Warrior Treasures: meet Dr Sue Brunning of The British Museum

British-Museum-Sue-BrunningThe Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition opens TODAY until the 2nd October 2016. To complement the exhibition, Royal Armouries is running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post Dr Sue Brunning of The British Museum talks about what about the Anglo-Saxons attracted her studies.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

When I was growing up, fantasy movies were my thing. Something about these strange worlds of heroes, villains, magic and monsters captivated me – especially when legendary swords were involved. I spent hours in my garden trying to perfect my sword-swirling skills with a gardening cane, imagining I was Red Sonja or She-Ra. So when I went to study History at university, it was inevitable that the Anglo-Saxons would draw me in. Their way of looking at their world, as painted by Bede and Beowulf, echoed my beloved fantasy movies – but it was real! There were heroic kings like Edwin, terrifying warriors like Penda, monsters lurking in fens and – crucially for me – revered, ancient swords that seemed to have characters of their own. While I knew I was viewing these things through the lens of third parties, I grew determined to find out if such swords truly existed, or were just poetic motifs. The seeds of my PhD were sown.

As a way in, I looked for evidence of ancient swords in the Anglo-Saxon archaeological record. I hunted physical signs of wear, repair and modification in the belief that these weapons had probably been around for some time if these changes had taken place. To my excitement, I found plenty of evidence. I saw lots of worn-down sword pommels (the fitting at the end of the hilt), often appearing in patterns that showed the sword’s owner had rested his hand on it when the sword was sheathed at his side. In a couple of cases the wear-patterns were so distinctive that I could make an educated guess as to whether the owner was right (usually) or left (rarely) handed.

Silver Gilt  pommel

Silver and gilt pommel

I also found swords that had been modified over time by having fittings added to or removed from them. A few had differently-decorated fittings from different times, making them like visual timelines of their histories. Others had holes drilled into their pommels to attach a curious ring-type fitting. Experts think these rings were given to warriors when they swore an oath of allegiance to their lords. Empty holes on pommels show that some rings were removed later on. Had the sword’s owners broken his oath in some shameful incident? Or was the sword passed on after his death, its new owner not inheriting the same oath?

I felt I was building a picture of swords that could ‘live’ long lives, have many owners and maybe could become famous among those who encountered them. We can’t know for sure if the Anglo-Saxons thought their swords were really ‘alive’, but this long circulation, the building of memories and relationships, is a form of ‘life’. It becomes clearer if we think of our relationships with objects today. Own an object for long enough and it takes on a character of its own. Think of your car – do you talk to it? Do you curse and praise it depending on how it ‘behaves’? Have you given it a name? I’ve done this. When an HGV hit my car several years ago, the most upsetting thing was watching my faithful old friend, crushed and unrecognisable, being raised onto the recovery truck. All those memories, the trips taken together, the scratches and dents, and the stickers I’d put in the windows, were all gone. Black Shuck had done his job by protecting me so that I walked away uninjured, but I was devastated to have lost my companion.

Staffordshire Hoard - group shot

A selection of items of the hoard

I wonder whether the Anglo-Saxons had similar thoughts about their swords. Maybe they took on life because they were precious heirlooms linking owners to beloved ancestors or friends; they became a boast of oaths sworn, allegiances made; they protected you through rough adventures; they were literally attached to your side, proclaiming your standing and success. These ideas make my hairs stand on end when I think about what the torn-off sword fittings in the Staffordshire Hoard might represent. Imagine the owners of those swords, probably losers in battle, watching as their cherished swords were stripped of the fittings they knew so well, that had become worn down by their hand or added to mark some proud occasion. It would be a heart-breaking, demoralising experience. Perhaps the victors knew it would be, and that was why they did it – a way to inflict total and utter conquest upon an enemy: a soul- as well as a bone-crushing defeat.

When we visit the Staffordshire Hoard in the Royal Armouries Warrior Treasures exhibition (opens Friday 27th May), it’s easy to marvel at the craftsmanship of the individual fittings and be dazzled by the glittering precious metals and gemstones. But take a moment to look closer, and you’ll remember that these weapons once belonged to real warriors and carried so much meaning beyond their silver and gold. ‘Living’ swords were not limited to the world of fantasy movies – they existed in the hands of the Anglo-Saxons.

Gold Hoard Images created by BM&AG

K1497 – Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse.

All images © Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise indicated.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition website http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets viathe Royal Armouries website.

Warrior Treasures: meet Henry Yallop, lead curator of the exhibition

In just a week’s time, a selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. The Royal Armouries is therefore running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. Today we hear from Henry Yallop, Lead Curator of the exhibition and Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons at The Royal Armouries.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

IMG_3519 - FWW YEP Photocall - 110714 - FWW YEP Photocall - 120714We are now very close to opening of our exciting summer exhibition Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard.  The marvellous new exhibition space will bring visitors face to face with one of the most important discoveries of early Anglo-Saxon material culture; which in addition to being hugely important to historians and archaeologists is comprised of exquisitely crafted objects of outstanding beauty.

I truly believe this is going to appeal to a wide range of visitors for a whole host of reasons. If you already have an interest in the early medieval period, or are a regular visitor to our National Collection of Arms & Armour and are interested in historic weapons, then I am sure you are already planning to come.  However, you don’t need to be a military history enthusiast to enjoy this particular exhibition. Those with a passion for jewellery and the decorative arts will be impressed by the craftsmanship and artistic quality of these stunning objects. I am sure many others will be coming to our Leeds site for the first time; drawn by the lure of gold, our interpretation of an Anglo-Saxon mead hall and our varied series of events.  Whatever your interest or age, I urge you not to miss the opportunity view this fascinating part of Britain’s cultural heritage.

If you’re thinking ‘what does Staffordshire Hoard have to do with me?’ I answer with this; the hoard has both national and local relevance. The hoard is from the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Mercia, which at the time of its burial (650-675 AD) was one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in what later would be known as England.  At various points as its power waxed and waned, Mercia contained large parts of modern day Yorkshire.  In addition, the objects that comprise the hoard came from a variety of sources, both domestic and foreign.

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

The hoard’s discovery is not just something that will interest archaeologists but is of universal appeal: unearthing buried treasure of international importance is a story I defy anyone not to be excited by!  The objects themselves really are unique in terms of their number, quality and condition.  You don’t have to be especially interested in swords to be awed by the Hoard.  When considered as standalone art objects each hilt plate, pommel cap or sword pyramid is a breath-taking object, crafted from the finest of materials by the most skilled of hands. Yet these objects fitted together to be beautiful, yet crucial functional parts of weapons of the 7th century AD, which brings an additional level of appreciation to them. Ornate, prized possessions of the elite these objects certain were, but a warrior elite who wore these weapons and used them in war.  Despite the absence of blades in the hoard many of the hilt fittings show signs of use.  These were parts of quite literally cutting edge weapon systems; not simply status symbols for ceremonial use.

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

The decorative arts, craftsmanship of the highest standard using precious materials often went hand in hand with arms and armour, but can be a forgotten part of the subject. In any period the most masterful of crafts people applied their skills to the creation and adornment of high status arms and armour. Even unadorned swords, due to the materials and complex processes involved in their creation would have been the rare objects owned only by the few; yet the richly decorated weapon fittings of the Staffordshire Hoard speak of the very highest ranks of these warrior elites.

K1497

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

For me, it is a great privilege to be involved in this project.The Staffordshire Hoard was not only an amazing discovery due to the materials and age of the objects, but also their purpose.  Unusually for a hoard it is mainly comprised of military equipment, specifically hilt fittings from swords. As someone fascinated by the early medieval period, and whose ‘day job’ is as Assistant Curator of Edged Weapons this exhibition presents a special combination. At the Royal Armouries we have 18,000 edged weapons from all periods and places, but of course relatively few survive from the early Anglo-Saxon period. As such, the hoard which contains the parts of over 100 swords, including hitherto unknown forms, is of huge significance to our knowledge of arms and armour of the period and of great interest to the National Museum of Arms & Armour. What has previously been discovered in terms of Anglo-Saxon weapons typically come from grave goods, and the arrival of the Staffordshire Hoard has enabled us to showcase one such group which the Royal Armouries generously has on long term loan from the owners. The Wollaston warrior is a high status warrior grave, which like the Staffordshire Hoard came from the Anglian kingdom of Mercia and is 7th century in date, which will also be available to view in the exhibition space.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

 

Warrior Treasures: Conserving the Staffordshire Hoard

A selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. The Royal Armouries is therefore running a blog series providing behind the scenes details on how these fascinating items were discovered, conserved, and prepared for the exhibition. In this post Kayleigh Fuller, Staffordshire Hoard Conservator, talks about her work with the collection and the exhibition so far.

Find out more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, see details on the Warrior Treasures exhibition website.

IMG_0567Myself and Lizzie Miller are objects conservators working on Stage 2 of the Staffordshire Hoard Project in Birmingham. Our job involves facilitating the research aims of the project through stabilisation, re-assembly, documentation and cataloguing of the 4000 fragments of Anglo-Saxon treasure found in 2009. Most recently we have been involved in preparation for the touring exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures’. I will visit in May to install the objects and Lizzie will be talking about the conservation work in Leeds on the 11th June.

I’m really excited about the opening of the Warrior Treasures tour in Leeds. First of all because the Staffordshire Hoard Project team have put a lot of work into this touring exhibition, and it shows some of the most stunning and unusual sword adornments we have been reassembling over the last year. Secondly, being from the North, it gives my close friends and family the opportunity to travel and see some of the incredible objects I have been lucky enough to work on.

Horse mount

Decorative filigree mount from a sword hilt, probably in the shape of a horse, which is included in the Warriors Treasures exhibition.

Throughout my time working on the Hoard, we get to look at the objects and fragments under a greater magnification and through this are able to see the objects in a completely different light. It is very likely that you will see the promotional images for the exhibition and then be astounded at the true size of the objects in reality. I feel that one of my personal favourite items, a horse mount, demonstrates the extreme skill in the craftsmanship of these items. If you look at the magnified image above, a scroll is around 1mm in width and 2mm in length. Each of these scrolls are perfectly curled and made from individually beaded wire.

This year we have been reassembling some complexly designed objects from a mixed array of fragments. The below object is one of three rare pommels with two sword rings attached to either side (http://www.staffordshirehoard.org.uk/three-very-special-pommels). Two of these items are in the Warrior Treasures exhibition.

Initial selection of fragments for the pommel

Initial selection of fragments for the pommel.

Fragments lined up, ready to be joined

Fragments lined up, ready to be joined.

As we have progressed in the task of reassembling the fragments, the objects have developed over time with us. This cast silver-gilded pommel is a prime example of this and shows the unique benefit of close working relationships between the conservators and the archaeological finds expert throughout the execution of the work.

Organic material inside on the right

Organic material inside on the right

The pommel also has some hidden organic material inside the sword rings which we have ensured is stable and preserved in situ, before fully assembling by mounting. See if you can spot it in the exhibition. This is the only item to have a rock crystal as part of its design.

Silver Gilt  pommel

Silver and gilt pommel.

Another of my favourite pommel caps in the exhibition is the garnet cloisonné one below. If you look at each side in turn, you can see a noticeable different in the stylistic design on either side. One with a geometric arranged pattern and, the other with zoomorphic designs and a curled leaf either side. This makes me think that these items are truly bespoke to the Anglo-Saxon warrior that wielded them.

Geometric design on the back of the pommel

Geometric design on the back of the pommel.

Although initially it might seem counter-productive, one of the most brilliant things about the Staffordshire Hoard is that the objects have been ruthlessly damaged when they were removed from their original mounts. This has enabled us to carry out a thorough and intensive program of research to understand more about the craft techniques and materials used by the mystery Metalsmith’s of the period.

Two-fragments-with-the-brea

Two fragments with the break where you can see the construction of the cloisonné cells.

The object above was originally in two fragments before re-assembly. Thorough documentation of every fragment within the Hoard has enabled us to keep a clear record of important details before assembling the final object.
These objects are overall helping to expand our understanding of the Anglo-Saxon period and the society which lived during that time. The exhibition is well worth a visit, whether it is to learn more about Anglo-Saxon warriors, the incredible craft skills and technology of the period or even just to view some incredibly beautiful objects from this unique and astounding archaeological discovery.

All images © Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise indicated.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via the Royal Armouries website.

Warrior Treasures: Meet Jenni Butterworth, Project Coordinator

A selection of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. Here, Programme Coordinator Jenni Butterworth talks about her involvement in the project so far and her favourite elements of the hoard. Discover more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, find more details on our micro-site http://warrior-treasures.uk/

IMG_1231I am the Programme Coordinator for the Staffordshire Hoard- I help the two museums that look after it with administration of the collection. I’ve done this job for over three years, but I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with the hoard on and off since it was discovered- I worked on the very first television programme made about it in 2010. It was a real privilege to interview the people who had been involved in the discovery- the farmer and the finder, and the archaeologists who were called in to deal with this extraordinary treasure. For everyone involved, it was a once in a lifetime event- tremendously exciting, but a huge responsibility as well.

I can still remember the very first time I saw the hoard in 2010- it was a few months after it had been discovered, and it was laid out so a number of experts could view it. The objects were still muddy and gathered together in bags and boxes. It was mind-boggling, the sheer number of items as much as the incredible craftsmanship and the gold and garnets. I remember thinking that the hoard was a bit like a comet. There were some fabulous, bright and shining objects at the front- the ones I’d seen pictures of in the newspapers. But there was also a very long ‘tail’- thousands of broken bits and small items that were much less glamorous but just as interesting. I wondered then how it would ever be sorted out!

Today, the ‘tail’ is a lot smaller than it was in 2010- lots of those broken fragments have been reassembled into larger objects- thanks to the amazing work of the conservation team and the archaeologists. The damage to the objects happened before they were buried and the way they are broken gives us vital information about the hoard- so every broken fragment is carefully recorded by the scientists and the conservation team before it is rejoined.

SH_L80a_2013

Xray plate SH_L80a_2013. ©Barbican Research Associates/ Lincolnshire Archives. All the hoard objects have been x-rayed. This plate shows small filigree items, some of which have since been joined to larger objects.

There are still a lot of small objects remaining, and my particular favourites are the rivets, pins and nails. There are quite a lot of objects which still have their pins and nails attached, and you can see them on some of the mounts and pommels in the Warrior Treasures exhibition if you look carefully.

K674_after conservation underside.jpg

K674_before conservation side a.jpg

K16 with pin and mounting tab still attached (2 views)

The way the pins are bent has prevented them from falling out of their housing. Maybe they were bent when the pommel was levered off the sword hilt.

K16_after conservation front.jpg

K16_after conservation back.jpg

K16 with pin and mounting tab still attached (2 views)

But there are many gold and silver nails for which we’ll probably never know which object they came from originally- because lots of objects have similar pins, it would be hard to be sure which pin came from which object exactly. Kayleigh has a ‘rivet box’ in which they all reside. I’m not sure she’s as fond of it as I am…

IMG_7939

These tiny pins and rivets really remind me that the objects we have in the hoard only tell us part of the story. Originally, the objects were all attached to other, bigger composite items like swords, and these pins help us understand how they were all fixed together. There are astonishing range of pins of all shapes and sizes, each presumably to do a very specific task.

A selection of pins and nails (x3). The scales show how small some of these objects are.

A gold nail isn’t a very functional object though- gold is so soft that striking it with a hammer wouldn’t work- the craftsmen must have drilled a tiny hole into the bone or horn fitting first to hold the gold nail. We know from scientific analysis that various glues and cement-type fillers were used in the assembly of the objects, so maybe they were used to help hold the pins in place. The pins and nails also show us the attention to detail shown by the smiths who crafted the objects too- many are tiny works of art in themselves. The Saxon craftsmen were lavishing their skills on making the right nails and pins for the objects, just as much as on the fine filigree and garnet decoration.

Staffordshire Hoard - group shot

All images © Birmingham Museums Trust unless otherwise indicated.

To find out more about the Royal Armouries upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ please visit our exhibition microsite http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Join our Warrior Treasures exhibition conference Saturday 11th June to hear from leading experts in the field, who will explore the many aspects of this remarkable Anglo-Saxon find and explain how it is adding to our understanding of the people that made, used and buried this magnificent hoard. Please see full details and purchase tickets via this link https://www.royalarmouries.org/events/events-at-leeds/calendar/2016-06-11/warrior-treasures-conference-1

 

 

 

 

Warrior Treasures: The Grave of the Wollaston Warrior

As part of our blog series surrounding our upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’  Claudia Rogers – PhD placement student at the Royal Armouries in Leeds – writes on the grave discoveries of the Wollaston Warrior. Discover more at our exhibition conference day, Saturday 11th June, find more details on our micro-site http://warrior-treasures.uk/

Claudia picThe Wollaston Warrior’s grave was first discovered in 1997 just outside the town of Wollaston in Northamptonshire. Alongside the scarce remains of the warrior himself, this seventh-century Anglo-Saxon grave contained a helmet (at the time, only the fourth Anglo-Saxon helmet to be recovered from England), a sword, knife, three iron buckles, a dress hook, and a copper alloy hanging bowl, with one surviving decorative mount.

During my PhD placement at the Royal Armouires in Leeds, I’ll be helping with the upcoming exhibition ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Staffordshire Hoard’ – a collection of gold and silver military ornaments unearthed by an amateur metal-detectorist in 2009. In this exhibition, the Wollaston Warrior’s grave goods will be displayed alongside the small but stunning objects of the Staffordshire Hoard. Whilst the Warrior’s grave goods may not be as dazzling to the eye, they’re a precious collection of great archaeological and historical importance, and, I think, rather captivating in their own way.

Firugre 7

This is the Warrior’s small knife.

I’ve spent the first part of my placement in the Collections department, undertaking research on the Wollaston grave goods. After receiving object handling training, it was a pleasure to view the objects in stores for the first time. A number of the goods were quite hard to ‘see’, due to the state of their preservation: I was quite reliant on labels on the artefact’s cases when it came to identifying the knife and buckles, which were encapsulated in centuries of natural deposits. The copper alloy hanging bowl (see below) however, was instantly recognisable, with its striking green-blue copper colouring almost glowing. Unfortunately, the bowl (like many of the artefacts) was damaged in the grave before its discovery, most likely due to the shallowness of the grave itself. Although it was sad to see the bowl in various pieces rather than intact, I was amazed that I was handling an artefact that had been buried for over 1300 years – it’s incredible such a delicate object has survived at all.

Figure 6

This is the largest buckle of the three. Found next to the scabbard, it likely functioned as part of the suspension system for the scabbard.

Firgure 3

This beautiful object is a basal escutcheon, a mount attached to the underside of the bowl for decoration. It originally featured about 24 squares of millefiori, a kind of ornamental glass.

Firgure 4

After viewing the grave goods, I was intrigued to learn more about who the Wollaston Warrior actually was. As the archaeological findings and excavation report established*, his skeletal remains are very fragmentary and poorly preserved, which really limits what we can find out about him. Most likely, though, he was a lightly-built adult who died before he reached the age of 25. Following the examination of his skeletal remains, Wollaston’s mystery man has been resting peacefully in Northamptonshire archaeological stores.

We can also learn more about the Warrior from the grave goods themselves, which indicate that the grave belonged to a male of high status. The hanging bowl, for example, was made from one sheet of bronze, requiring the talents of a highly-skilled craftsman. The bowl would have originally been suspended from three hooks and decorated with escutcheons: these embellishments would have been made of brass or high-tin bronze – rare alloys used sparingly to adorn high-status objects in the early Anglo-Saxon period. This bowl, then, certainly reflects the standing of the Wollaston Warrior, although it remains unclear what uses the bowl had. Historical research into early medieval hanging bowls generally focuses on their Romano-British origins, for which they’re often associated with Christianity and liturgical contexts. How the Anglo-Saxons adopted them for use, though, is still largely uncertain. Accordingly, what the Wollaston Warrior used his hanging bowl for remains a mystery (for the time being).

Firgure 2

The Hanging Bowl: Notice the holes along the rim section here – this is one of the points where the bowl would have been suspended from.

Along with researching the historical context of the Warrior and his grave, I’ve completed a number of different tasks during my time in the Collections department, as well as having the privilege of taking part in planning meetings and other ‘behind the scenes’ things. I found that one of the most challenging jobs was to draft exhibition labels for the hanging bowl, buckles, and dress hook – something completely new to me. Writing object labels definitely encouraged me to think about what’s most important about each of these precious artefacts, but trying to tackle all the key points about the artefact in question – age, production, physical description, state of preservation, purpose… – in less than 60 words made for an exasperating afternoon of word counting and calculations. Yet, despite the maths-related trauma, it was an enjoyable lesson in prioritisation and writing concisely; I hope it’s worth it in the end! I’ve certainly been kept on my toes.

Figure 8

The next part of my work placement will be with the Interpretation team, focusing on the staging of the ‘Warrior Treasures’ exhibition. I’ll keep you posted with how I get on!

*Ian Meadows, An Anglian Warrior Burial from Wollaston, Northamptonshire (Northampton: Northamptonshire Archaeology & Northamptonshire County Council, 2004 [digital edition 2010])

 

An exciting new library acquisition…

Stuart Ivinson, Assistant Librarian at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, writes about an exciting new addition to our literary collection. 

The library at the Royal Armouries in Leeds has recently acquired a rare and beautiful addition to it’s Special Collection of historical fencing manuals. The book in question is a first edition, published in 1765, of Domenico Angelo’s  The School of Fencing, with a General Explanation of the Principal Attitudes and Positions Peculiar to the Art. (London: Printed for S. Hooper.)

 

The book was first published in England in 1763 under the French title L’Ecole d’armes avec l’explication generale des principales attitudes et positions concernant l’escrime. The 47 engravings that illustrate the work were produced from original drawings by the artist James Gwynn (Royal Academy). The illustrations were taken from life, and Angelo himself was the principal model.  The 1765 edition is the first in English, and the only edition to have parallel English and French text on each page. It is also the only edition to be illustrated in colour; Gwynn’s illustrations being re-used and hand-coloured for the new edition.

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Angelo (full name Domenico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo) was born in Livorno, Italy in 1717, the son of a merchant. He probably began learning to fence in Italy, but later studied the French style under the fencing master Monsieur Teillagory in Paris, after being sent to study international trade by his father in about 1744. Whilst in Paris Angelo met and fell in love with the celebrated Irish Actress Margaret Woffington, who was then on tour, and travelled to London and then to Dublin with her in the early-1750s. After their affection came to an end Angelo moved back to London, where he met and married Elizabeth Johnson in 1755.

In London Angelo gained the patronage of the earl of Pembroke and quickly established a reputation as a fencing master and opened his own School of Arms in Carlisle House, Soho, in 1761. Such was his reputation that he numbered many wealthy gentlemen amongst his clientele, including several members of the Royal Family. With the great and good of the gentry as his pupils, Angelo’s place in society was assured. His school was also noted at the time for accepting female students, including actresses from the London theatres.

In 1763 he produced his great work L’Ecole d’armes. It was financed by subscriptions from over 200 of his wealthy clients, and dedicated to Princes William Henry and Henry Frederic (younger brothers to King George III), who were both pupils. The English translation, The School of Fencing, was produced in several editions, though none were as lavish as the first edition of 1765. It is thought that he was assisted in translating the text into English by his friend the famous French-English diplomat, spy, and transvestite the Chevalier d’Eon, another former pupil of Monsieur Teillagory.

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The School of Fencing primarily teaches the use of the small-sword and fencing foil, with brief sections on the use of weapons for the off-hand, including dagger, cloak and lantern. There is also a section on the use of the small-sword against the military sabre (or broad sword, as Angelo terms it). In its day the book was recognized as a clear and concise guide to fencing, and the author was lauded for his emphasis on fencing being a gentlemanly exercise and accomplishment, as well as a skill of self defence. Indeed, so good was the work deemed to be, that Denis Diderot used it – in its entirety (with redrawn engravings in black and white) – as the fencing section of his famous Encyclopedie.

In 1780 Domenico Angelo handed over the running of his school to his eldest son Henry and retired to Eton, where he died in 1802. Our copy of his book was purchased From Peter Harrington’s Bookshop, Chelsea, London, and is now available to view in the library at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds (alongside a copy of the second English edition of 1787). Considering its age, the book is in very good condition. The colours of the engravings are as bright as when they were made, although a couple of them have pencil marks added; suggesting that at least one reader in the past has thought that the postures depicted in some of the illustrations aren’t quite right!

Henk Pardoel’s work Fencing: a bibliography, (2005) cites only seven other known copies of the first English edition in public collections world-wide, with only one other in Great Britain (at the Bodlean Library, Oxford).

To book an appointment to visit the library in Leeds, please contact enquiries@armouries.org.uk, or call 0113 2201832.

Warrior Treasures: An introduction to the Staffordshire Hoard by Pieta Greaves

Pieta Greaves is Staffordshire Hoard Conservation Coordinator at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The items of the Staffordshire Hoard will be shown in Leeds as part of the Royal Armouries ‘Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold of the Staffordshire Hoard’ temporary exhibition, running from the 27th May until the 2nd October 2016. Discover more details via our micro-site, including our conference day Saturday 11th June http://warrior-treasures.uk/. Here, Pieta introduces the Staffordshire Hoard and discuss the importance of its discovery. 

Pieta Greaves in Conservation 14The Staffordshire Hoard is the most spectacular Anglo-Saxon find since the excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial (Suffolk) in 1939. It was discovered in July 2009 by a metal detectorist, a mix of gold, silver and garnet items weighing over 6kg. Detailed conservation and research of its around 4000 fragments  is not yet complete, but most of the collection consists of fittings from weaponry. These were stripped from swords and seaxes (single-edged fighting knives), at least one helmet and other items, and probably represent the equipment of defeated armies from unknown battles, of the first half of the 7th century. The decorative styles within the hoard fall into a few major types: the gold filigree work, cloisonné garnet decoration, niello (a black silver or copper sulphide compound) and the silver gilt foils.

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The hoard laid on one table

Although fragmented, damaged and distorted, the hoard’s remarkable objects represent the possessions of an elite warrior class, stunning in their craftsmanship and ornament. Why it was buried, perhaps before c675 AD, we’ll never know.  Significantly it was discovered close to a then major routeway (Roman Watling Street), in what was the emerging Kingdom of Mercia. Warfare between England’s many competing regional kingdoms was frequent. The Staffordshire Hoard bears witness to this turbulent time in our history.

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A selection of objects from the Staffordshire Hoard

The large-scale conservation and research project into the treasure was launched in 2010, funded by the owners and Historic England. The ground-breaking work has uncovered internationally-significant objects that link us to an age of warrior splendour and are enabling experts to increase knowledge of 7th century Anglo-Saxon England.

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Sword pommels and hilt plates

The conservation team at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, with Curatorial and Registrar expertise at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, have been  working together to enable experts and specialists from across the UK and Europe to carry out specialist scientific analysis, investigative cleaning and X-ray photography of these amazing finds.

Blogs of the conservation and research work can be found on the Staffordshire Hoard website. We have also produced short films and podcasts with History West Midlands which can be seen and heard here and podcasts here.

The Anglo-Saxon specialist Chris Fern has been leading typological and stylistic analysis on the assemblage for the last 4 years, during which he has examined each item in the collection individually. He said: “The great Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, once believed to be artistic exaggeration, now has a true mirror in archaeology… The Staffordshire Hoard links us with an age of warrior splendour. The gold and silver war-gear was probably made in workshops controlled by some of England’s earliest kings, to reward warriors that served those rulers, when multiple kingdoms fought for supremacy. The skill of the craftsmen is equally thrilling to behold, with many of the finds decorated with pagan and Christian art, designed to give spiritual protection in battle.”

Chris Fern (top right) and the conservation team, Lizzie Miller (top left) and Kayleigh Fuller (bottom).

Anglo-Saxon society would have valued the weapon blades themselves at least as much as the precious metal they contained, as evidenced by the poem Beowulf. The will of Prince Æthelstan in 1014 bequeaths to his brother, Edmund Ironside, what he described as Offa’s sword, which would have been already have been well over a century old by that date, the hoard itself contains some pommel caps that could have come from these heirloom swords. This raises many question of how and why the hoard came to be buried in a Staffordshire field: was it spoils of war, a royal treasure chest or a payment for services rendered? Further work by the research team will attempt to answer these questions.

Sam Richardson and Deb Klemperer from The Potteries Museum and project coordinator Jenni Butterworth.

The Staffordshire Hoard is owned by Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils, and cared for on their behalf by Birmingham Museums Trust and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. It was acquired in 2010 with the generous support of the Art Fund and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, as well as public donations. It is currently undergoing one of the UK’s largest archaeological research projects, conducted by Barbican Research Associates on behalf of the owners and Historic England, who fund the project.

All images © Birmingham Museums Trust.

Meet the horse: Sonidor


12834907_1107886682589132_208192226_nAge:
14

Breed: Andalusian

Sex: stallion

Height: 16.1

Speciality: piaffe / passage

With his long and elegant limbs it’s easy to see how hundreds of years of intricate and careful breeding have made stallions like Sonidor the ideal choice for classical equitation. His flowing strides and exaggerated suspension give this horse all the grace of a dancer.

 

Meet the horses: Ocle

12835056_1107887065922427_640288587_nAge: 8

Breed: Andalusian

Sex: stallion

Height: 15.2

Speciality: airs above the ground

12825325_1107887079255759_127032007_nOcle is a bold and confidant stallion. With extensive experience in film work and live performance, his courage and intelligence is easily admired! Trained to strike shields, gallop through flames and leap high off the ground in graceful airs above the ground, Ocle is a perfect example of the qualities desired in a war horse.

During the Royal Armouries Easter tournament, you will have the chance to see Ben of Atkinsons Action Horses working Ocle in ‘liberty’ (as seen below) which means he is controlling the horse without any reigns or restraints.To see this, purchase your tickets to the Easter Tournament here.

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Meet the horses: Arthur


12825667_1107891569255310_147837520_nAge:
15

Height: 15.1

Sex: gelding

Breed: Andalusian

Speciality: airs above the ground

 

Gaze upon equestrian perfection, as Arthur coils muscle in the rhythmic dance that is the piaffe then leaps high, hind legs lashing out with bone shattering force – as you glimpse the violent truth of historical equitation! Performing in the long reins so he is free of saddle and rider, allow your eyes to feast on nature’s most intricate and awe inspiring design that is the horse.

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