A picture that tells a story: Object of the month for November

In this monthly blog series, our collections team will write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. This November, Karen Watts, Senior Curator of European Armour and Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager, tell us about a recently purchased picture which tells a fascinating and heroic story.

Visit our collection online to discover more about this object

The marvellous escape from death of Lt. Hugh Kinred and the picture that tells the story

The Royal Armouries has recently purchased a picture that tells a story. It happened a century ago in 1916. The picture contains the front page of the Daily Mirror, an officer’s rank pip and a piece of shattered body armour.


Hugh Cowell Kinred, a young clergyman, joined the 14th Glo’sters (‘Bristol Bantams’) as a soldier, not as a chaplain. In 1916, while walking along a trench he saw a bomb come over and drop near seven soldiers who were fast asleep. In his own words:

“In a moment, I saw the danger they were in, and that no time could be lost in picking it up: so I decided to smother it by lying on it. No sooner had I lain on it than it exploded, blowing me from the corner of the trench at an angle of about 30 degrees on to it’s top, and I should doubtless have been killed but for the lucky chance that I was wearing a Whitfield steel waistcoat.”

His heroism was immediately reported:

From the supplement to the London Gazette, 27 July, 1916.

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Military Cross on the undermentioned Officers and Warrant Officers, in recognition of their gallantry and devotion to duty in the field: 

Temp. Lt. Hugh Cowell Kinred, 14th Bn. Glouc. R:
“For conspicuous gallantry. When a bomb thrown by the enemy fell at his feet in the trench, he at once threw himself on it, and was blown into the air and much bruised and cut by the explosion, his life being saved by his steel waistcoat. His plucky action saved many casualties.”

He was also promoted to Captain in the field. The body armour saved his life!

Kinred had purchased a Dayfield Body Shield made by the Whitfield Manufacturing Company shortly before the battalion sailed for France in January 1916. The Dayfield was one of the most popular body armour’s, and was widely available from military outfitters and department stores.

It consisted of a breastplate and a backplate, each composed of four steel plates, sewn into a canvas waistcoat, and weighed about five and a half pounds.

The body armour was intended to be proof against spent bullets, shell splinters and grenade fragments, but even its inventors were probably surprised that it had survived such a close encounter. Whitfield made good use of testimonials from satisfied customers in its marketing campaign, and it wasn’t long before they were using Kinred’s story in newspaper adverts all over the country observing, “The Dayfield Body Shield saves officer who threw himself on exploding bomb”.

KinredBlownUp rs blog.jpg

Copyright Unknown – Source: Frenchay Museum

Kinred was a remarkable character who returned to clergy life and had a colourful private life. To find out more about ‘The Amazing Life of the Revd. Hugh Cowell Kinred’, read the article at Winterborne Family History Online.

Visit our collection online to discover more about this object

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part four

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of the great detective Sherlock Holmes. However, Conan Doyle also used his fame to campaign on behalf of British soldiers during the First World War.

Conan Doyle’s conversations with the War Office, in which he suggests equipping the troops with better shields, helmets and body armour, form the subject of this blog series.

In this final post of the series – written by Philip Abbot, Archives and Records Manager at Royal Armouries – we learn more about the response from the British Army and the trials of shields and body armour commisioned by David Lloyd-George.

Part four: The Official Response

When Conan Doyle sent his ideas on body armour and shields to the Inventions Branch at the War Office, the responsibility for the production and supply of munitions was passing from the War Office to the Ministry of Munitions. Papers in the Parliamentary Archives show that the new Minister, David Lloyd-George, took an interest in Conan Doyle’s campaign from the outset.


The Right Hon David Lloyd-George. Image source: ‘Fighting Starvation in Belgium, 1918’ available on archive.org

The Ministry of Munitions reports on the use and effect of shields and body armour

Between August and November 1916, Lloyd-George asked Ernest Moir at the Munitions Inventions Department to report on the potential use and effectiveness of shields and body armour.

Moir concluded that it was doubtful if shields could be made within a practicable weight and that there would be difficulties manoeuvring them over uneven ground, through barbed wire, or over other obstructions [1, 2]. Similarly, the armours being sold by the Army and Navy Stores not only failed to provide protection, but also posed further risk of injuries being caused by the deformation of the bullet and by pieces of the armour being driven into the body [3].

In January 1916, Lloyd-George instructed Moir’s successor, Colonel Henry Edward Fane Goold Adams, to set up a sub-committee to look into the problem, stating that he was:

“very anxious in the prospects of securing an adequate body-shield which would at any rate reduce by a material percentage the casualties from rifles, machine guns and shells.” [4]

Sir Douglas Haig intervenes and testing begins

However, perhaps the most significant intervention came from Sir Douglas Haig, who had become Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in the Field on 10 December 1915. Haig was doubtful that a bullet-proof body armour could be developed, but asked the War Office to supply a portable shield that would resist enemy bullets at close range, and a light body shield that would provide men taking part in trench warfare protection against shell splinters and grenade fragments. [5].


Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Army in the Field from 1915–1918

The personal intervention of the Minister of Munitions, combined with the Commander-in-Chief’s request, produced a flurry of activity. The Munitions Inventions Department conducted tests on the various materials to see which ones offered the best protection. These concluded that 18-gauge Firth, Whitworth, Hadfield or high quality steel should be used to make up a light body shield, that it should be covered in khaki cloth, and that it should be made in plates jointed on the same principle as the Dayfield Body Shield. Further tests were then made, which indicated that Hadfield’s water-cooled (H.W.C.) manganese steel provided the best protection

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Four shrapnel proof body shields were then produced for extended grenade-throwing tests on 23 February, which concluded that the extra protection offered by the two heaviest outweighed the slight drawback caused by their extra weight. Several changes were suggested which reduced the weight by about 2 pounds, and an order was placed for 5,000 of each type on 25 February 1916 for field trials in France along with 1,000 Dayfield Body Shields (Heavy Model).

Shields and body armour are issued to troops

By the time that Conan Doyle wrote to Lloyd George, now Secretary of State for War, in July 1916 the field trials had been completed. The Dayfields were rejected as being too heavy and cumbersome, but Haig asked for 400 modified sets of the MID body shields to be issued to every Division in France and Flanders.

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The MID body shields were used with some success by bombers, patrols and sentries, but in the event they proved too heavy and awkward to be used in major assaults, and in May 1917 Haig asked for 200 sets of a lighter design of body armour to be issued to every Division. This was the Experimental Ordnance Board (EOB) body armour, and appears to have been a development of the Type C armour previously tested. It consisted of front, back and abdomen plates, was made of 18-gauge manganese steel, padded and covered in tan coloured canvas. It weighed 9 ½ pounds, was secured with leather straps and buckles, and offered the wearer protection against pistol bullets, shrapnel and grenade fragments.

Almost 20,000 sets of body armour had been delivered by August 1918 when the deadlock on the Western Front was finally broken. Research continued right up to the end of the war, as did the evaluation of both commercially available body armour and ideas received from members of the public and serving officers.

Progress on the development of a portable or mobile shield was less spectacular. Various designs for mobile shields were examined to protect between 5 and 15 men, but these were invariably too heavy and too difficult to manoeuvre, even with a large crew. A mobile shield was tested in 1917, which was fitted with rifle slits to enable the crew of five to engage enemy targets, and the following year both the British and French used a large mobile shield akin to a three-sided metal box on wheels with a platform on which a soldier could lie with only his legs exposed. However, no satisfactory design was ever produced, and the development of the tank made such shields irrelevant.

Read more on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s First World War campaign in the following earlier posts:


1: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/4/1 Preliminary report on steel bullet-proof shields for use at the front to protect infantry and bombing parties, August 13, 1915;
2: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/4/2 Further report on steel bullet-proof shields for use at the front to protect infantry and bombing parties, August 19, 1915
3: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/10/3/25/1, Report on armour, November 16, 1915;
ditto, Report on armour, appended note, November 19, 1915
4: Parliamentary archives, LG/D/3/2/35, Memo, January 12, 1916
5: National Archives, MUN 4/2749, Letter to the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, December 26, 1915

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better armour on the Western Front: Part two: “Cranks and Lunatics”


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s campaign for better body armour on the Western Front, part two. (See previous post here.)

Written by Philip Abbott, Archives and Records Manager at the Royal Armouries.

DOY 1-7 Walker 1

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-7 Walker 1.

David Lloyd George noted in his wartime memoirs that when he became Minister of Munitions that he was deluged with letters from “cranks and lunatics” who had some new invention to propose. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own letters to The Times and The Observer resulted in a number of responses from private individuals who shared his concerns, many of whom had their own ideas on saving the lives of British soldiers.

George Seaborne, a former colliery owner from Hengoed in Glamorganshire, wrote to him recalling how during the South African War he had suggested to the War Office that British troops fashion shields made from old boilers in the gold mines to protect themselves from Boer rifle fire. He also observed how the Japanese had used shields with some success during the Russo-Japanese War, and wondered whether photographs showing their use in the attack on Port Arthur might help Conan Doyle in his endeavours.(See below).

DOY 1-16 Seaborne

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-16 Seaborne.

Miles Walker, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Manchester University, brought to Conan Doyle’s attention his idea for a large portable shield (see first image above and below), which he had tested the previous year with the aid of the Royal Engineers at Buxton, and then demonstrated in the presence of Major Richard Oakes, the Inspector of Iron Structures at the Department of Fortifications and Works with the help of the 90th Brigade at Manchester. Walker had already tried to persuade the Ministry of Munitions to conduct trials of his shield without success, and when in frustration he wrote to The Times on the subject his letter was “struck out by the censor” because it revealed information on experiments with military equipment. He hoped for better success by appealing to a number of MPs in the hope that they would bring pressure to bear on the Government to look into his ideas.

DOY 1-7 Walker 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-7 Walker 2.

Conan Doyle had discovered that at least one design for a large mobile shield developed by Lieutenant Cyril Aldin Smith of the Royal Naval Armoured Car Service had been tested in France, and Mr. A. Middleton of East Grinstead in Sussex wrote to him with a similar idea. It consisted of two armour plates fixed together at an angle, and mounted on a frame with a single wheel to enable it to be turned in any direction, and “easily trundled over rough ground” (see below).

DOY 1-14 Middleton

Credit: Royal Armouries museum, DOY 1-14 Middleton.

One of the more unusual ideas came from Mr. J. B. Forster, a shipping broker from Sunderland. He suggested that a steel net (presumably made of interlinked metal rings in the same way as medieval mail armour) might be fitted to a lightweight steel frame and attached to the end of a service rifle. The net would be mounted on springs in such a manner that it would give slightly on being struck by a bullet, reducing its velocity and preventing any ricochets from wounding neighbouring troops. It would be fine enough to enable the soldier to see through it, and have a small hole in the centre to allow him to fire his weapon. Forster was evidently no rifleman. One of the features of modern military rifles is a heavy, floating barrel, which increases the accuracy of the weapon by allowing it to vibrate freely and consistently. The floating barrel is able to expand and contract without contacting the stock and interfering with the alignment of the barrel and the sights.

Conan Doyle also received a number of letters following up his suggestions for armour. George Wakeman of Sparkhill in Birmingham wrote enclosing not only a detailed design for armour, consisting of breastplate, backplate, abdomen plate, arm and leg defences, which he described his armour as “simple, light, effective & cheap” (see first image below), but also a projectile for destroying barbed wire entanglements (second image below). Wakeman admitted that his suggestions, “did not take root in the official mind”, but noted that a sergeant in the trenches had “heartily approved” of his ideas for armour, and an experienced gunner had commented favourably on his suggestions for a wire entanglement destroyer.

DOY 1-13A Wakeman 1

Wakeman’s concepts for steel armour sent to Conan Doyle. Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-13A Wakeman 1.

DOY 1-13B Wakeman 2

Credit: Royal Armouries, DOY 1-13B Wakeman 2.

It was not just in Britain where well-meaning ideas to reduce the casualties being suffered on the Western Front were being frustrated. Arthur Rotsaert, a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Belgian Engineers, wrote to Conan Doyle claiming that he had, “made a type of shield giving full and effective protection against the German rifle bullet and shrapnel splinters to the chest and abdomen of the soldiers when they are marching upright and covering them completely when lying flat”. Rotsaert’s armour was made of 7mm thick steel and weighed less than 17 pounds. The Belgian Board of Inventions had spurned his suggestions, declaring that his armour was too heavy, but he remained convinced that the special circumstances of trench warfare made this criticism irrelevant. He argued that they need only be carried during an assault, and if the troops had to march any great distance, they could simply be left behind and picked up by the rear echelons. He offered to send his armour to Conan Doyle, but asked him not to publicise his name or rank in the Belgian Army as this might lead to trouble.

Mademoiselle Marthe Durand of Paris had also read Conan Doyle’s article in The Times, and contacted him regarding the bullet-proof armour she had developed, which had saved the lives of two members of her family, one of whom had been hit in the chest, and the other in near the heart. The armour weighed only three kilograms (six pounds ten ounces), but although she had sent samples to the French Army, she had not yet received a reply. She offered to send Conan Doyle one of her armours to see if he could persuade the British Army to try it out.

Many of Conan Doyle’s correspondents recognised the problem of the weight of bullet proof armour, and looked for alternative solutions to the use of steel. Ms Janet Peck, who lived in fashionable Mayfair in London, another writer appalled by “the sickening obstinacy with which every obvious necessity is met in the War Office” had an interesting idea. She sent Conan Doyle a sample of vulcanite, a hardened rubber made by the vulcanisation of natural rubber with sulphur, which she had come across during her investigations into the use of waterproof paper to make smocks for Indian and Canadian troops before they were issued with great coats. She thought that, “a shield could be made of this composition still hardened by greater pressure”.

Conan Doyle himself investigated the use of different materials in association with the inventor, industrialist and entrepreneur, Herbert Frood. His company, Ferodo, based in Chapel en le Frith in Derbyshire, specialised in the design and manufacture of friction products, and made brake linings for armoured cars, motor vehicles and tanks during the war. A surviving minute book in the Derbyshire Record Office reveals that on the 9 August he produced a bullet proof fabric for Conan Doyle, that was made of asbestos die pressed from 1/4 to 3/16 of an inch, and boiled in black wax with a 20% carnauba palm wax content (https://recordoffice.wordpress.com/tag/ferodo/).

Conan Doyle also received letters from a number of private companies who were already producing armour for private purchase… find out more about this in part three of our series.

New acquisition: the Missaglia Breastplate

On 29th June, at the Thomas Del Mar sale, the Royal Armouries purchased a rare breastplate by a famous family of armourers, the Missaglia family.

208-1The breastplate is stamped with the armourer’s mark of the Missaglia family: a Lombardic ‘M’ under a split cross on the right shoulder. The Missaglia’s were the foremost armourers of the Middle Ages, working from their famous workshop in Milan. This breastplate was made by Giovanni Angelo Missaglia (recorded 1504-1529), a third generation armourer of the Missaglia family. Giovanni was the eldest son and heir of Antonio Missaglia, who himself was the eldest son and heir of Tomasso Missaglia – who first adopted both the Missaglia name and mark.


This breastplate bears the same armourer’s mark as that on the great bacinet of the Royal Armouries’ Henry VIII Tonlet armour, which Henry wore at the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament in 1520. For the tournament, this great bacinet made by Giovanni Angelo was fitted onto a Greenwich cuirass for the king. Henry VIII had clearly ordered it sometime previously, and retained it in his private armoury. Find out more about this armour in the clip below (1 minute 21 seconds in).

The Missaglia  breastplate is key component of the history, development and use of arms and armour, and compliments many other Missaglia items in our collection – including a kettle hat and visor, a right and left pauldron, a lance rest, a sallet and an upper backplate dating from 15th to the early 16th century.



Meet the Jouster: Stacy Van Dolah-Evans #TeamEngland


Age: 401 Armouries Tournament-161

High: 5’11

Weight: 12.5 stone

Armour: Burgundian Export 1475-1490

Motto: Mors Aut Gloria – Death or Glory

Jousting: 16 years

Strengths: experience in Jousting & Melee.

Won the Royal Armouries melee at the Easter Tournament 2015.

Weakness: NONE! (Perhaps overconfidence?)

Stacy is the producer of the International Tournament of Arundel Castle and also one of England’s finest jousters. Stacy has ridden horses since childhood at a competitive level, and progressed into mounted 15th century cavalry and tournament in 1999 when he joined the UK finest 15th century cavalry re-enactment group Destrier.

He holds a deep interest in military horsemanship throughout history, and particularly enjoys recreating British Cavalry of the 18th and 19th centuries. This has led him to ride with the Queen’s Royal Lancers Display Team at such events as Royal Military Tournament, in presence of HM the Queen.

Stacy regularly competes internationally and comes to the Royal Armouries in 2016, on the back of a successful season in 2015 winning the individual jousting champion and mounted melee in Poland & team champions at the Arundel International Tournament. Stacy has also been a holder of the Queen’s Jubilee Horn & sword of honour the Royal Armouries’ coveted jousting trophies.  Other jousting Tournaments he has secured victory is Tournois du Ly’sArgent in Quebec and Arundel international team champions 2013.  He is very much on form and will be focused on adding another tournament trophy to his cabinet.


Stacy’s coat of arms

1 Armouries Tournament-218

Stacy was the winner of the Royal Armouries melee at the 2015 Easter Tournament

1 Armouries Tournament-173

1 Armouries Tournament-153

1 Armouries Tournament-1-99

Stacy Van Dolah-Evans 3






Hall of Steel Cleaning: a ‘Call to Arms’

Written by Andrew Brown, Head of Estates and Facilities at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.

After a number of years the Hall of Steel desperately needed a spring clean. This in itself posed a challenge due to the height and access difficulties to the Hall, in addition to closing down the area and restricting visitor access.


An external cleaning company Cleanbright Ltd were commissioned to undertake the internal high level areas and our own Facilities staff tackled the outer staircase, all of which was overseen by the Conservation team to ensure protection of the artefacts. Feather dusters proved to be the best tool for the job.


Technology came to the fore in accessing the high levels through the use of a tracked aerial platform called a spider.



This remarkable piece of kit could be transported through our main entrance but then unfolded to allow a two man cage to rise up to the highest points of the Hall of Steel. It was an impressive sight. All works were successfully completed ahead of schedule and the hall now noticeably free from dust.

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.

Agincourt 600: The Prisoners of Agincourt

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is 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, Rémy Ambuhl of the University of Southampton, writes on the contentious element of the prisoners of the battle.

A French noble man encourages his men toward the English lines.

Pictured Jean le Meingre, Marshal Boucicaut, who is taken prisoner at the battle.

The significance of ransoming has long been recognised by students of medieval chivalry and diplomacy. The system led to a pan-European conception of a chivalric brotherhood, as ransoming a defeated member of the military elite became seen as indicative of much that was civilised about Western European aristocratic culture. By contrast, those who slaughtered, mutilated, or enslaved members of the aristocratic elite were considered inherently ‘barbarous’.

The increasing professionalisation of military activity had a considerable impact on the process of ransoming during this period. Changes in recruitment, strategy, tactics, payment, equipment, and other facets of military activity brought new pressures and possibilities. As ransoming had developed primarily as a practice between members of the aristocracy, the increasing importance of the ‘common soldier’ – of longbowmen, infantrymen, and gunners – had major implications on this elitist system.

Because of this change of nature of the battlefield, the Plantagenets established clear rules by which they could acquire prisoners of note or public standing. In despite of this, at Agincourt 25 October 1415, Henry V famously ordered the slaughter of the French prisoners towards the end of the battle, when fears arose that the French may begin a fresh wave of attack. Although this was understood strategically by his contemporaries, many captors or ‘masters’ were displeased that they had lost the opportunity for significant income raised by these prisoner’s capture.

Despite the estimations of contemporary chronicles, which vary from 700 to 2,200 prisoners, records indicate a possible total of 300 French were captured – 50 of which were very high ranking nobles.

The fate of these survivors is unusually well documented, but who were these ‘lucky ones’ and what happened to them? While French literature sheds light on the distress of prisoner’s families, narrative and administrative records give an unusual insight into their fates at the hands of the enemy.

For instance, the capture and long captivity of Charles duke of Orléans, ‘the poet prisoner’, who had become second in line of succession to the French throne at the death of the Dauphin John de Touraine in 1417, was made famous by a miniature picturing him imprisoned at the Tower of London (see below).


A manuscript (British Library, MS Royal, 16 folio 73) of poems by Charles, Duke of Orléans (1391–1465) [1]. The original manuscript is held by the British Library. A copy of the image is available on plate 1 of Parnell, Geoffrey (1993), The Tower of London, Batsford, ISBN 978-0713468649.

The miniature depiction of the imprisonment of Charles, Duke of Orléans, in the Tower of London from a 15th-century manuscript. The White Tower is visible, St Thomas’ Tower (also known as Traitor’s Gate) is in front of it, and in the foreground is the River Thames.

Many other French aristocrats fell into the hands of the king in the aftermath of the battle: the duke of Bourbon, the count of Richemont, and the French marshal called ‘Boucicaut’ among them (see their miniatures below).

Charles, Duke of Orleans miniature from the Agincourt Model

Charles, Duke of Orleans miniature from the Agincourt Model, currently featured in our exhibition at the Tower of London.

Louis De Bourbon, Count of Vendome miniature from the Agincourt Model

Louis De Bourbon, Count of Vendome miniature from the Agincourt Model

Arthur of Brittany, count of Richemont miniature from the Agincourt Model

Arthur of Brittany, count of Richemont miniature from the Agincourt Model

Jean le Maingre miniature from the Agincourt Model

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

These men were the cream of the cream, those important and wealthy prisoners from whom the king of England could possibly secure a political advantage. Their higher public and social standing secured them the attention of the chroniclers of the time. But these greater men only represented a very small fraction of the number of prisoners from whom the English Chancery and Exchequer have kept a record. The surviving contracts detailing captors’ payments to the crown on the ransom of their prisoners is simply unique, and gives an exclusive insight into the extent of the ransoming practice in the late Middle Ages – challenging widespread views on the killing of lower-ranking prisoners.

Late Medieval English armies were contractual. The opportunity to make profit out of the ransoms of prisoners must have been a powerful driver for many a man to go to war. Documents on the survival and fate of lower-ranking French prisoners at Agincourt show how deeply rooted this mercantile mentality was in late medieval warfare. Whether, from a broader perspective, combatants were right to believe that war would make them rich is another question. The wheel of fortune turned fast.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ catalogue publication, please see further posts, or pick up a copy for yourself at the Royal Armouries shopThe Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London now until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: Getting into battle formation


As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

So far in our blog series on making the model…

  • David Marshall has given an overview of how the project took place – see this link
  • The Perry brothers have detailed how they produced the bespoke figures for the battlefield – see this link
  • David has detailed how he shaped the terrain of the battlefield – see this link. 
  • and Rob Henson (Painted Wargames) and Aly Morrison have taken us through how they painted the armies of Agincourt – see this link.

Here Alan Perry (one half of Perry Miniatures) details how the miniatures were placed ready for battle.

King Henry V encourages his English army to victory

King Henry V (centre with sword raised) encourages his army to victory

As the painted figures were finished in batches of 500 we started to work out the formations and dispositions on the terrain. The first thing to nail down was the positions of the main French ‘battles’. Their cores were made up from the resin ‘bricks’ mentioned before (see this link). These had to be glued down before David Marshall could finish the terrain around them.

However before anything was secured David placed all the figures in polystyrene blocks so we could arrange them in various ways to get the correct positions. We had quite a few meetings at this point with the Royal Armouries’ committee to pin down what they wanted to show i.e. how close the French vanguard were to the archers, how far round the archers were on the flanks, where the nobles should be with their banners etc. The meetings were all carried out in Loughborough where David had his studio.  It was great to watch Anne Curry (Royal Armouries trustee and ‘Queen of Agincourt’) moving the blocks of figures around the terrain like a seasoned wargamer – it looked like she was enjoying it!



Professor Anne Curry, Royal Armouries trustee, commentating on figure placements with Alan Perry and Curator at the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson.

After the positions were agreed we could start gluing them onto the terrain. Surprisingly the placing of the figures didn’t take that long, less than a week in total. A couple of friends Aly Morrison and Dave Andrews came along to help the three of us (myself, David and Michael) on one of the days. We drilled holes into the groundwork and simply glued the pegged figures in. The horses needed a bit more attention as they were on bases so needed to be blended into the terrain.

The French cavalry charge the English lines

The front two French formations are shown packed in close together (something that was commented on at the time) as they surge forward whilst being hit in the front and in the flanks by the arrow storm. The archers on the other hand are in a loose formation, so they can use their longbows, which created a comparatively wider frontage – suddenly the French started to look like they’re up against it!

A French noble man encourages his men toward the English lines.

Arrows needed to be shown in the ground so Dave Andrews came up with a brilliant idea of using bristles from a broom. Before cutting them down to size, the ends were dipped in light paint to simulate the goose feather fights. Once cut off, 1000 of these were placed by five of us, a painstaking task and one which will hopefully be noticed (if you look closely)!


The last bits to add were the banners. We asked Graham Black of GMB Designs if he would be interested in the creating the banners for the diorama. He’s known for the high quality of his flags so it was a no-brainer! The RA wanted to show the main leaders with their banners and heraldry, this in the end worked out to be around 40 in all. As you can see the banners are all shown stiff, not fluttering. During this period banners (as opposed to standards) were silk stiffened with buckram (a treated linen/canvas) in the middle, like a sandwich, or had a wooden baton along the top edge so they didn’t ‘fly’.

AgincourtWI6To see the model visit the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition at the White Tower of the Tower of London from Friday 23 October until the 31 January. For more details please see this link.