Indian Arms and Armour: Physical, Spiritual and Mythological

Written by Natasha Bennett , Acting Curator (Oriental Collections).

Throughout the course of human history, arms and armour have featured strongly as a part of Indian cultural tradition and interaction. If one considers the great Hindu narratives of The Mahabhrata and The Ramayana, for example, the heroes, villains, gods and demons portrayed therein employ or inhabit a huge array of weapons which often carry symbolic associations or embody celestial powers. These texts are thought to have been composed between the 6th century BCE and the 1st century CE, to record events which are regarded as historical by believing Hindus, but which took place before history was ever written down. Despite their ancient context, the arms and armour of India and the nuanced meanings attached to them remained relevant as time progressed, and their complex role can still be recognised today in multiple cultural contexts.

XXVID.62 (TR1999.003)

29-00062 / XXVID.62, Dagger (katar). Indian, Indore, 18th century. Copyright: The Board of Trustees of the Armouries, Royal Armouries Museum.

Over time, the Indian subcontinent has been subjected to continued invasion, disruption, and the rise and fall of different power centres, rulers and cultural elites. The conduct of warfare evolved, the structure of armies changed and the weapons and tactics that were used in combat developed over the centuries. The Delhi Sultans, the Vijayanagara Empire, the Rajputs, the Mughals, the Mahrattas, Tipu Sultan and the kingdom of Mysore, and the Sikhs of the Panjab; all these are examples of groups who excelled militarily and successfully implemented independent rule across swathes of territory as a result of martial prowess.

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Bronze 24-pounder gun, late 18th century. XIX.99 (on display at Fort Nelson) [DI 2014-1269]; Matchlock musket (toradar), late 18th century. Copyright: Royal Armouries.

By the time that the East India Company started to annex territory in India in the 18th century, European-style training methods and equipment were being adopted on many fronts, especially where firearms were concerned. By the time of the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s, many of the pieces in the artillery park built up in previous years by Maharaja Ranjit Singh rivalled the guns that the East India Company army had at their disposal.

XIX.329 (TR1998.097)

Image: Bronze gun with carriage and limber, made in Lahore, about 1840, used in the First Anglo-Sikh war of 1845-6. XIX.329 (on display at Fort Nelson). Copyright: Royal Armouries.

Despite the inevitable changes that took place in pursuit of modernisation and efficiency, ruthless practicality was only one aspect of the role of Indian arms and armour, and not necessarily the most important one in the eyes of many individuals. Many pieces were created to perform a ceremonial, votive or even sacrificial role; the ritual importance of some weapons far outweighed their suitability for mortal combat. Weapons could be vehicles or vessels for divine power, and as such their iconography and symbolism had the capacity to be far more influential for the purposes of protection or lethal intention than any design features that improved practical use. Arms and armour were identified as synonymous with the role and activity of rulers, symbolising their authority and right to govern, and the duties that they were expected to fulfil on behalf of their subjects. These objects circulated throughout society from the highest echelons down; forging and severing links between people through status recognition, identity, gift-giving, diplomacy, trade, appropriation and conflict. For this reason, many forms of weapons and armour which would be considered rather archaic from a utilitarian perspective continued to be produced on a large scale until the 19th century; indeed, many such pieces are still relevant and current in the present day.

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Quoit turban (dastar bungga), late 18th – early 19th century. XXVIA.60. Copyright: Royal Armouries.

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Sword (khanda), late 18th century. XXVIS.34 . Copyright: Royal Armouries.

The Tower of London took delivery of the vast majority of its Indian collection during the mid-19th century, as a result of three main triggers: the collection of representative sets of arms and armour from across India by the East India Company from 1849 onwards; the purchase of multiple display items from the Great Exhibition of 1851; and the general disarmament of 1859 following the Indian Rebellion of 1857, which prompted the Indian government to bestow a large amount of equipment on the Tower Armouries in 1861. When assessed as a group, the presence and apparent continued use of various traditional forms of weaponry and equipment is fairly noticeable. Of course, this material was collected and assembled to be displayed in a museum environment and intended to project certain impressions or messages. This means that it would be limiting to unquestioningly regard this collection as a transparent ‘snapshot in time’ of exactly how arms and armour was being used in India in the 19th century. Nevertheless, the more traditional weapons and equipment clearly still had a role to play; they were still embedded as a fundamental part of cultural and religious understanding and activity, and quality craftsmanship, high levels of martial skill and many different beliefs were dedicated to their production, use and preservation.


The seminar Indian Arms and Armour: Physical, Spiritual and Mythological will seek to examine these evocative themes in greater detail. Delegates will have the chance to look at and handle numerous pieces of armour and weaponry, ranging in nature from austere and practical to symbolic and ritualistic, with a few completely unique and curious pieces thrown in! Some of the objects that will be available are extremely rare, so this will be a unique opportunity to examine them at close quarters outside of display cases. After considering Indian arms and armour in general, the seminar will focus specifically on the Indian material at the Royal Armouries, to discover how this part of the collection has been established over time, and the important role it has played in the museum and in wider scholarship. Delegates will hear from representatives from our Conservation department as they discuss how the museum currently cares for the Indian collection, and describe some of the specific issues and solutions encountered with preserving material of this type, both here in the UK and in India.


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.

“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.

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 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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.


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.