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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

An introduction to European armour in the Royal Collection

Erasmus Kyrkenar (c.1495-1567)

Armour garniture of Henry VIII for the field and tilt probably about 1540

RCIN 72834

Lantern Lobby, Windsor Castle

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As a young man, Henry VIII (1491–1547) was an outstanding sportsman, known across Europe for his physical prowess and for his interest in the latest armour and weaponry. After a period of inactivity caused by a jousting accident, he resumed his sporting pursuits in the latter part of his reign, holding two tournaments in 1540. 

This armour may have been made for these events. It is a garniture – an armour with interchangeable pieces which make it adaptable for a number of different tournament activities. In this case, a grandguard, pasguard and manifer were supplied to provide extra protection to the king's left shoulder, arm and hand when participating in the tilt (joust). 

The armour provides a fascinating record of Henry VIII's changing weight and body shape. Made-to-measure, the cuirass (protecting the torso) had a considerable width of 50 inches, but was later extended by 2 inches on either side by the addition extra plate. 

  • Creator(s)

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    Erasmus Kyrkenar (c. 1495-1567) (armourer)

    ? Giovanni da Maiano (c.1486 - c.1542) (engraver)

    ? Frances Quelblaunche (engraver)

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    Royal Armouries [Greenwich] (place of production)

    English (nationality)

  • Two tournaments were held by Henry VIII in the latter part of his reign, and this armour may have been made in preparation for one or other of these tilts. The first was held on 11 January 1540, to celebrate the King’s short-lived marriage to Anne of Cleves, and the second for the May Day tournaments of 1540 which took place over four days and included tilts, tourneys and foot combats over the barrier.

    The armourer Erasmus Kyrkenar (or Kirkener), a man of presumed German origin, is first recorded in an English royal bill of 10 February 1518. On 5 November 1519 he was appointed armourer for the King’s body at an annual salary of £10.  By 1539 he had replaced Martin van Royne as Master Workman in charge of the royal workshops at Greenwich, although van Royne stayed on a higher salary, perhaps as a consultant. The period of Kyrkenar’s mastership was probably the most innovative in the life of the Greenwich workshops. He died at Greenwich in 1567, and was succeeded by John Kelke.

    The armour was transferred from the Tower Armouries to Windsor Castle by command of King George V in 1914.  The grandguard and pasguard, which were held separately at the Tower, followed in 1956, as did the fall in 1957. 

    For many years the helmet was converted into a visored close helmet, for purposes of display, by the removal of its fall and the addition of a visor from Henry VIII’s Greenwich garniture of 1540.

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