became apparent that he intended to represent the Prussians on his model, he was offered the chance of a private meeting with Wellington. Unfortunately for Siborne when the time came his health would not permit him to travel to London, and the opportunity was lost. He did submit a copy of his plan to Wellington as promised, and was sent a short memorandum in return, but this contained little new information.

7. Wellington Memorandum

Wellington’s Memorandum

Wellington was aware of Siborne’s plans to include Blucher’s army on the model, but he did not raise any objections in his memorandum, and there is no evidence at this stage that he was actively opposing the project. However, if the Duke was silent on the subject others were not. Siborne continued to receive warnings from Fitzroy Somerset that his proposed representation created the risk that ‘those who see the work will deduce from it that the result of the battle was not so much owing to British valour and the great generalship of the chief of the English Army, as to the flank movement of the Prussians’.

By 1837 Siborne was in severe financial difficulties, following the withdrawal of official funding for the model, and his decision to continue the project at his own expense. The need to pay his creditors and recoup his losses probably influenced his decision to write a history of the Waterloo campaign, and he entered into an agreement with the publishers, Messrs Boone of Bond Street. It was the threat of this publication, and not the model, which ultimately brought him into conflict with Wellington.

NPG 405; Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Alfred, Count D'Orsay

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, by Alfred, Count D’Orsay. © National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 405

In 1842 the Duke received a translation of a study by the German military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, in which he criticized several aspects of Wellington’s conduct of the Waterloo campaign. It so annoyed the Duke that in response he drafted a detailed memorandum to rebut the criticisms. Siborne became aware of the existence of the document, and even attempted to obtain a copy from the Duke’s private secretary, Colonel John Gurwood, but without success. Two years later Wellington drafted a second memorandum this time in answer to errors in the final volume of Alison’s History of Europe during the French Revolution, and inaccuracies in Siborne’s History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815 an advance copy of which he had received.

During his military career Wellington had been renowned for his ability to produce detailed memoranda on all manner of subjects relating to the conduct of the war in the Peninsular, and his response to Alison and Siborne was in much the same vein. He began by recognising the duty of the historian to seek the most authentic details of the subject, and to evaluate all that had been published, but added that in his opinion official sources of information should be preferred to the ‘statements of private individuals’ written some time after the events. Then in the remainder of the document he gave a detailed and thoughtful analysis of the errors in both works, in particular those relating to his co-operation with the Prussians.

History of the war in France and Belgium, in 1815

Siborne’s History

Siborne’s history appeared in 1844, accompanied by a folio of maps and plans. The advance reviews had been unanimously favourable, and this combined with the continued interest in the battle, ensured that the first edition was rapidly sold out. Siborne had done his best to produce a balanced account based on the information he had gathered, but inevitably the book sparked renewed debate from Waterloo veterans in the United Services Journal, and criticisms that the representation of the achievements of the regimenta was inaccurate. Wellington’s own detailed analysis was used by his close associate, Francis Egerton, as the basis for a review of the work that was published in the Quarterly Review in 1845. Siborne took careful note of all of the comments, and made revisions to the text of subsequent editions, that have subsequently led to accusations of a conspiracy to suppress the truth, but his notes reveal how he reviewed the evidence before making any change.

Siborne’s history has never succeeded in escaping the criticism that it relied too heavily on the personal accounts of British officers, a weakness that he himself acknowledged in the preface to the first edition, and that it failed to take into account the contributions of some of the Allies during the campaign. The research methodology he adopted and the use of multiple eyewitness accounts was radical for the time, and enabled him to produce a type of work that modern historians would recognise, and many have copied. His history remains the most cited authority on the Waterloo campaign.

‘Der Tag’ – The Day the German High Seas Fleet Surrendered

A Photograph Album held in the Archives of the Royal Armouries holds a fascinating glimpse of a surrender often forgotten in the wake of the armistice. Alina Morosanu, a placement student for the First World War Archives Project, tells us more about this album and the strange naval events it chronicles.

On the 21st November 1918, 10 days after the Armistice had been declared, the German High Seas Fleet surrendered to the Allies at the Firth of Forth. The anchorage at the Firth of Forth was merely the first stop for the fleet to ensure complete disarmament; the fleet would subsequently be interned around the Scapa Flow a few days later. Nearly one hundred years ago today the crews of the British ships sent to escort the fleet would have observed the historic sight of the diminutive H.M.S Cardiff leading a convoy of 70 magnificent German battle cruisers and destroyers into Internment around the Scottish Isles.

H.M.S Cardiff leading German battle-cruisers into Rosyth ©IWM Q19288

H.M.S Cardiff leading German battle-cruisers into Rosyth ©IWM Q19288

A Bit of Historical Insight

While the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 was the strike that lit the match and ignited the Great War, the increasing rivalry between the great powers of Europe at the time was also a contributor to the outbreak of the wide-scale conflict. One such rivalry was the Anglo-German naval arms race, provoked by the massive expansion of the German navy during the 1900’s. The intense German naval expansion programme was a threat to British defence policy which held that the British navy should be at least the size of the next two largest navies. 1914 found Britain with forty nine battleships, compared to Germany’s twenty nine, and despite the latter’s efforts; Britain continued to maintain naval supremacy throughout the duration of the war. The battle of Jutland (or Skaggerak) in 1916 was the only full-scale clash of the British and German fleets during the war and resulted in both sides claiming victory. Despite increasing German U-boat raids from 1916 to 1917, the German Navy’s hope of defeating the British by June 1917 failed. There would be no other contact between the two fleets until the signing of the Armistice and the subsequent German surrender on 21st of November, 1918.

Photograph Album of Lieutenant-Commander Wright

The Surrender of the German High Seas Fleet is immortalized in Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Thomas Wright’s photograph album, held in the Archives of the Royal Armouries. G.T. Wright was born on 24th of July, 1886 in Hellifield, Yorkshire. He joined the navy in 1901 and subsequently worked his way up to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander on 31st of December, 1916. The album holds a number of photos of the German Ships entering the Firth of Forth, many of which are captioned as having been taken from the British ship H.M.S Seymour. At the time of the surrender, Wright was serving on H.M.S Ajax so it is unclear whether he is the photographer or just a collector of these images, some of which match official photographs. A correspondent from The Times was also aboard H.M.S Seymour and described the sight of the German Ships being led into the Firth of Forth by the H.M.S. Cardiff as ‘a school of leviathans led by a minnow’.

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Photograph Album of Lieutenant Commander G.T. Wright

“Paragraph Eleven. Confirm.”

After months of internment at Scapa Flow, during which the German sailors were banned from going ashore, the situation changed dramatically. On 21st of June 1919, Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter issued the secret code word ordering all German ships at Scapa Flow to scuttle themselves. The decision taken by von Reuter led to the world’s largest naval suicide, but with growing concern that the allies would divide the fleet between themselves without ratification by the German Government; it was the only option left. The British were aware that the possibility of a scuttle was high but by the time the ships began to visibly list and start to sink, it was almost impossible to stop the events, with only a handful of the ships being successfully beached and fifty two sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Two remarkable sets of newsreel footage survive in the Pathe archive picturing both the surrender and the scuttling of the German fleet.

The upper-works of the German battle-cruiser Hindenburg after it was scuttled ©IWM SP 1635

The upper-works of the German battle-cruiser Hindenburg after it was scuttled ©IWM SP 1635

Over the next few decades many of the ships were salvaged from the sea bottom but there remain remnants of the High Seas Fleet even today, laying on the seabed at Scapa Flow. Scapa Flow has now been designated a historic wreck site and divers can admire the engine room of the SS Konig which still has most of its component parts (http://scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/konig/).

Thus, November marks not only the remembrance of the Armistice in 1918, but for naval enthusiasts, it also marks the beginning of one of the grandest naval defeats in history. After all, not many Admirals consider the deliberate sinking of their own fleet as a “great performance!” as von Reuter exclaims in his book ‘Scapa Flow – Das Grab der Deutscher Flotte’.

The Curator @ War: 19 October 1915 “Bananas & Battleships”

Entry for the execution of Fernando Buschmann in the Tower of London Prison Log.

Entry for the execution of Fernando Buschmann in the Tower of London Prison Log. It reads “19: Brazilian spy shot”.

Fernando Buschmann was the seventh of 11 spies shot at the Tower between November 1914 and April 1916, and at 25 years old the second youngest. A Brazilian, with German father and Danish mother, he was educated in Europe.  The failure of his French aviation enterprise saw him back in Brazil. From 1912 he returned to Europe working in partnership with Marcelino Bello in a business importing food from Germany and England and exporting Brazilian bananas and potatoes. He met a Dresden girl, married her in London and all looked set for a rosy future.

Photograph of Fernando Buschmann

Photograph of Fernando Buschmann

In 1913 the Hamburg office of Buschmann and Bello opened, and Fernando travelled between Brazil and Europe. Success was short-lived – by September 1914 the German office had closed and Buschmann’s name was removed from the firm’s title as it was perceived to be bad for business. Leaving his family in Dresden, he travelled throughout Europe and arrived in London in April 1915. With spy fear and anti-German sentiment at their height, this was to prove fatal.

Buschmann’s commercial interests had widened to include boots, mules, and guns for the French government. Despite this, he was perennially short of money, and it was his begging telegrams to a Dutch contact Flores that alerted British Counter-Intelligence. Buschmann claimed that he had no idea that Flores was in fact a German spymaster, but having attracted the attention of the authorities his business activities were closely monitored. In June 1915 he was arrested. During questioning he claimed his business in England was to sell picric acid (an explosive), rifles and cloth. He admitted to formerly selling flour and potatoes “but not cigars” – a number of the other spies captured at the time had been involved with the latter, and the use of tobacco products as code words was suspected. In Buschmann’s case, fruit fell under suspicion as Major Drake commented in his review of the evidence:

“…should we be far out in suggesting that bananas and battle-ships are interchangeable terms?”

Buschmann was cautioned in both French and English and faced 4 charges under Section 48 of the Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations 1914 – in other words he was accused of espionage: a capital crime.


The first page of Buschmann’s censored charge sheet – sensitive information has been cut out.

The first page of Buschmann’s censored charge sheet – sensitive information has been cut out.

Court martialled in September and unable to satisfactorily explain his dealings with known German agents, as well as his woeful business record, his trips to Southampton and Portsmouth and the presence of invisible ink in his record books, he was found guilty. In his defence, he argued:

“I was never a soldier or a sailor, and I am absolutely ignorant of all military matters.  I am not a good businessman as I am more wrapped up in my music than business.”

Buschmann was sentenced to death by firing squad and transferred to the Tower on 18th October. He was permitted the solace of his violin which he played throughout the night.

Sentence was carried out at 7:00am on the 19th October at the Tower Rifle Range.

Fernando Buschmann's death certificate

Fernando Buschmann’s death certificate

The medical officer officiating at Buschmann’s execution was Francis Woodcock Goodbody (1870- 1938). In civilian life he was a researcher in chemistry and medicine at University College, London. During the 1914-18 war, he was commissioned Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

To learn more, have a listen to Daniel Hope’s radio documentary “A fiddler in the tower” about Fernando Buschman.


Agincourt600: A Legitimate Language of Leadership – Henry V’s Use of English

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is currently exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London. To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, James Freeman, British Library, writes on a particularly fascinating letter from King Henry V.

Written around 1418, this letter exemplifies Henry V’s firm grasp of royal government: his ability to delegate, to issue clear instructions, and his command of administrative details, even in the midst of the second campaign in France.  The letter addresses the most important nobles who were ruling in the king’s absence: Henry’s brother, John, duke of Bedford; his cousins Ralph Neville, 1st earl of Westmorland and Henry Percy, 2nd earl of Northumberland; and Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham.  It encompasses matters of national security – the strength of the northern border against possible Scottish incursions – as well as how a single, admittedly very important, prisoner of war should be held in custody.   It makes clear to its recipients and to us how these two issues were interconnected.  Most remarkably, it is written in English, quite possibly by Henry’s own hand.

Letter of Henry V, probably autograph; paper; written c. 1418; British Library, Cotton MS Vespasian F III, f. 8.

Letter of Henry V, probably autograph; paper; written c. 1418; British Library, Cotton MS Vespasian F III, f. 8.

Why is the language of this letter so significant?  In the fifteenth-century, unlike the twenty-first, linguistic boundaries did not neatly coincide with those of nation-states.  Three main languages had co-existed in England since the Norman Conquest: Latin, French and English.  Such trilingualism persisted because each language fulfilled distinct purposes that one or both of the others could not.  This was not a static situation, however; over the centuries following 1066, the role of each language evolved, one sometimes overlapping with another or taking on new roles.

Add. 25588

A page from a missal (use of Sarum), containing notation for the sung liturgy and a half-page miniature of the Crucifixion; parchment; eastern England (?Norwich), 1st quarter of the 15th century; British Library, Add MS 25588, f. 109v

Latin was the trans-national language of religion and learning.  It remained in England (despite the efforts of John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century), as elsewhere, the language of the Bible and of church liturgy.  It was written and spoken by scholars in the universities, the religious orders in monasteries, and by bishops and priests in cathedrals and churches.  The authority and antiquity of Latin helped it to become the common language of administration and the law: of charters, grants, writs, orders, wills, indentures, of the panoply of medieval documentary culture.

Royal 20 D.iv

Detail of a page from a copy of the ‘Lancelot du Lac’, with a half-page miniature showing Arthur engaged in conversation with his barons, while Lancelot and Guinevere are whispering together – and on the right, the king and queen presiding over a banquet; parchment; north-eastern France (?Arras), c. 1300-1380; British Library, Royal MS 20 D IV, f. 1r

Following the Norman Conquest, French became the language of the ruling elite.  Old English – the tongue of the Anglo-Saxon kings and of epic poetry such as Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon – was side-lined.  Long after kings of England ceased to be French-born men, French remained entrenched as the aristocratic language of courtly culture and chivalry, and of the Arthurian prose and verse romances that these classes consumed.  In the thirteenth century, it too was adopted as a legitimate legal language.

The opening page of a copy of the prose ‘Brut’ chronicle of England, with illuminated initials and border decoration; parchment; England; 2nd quarter of the 15th century; British Library, Harley MS 4827, f. 1r

The opening page of a copy of the prose ‘Brut’ chronicle of England, with illuminated initials and border decoration; parchment; England; 2nd quarter of the 15th century; British Library, Harley MS 4827, f. 1r

English played a subordinate role.  It persisted as the spoken language of common people after 1066, but diversified into regional dialects while adopting words of French origin.  These colloquialisms seeped into written English, making it harder for readers to understand and limiting its potential as a literary language.  From the thirteenth century onwards, some scholars and clerics composed in Middle English new works of literature (The Owl and the Nightingale, Layamon’s Brut) and devotional texts (the Ancrene Riwle, Richard Rolle’s Form of Living), or produced translations from works originally written in Latin (Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon, translated by John Trevisa) or French (Handlyng Synne and the Chronicle of Robert Mannyng of Brunne).

The opening page of a copy of John Lydgate’s ‘Troy Book’, with illuminated initials and full border decoration; parchment; England; 2nd quarter of the 15th century; British Library, Arundel MS 99, f. 1r

The opening page of a copy of John Lydgate’s ‘Troy Book’, with illuminated initials and full border decoration; parchment; England; 2nd quarter of the 15th century; British Library, Arundel MS 99, f. 1r

Prior even to his accession, Henry was involved in the rehabilitation of English as a literary language.  In 1412, he commissioned John Lydgate to write the Troy Book.  The work took eight years to complete.  Translated mainly from the thirteenth-century Historia destructionis Troiae of Guido delle Colonne, it provided a heady mix of history, romance, battles and eloquent speeches, drawing lessons for the present-day ruler from the events it described.

Miniature from a copy of Thomas Hoccleve’s ‘Regiment of Princes’, showing Thomas Hoccleve presenting his work to Prince Henry; parchment; England; second quarter of the 15th century, Royal MS 17 D VI, f. 40r

Miniature from a copy of Thomas Hoccleve’s ‘Regiment of Princes’, showing Thomas Hoccleve presenting his work to Prince Henry; parchment; England; second quarter of the 15th century, Royal MS 17 D VI, f. 40r

As Prince of Wales, Henry was the dedicatee of Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, a Middle English poem that drew on Giles of Rome’s De regimine principum and the Secreta secretorum to describe the virtues necessary in a good ruler.  A relationship was thus established between patron and author, with Henry encouraging Hoccleve to translate further works for him.  Hoccleve’s ‘Series’ – a sequence of linked poems in English – included tales from the Gesta Romanorum and the Horologium sapientiae, and he wrote celebratory verse in praise of Henry for important public occasions, such as the king’s victorious return from France in 1421.

Yet Henry’s ambitions for the English language were not confined to fine works of writing.  English had ceased to be the language of government with the Norman Conquest.  Henry changed that: he was the first king for nearly four centuries, the first since Edward the Confessor, to issue orders routinely in English.  The Signet Office – a private team of scribes and administrators that accompanied the king on his travels – wrote all of his letters in this way.

Detail of the opening lines of Henry’s letter.

Detail of the opening lines of Henry’s letter.

This letter indicates that the choice of language was a decision Henry took into his own hands.  The use of formal but familial modes of address – ‘I wole that ye comend my brothre with the chanceller with my cosin of northumberland and my cosin of westmerland’ – suggests that it is Henry holding the pen, not one of his secretaries.

Detail of the middle lines of Henry’s letter.

Detail of the middle lines of Henry’s letter.

Note the title used for the anonymous informant – ‘a man of ryght notable estate’ – who has ‘secretly enfourmed’ the king of French and Scottish plans to rescue the duke of Orléans from his imprisonment.  The register is formal, direct.  ‘I wole’, Henry wrote twice in this letter; it is a clear expression of his personal will.

The adoption (or rather re-adoption) of English as a language of record by central government in the fifteenth century exerted considerable influence upon the development of English.  Orders were circulated by the Chancery, the Exchequer and other offices of royal government across the country.  Such documents may have been the first contact many people had with written English that was not obscured by regional idioms and idiosyncrasies.  Its use by central government, the ultimate legal authority, legitimised English in other lesser legal contexts: in the wills, inventories, charters and business contracts of ordinary people.  The creation of a standard form – that could be imitated, used and above all understood – facilitated that process.  English became an authoritative but also a practical language, capable of use at all levels of society and across the country.  Nation and language were once more in alignment.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press websiteThe Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.


Agincourt 600: The ‘Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut’

The ‘Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut’ is one of the beautiful manuscripts included in the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London, commemorating the battle’s 600th anniversary this year.To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, contributor to that publication Dr Craig Taylor of the University of York, introduces you to the man and this remarkable object.

Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, was a seasoned military commander with experience in the Northern Cusades and against the Turks. He was born August 28, 1366 and died June 21. In his early years he became a page at the court of Charles VI of France, and at the age of 12 he accompanied Louis II, Duke of Bourbon, in a campaign against Normandy. At age 16 he was knighted by Louis on the eve of the Battle of Roosebeke (November 27, 1382).

Jean le Maingre miniature from the Agincourt Model

Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, miniature from the Agincourt Model

Boucicaut was taken to England as a prisoner after the battle of Agincourt in November (1415) with other leading commanders. Boucicaut remained in custody, his ransom unpaid, probably dying at Metheley in Yorkshire on 25 June 1421 at the age of fifty-six. His body was returned to France and buried at Tours, alongside that of his father.

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut 

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut. BnF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 11432

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut. BnF, Département des Manuscrits, Français 11432

The Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut presented Jean Le Meingre, as a flower of chivalry and the embodiment of the highest qualities expected of a knight. The text is one of the finest medieval chivalric biographies, written at the high point of this genre, as seen in parallel examples such as Guillaume de Machaut’s life of King Peter I of Cyprus, Cuvelier’s biography of Bertrand Du Guesclin and the Chandos Herald’s life of the Black Prince.

Yet where all other medieval chivalric biographies were written posthumously, the Livre des fais du bon messier Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut is unusual because it was written while its subject was still alive. The text was completed by 9 April 1409 and must have been written during Boucicaut’s governorship of Genoa (1401–9). The anonymous author was a close supporter of Le Meingre and almost certainly a cleric from Paris. He claimed that he was encouraged to write the book by Boucicaut’s comrades, who were keen to create a permanent record of the great deeds that they had witnessed. The author denied that Boucicaut himself had played any direct role in the composition of the work, but it does seem highly likely that Boucicaut did know that the biography was being written, and he could conceivably have commissioned it. Either way, there is no doubt that the text served as a defence of the tarnished reputation of Boucicaut following his controversial involvement in the murky politics of Genoa, Venice, Florence and Pisa.

The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

Following the conventions of chivalric biographies, the Livre des fais recounted the great deeds of arms of its hero, from the battlefields of France and Flanders to the great wars against the enemies of Christendom in Prussia, Hungary and the eastern Mediterranean. The work celebrated the knighthood of Boucicaut, presented as a perfect knight who demonstrated unmatched prowess, courage and leadership, but also courtesy and other courtly virtues.

The biographer recounted not only Boucicaut’s martial adventures, but also his defence of women through the creation of a chivalric order of the Emprise de L’Escu vert à la Dame Blanche (Enterprise of the Green Shield of the White Lady). In the prologue, the author emphasised the important role played by writers and the written word alongside knights and knighthood. He described Knighthood (‘Chevalerie’) and Wisdom (‘Science’) as twin pillars that upheld the laws of God and man, and argued that any kingdom lacking wisdom would subside into anarchy, just as any realm without knighthood would be conquered by its enemies. It was fitting, therefore, argued the author, that the deeds of the finest knights should be celebrated just as much as the writings of great sages.

In the fourth and final part of the Livre des fais du bon messire Jehan le Maingre, dit Bouciquaut, the anonymous author drew together the themes of the book by comparing the virtues and qualities of Boucicaut with those of the great heroes of antiquity, effectively underlining the lessons presented by his life and constructing a manual of chivalry and knighthood.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press website. The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: Tudor Portraits of Henry V

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is currently exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London. To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Catherine Daunt, British Museum, writes on the portraits of Henry V.

“He was of stature higher than the common sort, of body leane, well membred & strongly made, of face beautiful, somwhat long necked, blacke heared stoute of stomacke, eloquent of tong, in martiall affaires a perfect maister, & of chivalry the very paragone.”

Raphael Holinshed, The first volume of the chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande (London: John Hunne, 1577), vol. 4, p.1218

NPG 545. King Henry V by Unknown artist oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. Credit line: © National Portrait Gallery, London.

NPG 545. King Henry V by Unknown artist oil on panel, late 16th or early 17th century. Credit line: © National Portrait Gallery, London. Currently in the Royal Armouries temporary Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London.

In sixteenth-century England Henry V was viewed as a model of good kingship and was celebrated for his astonishing military achievements. Historians including Polydore Vergil, Edward Hall and the contributors to Holinshed’s Chronicles (a collaborative project) presented Henry as a courageous, pious and diplomatic ruler and the Battle of Agincourt as a divinely sanctioned moment of success and optimism.  Around 1599 Shakespeare famously drew on these sources in crafting his own portrayal of Henry V. The resulting play no doubt both fed an existing appetite for stories about the king and generated new interest in his life.

During the reign of Elizabeth I widespread interest in English history and the lives of its key protagonists was reflected in a growing demand for portraits of historical figures. By the time Shakespeare wrote Henry V a standard portrait type of the king had been well established. The image, a bust portrait in which Henry is shown in full profile with a distinctive cropped hairstyle, had become recognisable through the multiple painted and printed versions (of varying quality) that had been produced. The precise origins of this design are unknown but it was probably developed in the first or second decade of the sixteenth century for either Henry VII or Henry VIII. The earliest known example of the image is a panel painting that survives in the Royal Collection and which has recently been dated by dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) to the years 1504-20 (see image below). It is part of a small group of posthumous royal portraits that also includes paintings of Henry VI and Richard III. Each portrait is set against a red brocade-style background and is painted on an oak panel (all three of which contain wood from the same tree) measuring around 22 x 14 inches (56.5 x 35.5 cm). It is therefore highly likely that these paintings were made as a small set.

Henry V by an unknown artist, oil on panel, 1504-20. The Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Henry V by an unknown artist, oil on panel, 1504-20. The Royal Collection. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Although visual sources dating from the sitters’ lifetimes were probably used in the making of the Royal Collection group, sketchy drawing beneath the paint and small changes to the designs indicate that these paintings may have been the original prototypes for the standard portraits of Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III. Panel paintings of this type are not known to have been produced in England during the reign of Henry V so it is likely that the visual sources used in the making of his portrait took another form. It has been noted, for example, that the distinctive hairstyle with which Henry V is depicted in the Royal Collection picture resembles images of the king in illuminated manuscripts including Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, 1411-32 (see below).

Detail of a miniature of Henry V from Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, 1411-32 (British Library Arundel MS 38, fol. 37r).

Detail of a miniature of Henry V from Thomas Hoccleve’s The Regiment of Princes, 1411-32 (British Library Arundel MS 38, fol. 37r).

The use of earlier sources may also explain why Henry V is shown in profile unlike Henry VI and Richard III who are depicted in a more conventional three-quarter-profile position. It has been suggested that a small devotional image may have been used in which the king was shown at prayer, which could also explain why his left hand is raised in the Royal Collection picture. Alternatively, the source may have been a medal or perhaps a contemporary likeness in another medium in which the king was shown in profile to hide the facial scar that he had sustained at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403.

Whatever its origins, by the end of the sixteenth century the image was accepted as an authentic likeness. Although numerous copies and versions of the Royal Collection painting survive from the 1580s onward, there is little evidence to suggest that the portrait was widely copied before this time. Copies may have been made for a small number of elite courtiers at an earlier date but it was not until the last quarter of the century that the image was reproduced for a larger audience. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, panel portraiture in general became more accessible to a wider audience in the second half of the century as paintings could be acquired more easily and had become more affordable. Secondly, the architectural fashion for long galleries, built in emulation of those added to the royal palaces during the reign of Henry VIII, generated a demand for paintings to decorate these newly created spaces.

This in turn led to a fashion for portrait sets of historical figures, primarily sets of English kings and queens, which would hang alongside or perhaps above, family portraits and images of contemporary sitters. It was common practice for painters to copy pre-existing paintings or to trace designs and as more and more copies of particular portrait types were produced, it became easier for other painters to obtain the patterns. As a result, ‘authentic’ images of famous figures became standardised and recognisable. The development of the print trade in England and especially the availability of single-sheet portrait engravings from the end of the sixteenth century also helped spread the designs and in some cases provided the immediate prototype for painters.

© Trustees of the British Museum

© Trustees of the British Museum

Above: Henry V by Renold Elstrack, engraving, published as part of a bound set of engravings of English royal figures by Henry Holland titled the Baziliologia, or Booke of Kings in 1618. A painted set of kings and queens in the collection of Dulwich Picture Gallery are based on the engravings in this set.

By the end of the sixteenth century an image of Henry V is likely to have been among the paintings in most substantial portrait collections. Those known to have owned one include William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (at Theobalds, Hertfordshire); Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick (at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire) and John Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley (probably at Lumley Castle, County Durham). In domestic long galleries portraits of Henry V were usually part of a set but in some cases they may have been acquired as a single portrait especially, perhaps, if the family could claim a specific historical connection to the king. Some institutions such as schools or civic buildings are also known to have owned portraits of Henry V, also usually as part of a set. Among the numerous versions that survive from the period are examples now at Ripon Deanery, North Yorkshire; Longleat, Wiltshire; Hatfield House, Hertfordshire; The Queen’s College, Oxford; Eton College, Berkshire and the Society of Antiquaries, London.

The painting of Henry V in the current exhibition at the Tower of London is the only painted portrait of the king in the collection at the National Portrait Gallery. Although it is known to have been produced in the late sixteenth century, it is not known where it first hung or whether or not it was made as part of a set. By the mid eighteenth century it was owned by the antiquary Dr. Andrew Gifford (1700-1784) who presented it to the British Museum where it was displayed for a number of years. In 1879 it was transferred to the NPG along with a number of other portraits. The painting is clearly derived from the Royal Collection picture and is probably a relatively typical example of a late-sixteenth-century version. To the Tudors the image was a symbol of national pride, heroism and exemplary kingship. Displayed alongside images of other English monarchs it was part of a display of royal genealogy that would have reminded viewers of the illustrious bloodline from which the reigning monarch was descended. In addition, with the words of Holinshed, Shakespeare and others in their minds, the picture no doubt reminded Tudor and Jacobean viewers of the great stories of Henry V’s reign.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press websiteThe Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

SPECTRE: The weapons of secret agents

Secret Agent Weapons, Evening Talk on 4 November 2015

Secret Agent Weapons, Evening Talk on 4 November 2015

Like many of you, we at the Royal Armouries are eagerly awaiting the latest Bond movie, SPECTRE. On November the 4th in our talk ‘Secret Agent Weapons’, we’ll be telling some of the real stories behind the weapons used in the Bond movies over the years, as well as those designed for real life secret agents (see this link for details).

The most important Bond gun, of course, is that carried by 007 himself. Here are a selection of those he’s carried over the years…

The traditional Walther PPK.

PPK – ‘The’ Bond Gun

Although we don't know what weapons the real Secret Intelligence Service might have used, we do know that during the Second World War, German spies did use the PPK. This example was intended for a Nazi party official.

Although we don’t know what weapons the real Secret Intelligence Service might have used, we do know that during the Second World War, German spies did use the PPK. This example was intended for a Nazi party official.

An iconic weapon, Bond’s PPK has been with him since the very first movie, though not the first Ian Fleming novel. In his first Bond book (Casino Royale, 1953), Fleming drew from his own wartime experiences in Naval Intelligence, and equipped 007 with the small Beretta 418 in the small .25 ACP cartridge. It was a sensible enough choice for a secret agent. After all, if a real spy has to draw his or her weapon, something has gone wrong! Fleming even had Bond remove the grips to make the pistol as slim and concealable as possible; important to prevent unwanted bulges when wearing a tailored suit or tuxedo!

As the novels progressed however, and Bond began to develop into the action hero we know today, Fleming received a letter from a fan that would forever change the Bond universe. In 1956, firearms expert and Bond fan Major Geoffrey Boothroyd wrote to Fleming to suggest that the Beretta that he had carried for Fleming’s first five stories was ‘a lady’s gun’. He also criticised his choice of holster as not quick enough to use, and his reliance upon silencers, which he thought weren’t quiet enough relative to the loss of power they caused. Boothroyd’s suggestion was a revolver, the Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, which Fleming incorporated as a sort of ‘guest star’. However, for Bond’s main sidearm he stuck with a compact self-loading pistol, the Polizei Pistole Kriminalmodelle (short police pistol). The legendary Bond PPK was born.

Again drawing from wartime experience, Fleming created the fictional ‘Q’ Branch, based upon the real-life wartime SOE Station IX and named after the military term ‘Quartermaster’. This team would from now on furnish Bond with not only his PPK, but a range of other weapons and gadgets. In honour of Boothroyd’s good-natured nitpicking, he named the his new head of ‘Q’ Branch ‘Major Boothroyd’, dubbed him ‘the greatest small-arms expert in the world’, and wrote a scene in which Bond’s pistol was replaced by the PPK. This was later recreated in the first Bond movie, 1962’s ‘Dr. No’. In reality, the pistol used in this movie was the larger Walther PP, perhaps because the diminutive PPK would have appeared too small in Sean Connery’s hands.

LINKS- You can read more about the Boothroyd story here:

The PPK’s original calibre was 7.65x17mm (.32 ACP), but was later produced for the larger 9×17mm (.380 ACP) cartridge. Bond has carried both, sacrificing one extra shot (7 vs 6 rounds in the PPK) in exchange for more potent ammunition. Today, .380 is regarded as the minimum for practical self-defence purposes, so Bond’s recent use of the .380 variant makes sense. Due to American import restrictions on foreign firearms (and possibly the larger hands of some Bond actors), the PPK is sometimes replaced in the movies by the PPK/S, which is the short slide and barrel of the PPK fitted to the larger PP frame.

The larger Walther PP, as the L47A1, was issued to RAF aircrew for escape and evasion purposes.

The larger Walther PP, shown here in British service L47A1 form. These pistols were issued to RAF aircrew for escape and evasion purposes.

The outdated PPK, first produced in 1931, remains in production today. This is due in large part due to its iconic status as the ‘Bond gun’. Yet it was replaced for a time in the movie series from ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ until Daniel Craig’s first outing in ‘Casino Royale’, by the much larger and more modern-looking polymer-framed Walther P99. Though harder to conceal, the P99 has much better sights, a longer barrel, and 15 round capacity as standard. Given the number of gunfights Bond finds himself in, this move made a lot of sense. But the PPK would not be kept down. In keeping with Skyfall’s ‘back to Bond’s roots’ approach in 2012, the PPK (in PPK/S form) reappeared, this time with a set of high-tech biometric palm-print reading grips that of course featured in a key action scene.

In the new movie SPECTRE, Bond again ignores a range of more useful modern ‘concealed carry’ pistols (including the modern Walthers), in favour of his old PPK. As in other areas of Bond’s character, nostalgia has overcome ‘realism’.

Beyond the PPK

Interestingly, in the continuation novels written after Fleming’s death in 1964, the PPK is abandoned far sooner. The PPK is actually withdrawn from MI6 service by the time of ‘Licence Renewed’ (1981), based upon a real-life incident where the pistol used by royal bodyguard DI James Beaton jammed as he tried to protect Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips from a would-be kidnapper. In reality, the PPK is no more prone to stoppages than any other pistol, and there would have been no need to withdraw it from SIS service as it had never entered it!

In any case, Bond for some reason opts instead for the even older FN M1903. This is followed by the space-age but wholly spy-inappropriate Heckler & Koch VP70 (seen in the movie ‘Aliens’), and then the H&K P7, Hans Gruber’s pistol of choice in ‘Die Hard’ (1988). The remainder of the John Gardner novels settle on an excellent period choice; the Smith & Wesson ASP. The ASP, based upon the S&W Model 39 self-loading pistol, was created specifically for the type of covert work we read about in the Bond books. It’s small, slim, and has an unusual channel cut in the slide instead of conventional sights. The idea was to allow the shooter to quickly align his sights in the sort of close-range gunfight that a spy might actually partake in. It also featured transparent grips to show how many rounds were in the magazine.

From the Internet Movie Firearms Database.

From the Internet Movie Firearms Database. The ASP pistol, originally designed by American gunsmith Paris Theodore. This pistol was also featured in the Cold War special operations-themed game ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ (2010)

From 1997, the novels (now written by Raymond Benson) mirrored the guns seen on screen, with the PPK giving way in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ to the P99. However, they part company later in the 1990s, with Bond switching between the two pistols. This of course prefigures Bond’s much more recent return to the PPK in the movies.

Opening Shots

As memorable as Bond’s PPK is the classic opening ‘shot’ of the movies, with its bullet’s-eye-view of Bond in the sights of a bad guy’s gun. You might be surprised to learn that a real gun barrel was originally used to film this scene. A revolver (supposedly a Smith & Wesson .38) was purchased from a shop in Piccadilly, and a pinhole camera aimed down the bore at stuntman Bob Simmons (presumably the barrel was removed to achieve this). This amazing but simple practical effect was replaced with CGI from ‘Goldeneye’ (1995) onwards.

From the Internet Movie Firearms Database

From the Internet Movie Firearms Database. Maurice Binder, creator of the famous opening titles.

The shooting stance used in these scenes looks strange, even silly to those of us today used to ‘tactical’ two-handed shooting techniques seen in modern films and TV series. However, it was actually based on real Second World War combat shooting techniques that emphasised speed over accuracy. Recognising that most pistols were used at very close range, military instructors William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes taught Commandos and Special Operations Executive agents to rely upon instinct. The shooter would adopt a half-crouch for stability and to make themselves a smaller target for return fire. The non-firing hand would be held out to one side for balance. A variation on this, known as ‘hip-shooting’, had the firer simply point the pistol without actually aiming with the eye. The use of these techniques in the movies reflects Fleming’s real-life military experience and the era in which the classic novels and films were produced. Another Fleming nod to realism also appears in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ novel (1962), where he explains that firing a sub-machine gun from the hip is the ‘correct way’ to fire an automatic weapon. This is still basically true today, because most firearms will climb and pull to the right on a long burst (although it is possible with some weapons to fire quite accurate bursts from the shoulder).

From ‘Kill or Get Killed’ by U.S. Army Colonel Rex Applegate (1943). This expanded upon skills outlined in ‘Shooting to Live’ by Fairbairn and Sykes (1942).

Combat shooting as illustrated in ‘Kill or Get Killed’ by U.S. Army Colonel Rex Applegate (1943). This expanded upon skills outlined in ‘Shooting to Live’ by Fairbairn and Sykes (1942).

We’ve already seen a range of weapons in the SPECTRE trailers, from the old favourite PPK to the latest from German makers Heckler & Koch and Arsenal firearms of Bulgaria. Watch out for the first big screen appearance of the bizarre Arsenal AF2011 Dueller Prismatic; essentially two Colt 1911 type pistols melded into one, firing two shots for every pull of the trigger! A future classic ‘bad guy’ gun if ever there was one.

To find out more about the weapons of Bond and their real origins in WW2 secret agent activities, visit our talk with curator (and author of the above) Jonathan Ferguson Wednesday 4 November – see this link for more details.