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European Armour in the Royal Collection

An introduction to European armour in the Royal Collection

In order to pursue his ambitions in France, Henry VIII formed an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. This painting records their meeting and the main events pertaining to Henry’s first campaign against the French in 1513.

The composit
The Meeting of Henry VIII and the Emperor Maximilian I ©

The Royal Collection of European armour ranks among the most important of its kind in Great Britain today. It includes both complete and composite armours, as well as individual pieces.

Most of the European armour in the Collection was originally intended for defence in combat, either on the battlefield or in tournaments. Tournaments were not only a practice-ground for war, but also an opportunity for rulers and noblemen to stage lavish spectacles, asserting their wealth and dignity. Armour for these events was often highly decorated and made by the leading craftsmen of the time. As a result, it offers excellent evidence of contemporary tastes in fashion, as well as of developments in metalworking and design.

Bespoke armours were an expensive investment, and from the sixteenth century increasingly featured in paintings and miniatures as an important statement of wealth. They also pointed to the status and military strength of the owner.  For these reasons, armour continued to be incorporated in paintings and sculpture long after it had fallen out of practical use.  The depiction of armour in paintings, and in particular the reflective qualities of curved metal surfaces, has also given artists over the centuries a means of showing their technical abilities.  As a result, some of the most well-known portraits in the Collection depict British monarchs and their contemporaries in armour and its accessories. 

The display of arms and armour has also been a central element of the decoration of royal residences like Windsor Castle, St James's Palace and Hampton Court Palace. 

Terracotta bust of the Black Prince, his head turned slightly to the right, wearing armour and helmet with coronet; brown wash.

Rysbrack depicts Edward the Black Prince, the son of King Edward III and Prince of Wales, as a military hero, wearing a coro
1. Sport and War

Armour was first and foremost practical, for use in battle or tournament

<p>Juan Pantoja de La Cruz was the foremost Spanish portrait painter of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century and was court painter to both Phillip II and Phillip III of Spain. This bold painting follows in the tradition of Spanish royal portra
2. Power Dressing

Armour was a powerful statement of personal identity and status

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
3. Fashion and Accessories

Armour followed contemporary fashions in dress

This virtuoso engraving by Dürer shows a lone knight riding through an oppressive landscape. A dog runs at his horse’s feet, and Death holds aloft an hourglass while the Devil stalks behind. Although the meaning of this print has not been satisfactoril
4. Knightly Honour

Armour was regularly used in portraits to symbolise honour and chivalry

Round target of iron, very slightly conical to the front and turned inwards over a wire around its edge. A series of thirty-eight iron rivets with domed brass caps and one empty rivet-hole follow the edge. The empty hole is situated at the centre of an in
5. Design, Materials and Techniques

Armour was often at the cutting edge of technical development

A watercolour view of the armoury at Carlton House, with the figures&nbsp;of what are presumably visitors&nbsp;in the background.
The large Armoury at Carlton House, the Prince Regent's London residence, was considered, according to contemporary reports,
6. Armour on Display

The display of armour soon became a central feature of royal residencies

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.