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Birmingham

Parade breastplate of George, Prince of Wales 1806

Ferrous metal, velvet and silk | 49.6 x 38.8 x 0 cm (whole object) | RCIN 67162

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  • Parade breastplate consisting of a large plate of burnished iron covering the upper part of the breast, cut with neck and the arm-openings and overlapped at its lower edge by five upward-overlapping transverse lames of which the lowest lame is deeper than the rest and formed with a short flange at its base. There is no shaping for the waist. The edges of the neck and arm-openings are everted and followed in each case by a series of small punched holes for the thread that attaches a blue silk lining, the edge of which is brought over to the front. The flange at the waist is similarly trimmed. Fitted internally at each shoulder is a hinge of three knuckles forming the proximal end of a bright iron shoulder-strap.

    The upper plate and each of the five lower lames are linked to those above and below them in each case by means of four sliding-rivets, each acting in a vertical slot cut in a tongue projecting downward from the lower edge of the plate or lame. The tongues are placed in the gaps between those of the rows above and below them. The lowest row is set off to the left as can be seen from the placement of the heads of the sliding-rivets projecting from the surface of the metal. A rectangular slot is pierced near the edge of each arm-opening, and another at each end of the lowest lame. These are for the blue velvet straps that pass round the body and are secured to one another by iron buckles with single loops and double tongues. The proximal ends of these straps are formed into short tabs cut with button-holes, presumably to secure the breastplate to an underlying tunic. Similar straps are attached through slots cut into the ends of the neck. At each shoulder is a triangular flap covered with blue velvet and pierced with a button-hole in the outer corner. To these are sewn six overlapping rows of round-ended scales each of which is pierced with three holes for the thread that attaches them. The lining is of soft white wool bound along its edges with white linen and covered all over with dark blue silk.

    The breastplate is etched in relief against a frosted ground around the free edges of its upper plate, across all but the lowest of its transverse lames and on its shoulder-straps with a series of contiguous scallop-shells. Similarly etched at the right side of its upper plate is the badge and motto of the Prince of Wales, and at the left, the Star of the Order of the Garter. In the centre of the lowest lame is a pointed oval compartment filled with a trophy of antique and modern arms, including the colours of British infantry regiments but without identification devices for any particular unit.

    The method of articulating the breastplate is the same as that found in some German cuirasses of the last quarter of the sixteenth century. There are many examples of the latter in the Arsenal at Graz, Styria, supplied for use in the Hungarian frontier campaigns. Comparable cuirasses formed part of the equipment of the Polish Hussars in the seventeenth century.

    Measurements: height from shoulders to bottom of waist-flange 49.6 cm, height from neck to bottom of waist-flange 41.9 cm, width beneath arm-openings 38.8 cm. Weight: 2.25 kg.

    Text adapted from Arms and Armour in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen: European Armour, London, 2016

    Provenance

    This breastplate was presumably made for George IV (then Prince of Wales) to wear at a masquerade.  It was added to the Carlton House Catalogue on 14 November 1806 as item no. 1808, with the note 'made at Birmingham'.  It may be connected in some way with three other ‘cuirasses’ listed in the Catalogue which were presented to the Prince by Baron Hompesch in February 1806. They also were made in Birmingham, and ‘intended for patterns – for Light Dragoons’.

    ‘Baron Hompesch’ was Charles Hompesch, a highly eccentric German soldier who served in the British Army from at least 1794, apparently for a time in the Prince’s own Regiment, the 10th Light Dragoons. He was appointed Major General on 5 May 1796, Lieutenant-General on 25 November 1803, and died in 1812.

    The breastplate was subsequently sent to Windsor Castle on 11 May 1837.  It is recorded there in the North Corridor Inventory as item no. 911.

  • Medium and techniques

    Ferrous metal, velvet and silk

    Measurements

    49.6 x 38.8 x 0 cm (whole object)

  • Place of Production

    Birmingham [West Midlands]