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Royal Armouries [Greenwich]

The royal workshops at Greenwich were the main suppliers of armour to the monarch and court from the reign of Henry VIII (1491-1547) until the Civil War. Their output included three of the most important armours in the Collection today – those made for Henry VIII (RCIN 72834), for Sir Christopher Hatton (RCIN 72835), and for Henry, Prince of Wales (RCIN 72831).

Greenwich armours were frequently designed as garnitures – that is, with removable, interchangeable pieces to make them adaptable to different purposes. An armour for the field could be converted for use in the tilt, for example, and a foot armour altered for use on horseback. The Greenwich armour for Henry VIII in the Collection was designed in this way so that the King might wear it for a range of different tournament course in 1540.

The workshops were also notable for their elaborate decorative style. An excellent example in the Collection is the armour presented to Henry, Prince of Wales during the reign of James I. Embossed and etched with interlinking Tudor roses and realistic thistles, its surface is blued and gilt to give a striking contrast of colour, which was originally offset by a crimson lining.

Many of the later Greenwich armours are illustrated and labelled in an album of coloured drawings by Jacob Halder, who was Master Workman between 1576 and 1608. The album documented commissions for members of the Elizabethan court, including Halder's armour for 'Sur Cristofer Hattone'. This armour, along with pieces by two other Master Workmen – Erasmus Kyrkenar and William Pickering – is preserved in the Royal Collection today.

The workshops at Greenwich were established by Henry VIII from 1511. Following his accession in 1509, the King sought numerous pieces for sport and war of the same high quality enjoyed by his European counterparts, particularly the Emperor Maximilian I (1486-1519). To avoid having to send abroad for such armour, Henry VIII encouraged expert armourers from Milan and Brussels to relocate to England, where they variously worked for him at Greenwich. From 1515, the King also employed Almains (German armourers) as liveried members of the Royal Household. They operated at Southwark from at least 1516 and moved to Greenwich sometime between 1521 and 1526, where they replaced the Italian and Flemish armourers. Contemporary records describe their workshops at Greenwich as the 'Almain Armouries', and it is their work that is generally denoted by the term 'Greenwich armour' today.

The royal workshops operated for some 120 years until the Civil War, when Parliamentarian forces occupied Greenwich. Although the armourers had patents for life and were briefly reinstated after the Restoration in 1660, the trade went into decline as armour ceased to be worn in war and as the tournament in its traditional form grew less popular.


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