Dressed to kill. I am not speaking of the beautiful woman, dressed in black, bejeweled in Harry Winston Diamonds , wafting over the red carpet. No, I am speaking of this. The knight and the horse in armour. In the 15th Century this was the real “dressed to kill”.
This armour was made in Germany in 1480. Complete armour for the horse before the 16th Century is extremely rare and this is one of only three that exist in the world. The knights armour weighs 27.16 kg and the horse’s 10.17 kg. Both are made of hardened steel plates. How did I come to see this?
My husband and I visit London twice a year to see our son who lives there and we had signed up to take part in a four day tour of Arms and Armouries organized by Caroline Stanley whose tours we have taken before. The expert who was with us every day was Dr. Edward Impey, the Director General and Master of the Royal Armouries. It was a splendid tour and on the first day we went to see the Wallace Collection in London. Their armour collection is most impressive and Keith Dowen, the Assistant Curator of European Armour at the Royal Armories, took us through the displays. I was most interested in the armour for the horses…of course!
The shaffrons protected the head of the horse. There would have been padding underneath the metal so the shaffron would be made big enough to accommodate this.
The armour on the horse’s head also was designed to have an intimidation factor. Was it a horse or a dragon?
Even coming down the hallway the mounted knight is impressive and intimidating!
FASHION IN ARMOUR Knights were men of fashion as well. In the 15th Century the foot armour and spurs looked like this.
The long pointed toe could be removed for walking.The spurs are lethal and I hope the knights did not use them too much. By the early 16th Century the fashion had changed and the footwear and spurs looked like this.
The armour shown in the photo below is German from 1532-1536.
Even the stirrup irons were highly decorated.
And saddles ( 1460-1480) did not look too comfortable but they were works of art.
Armour was never mass produced on an assembly line. It was crafted by hand and custom fitted for the knight. What better way to show how important and wealthy you were than to spend money on getting a fabulously impressive suit of armour, either for war or for jousting. After all you can’t wear paintings or other works of art.
The arrival of gunpowder and guns brought changes to armour and the amourers would fire a bullet into the armour to show it was “bulletproof”. This is the reason you will see a small dent in armour that has been “proofed”. But eventually the extravagant armour fell by the wayside as warfare changed. However, there are many paintings that show military leaders in armour, long after it wasn’t in regular use. In this way they could reinvent themselves as a knightly warriors.
The horses were considered very valuable to the knights. A good horse could make all the difference on the field of battle or at the tournament. These horses were not the huge Shire horses and were actually smaller and faster animals specially trained for jousting or for battle. Our guide Keith Dowen had a special tribute to horses on his tie.
That evening we went to the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers in the City of London. Fearless Leader Caroline went up to the large wooden doors and rang the doorbell. The door swung open and we were greeted by……….the Beadle! As I stepped inside I knew I was entering another era. We dined in the splendid livery hall. If those pieces of armour could speak what tales they would have to tell us.
That was the end of Day One of our tour. The second day we journeyed out of London to a stately home and in the evening we dined in the White Tower at the Tower of London. That was an evening I shall never forget. I will post about it soon!