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Italian

Pair of field spaudlers and vambraces of Henry VIII  mid sixteenth century, about 1544

RCIN 67399

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  • Pair of field spaudlers and vambraces of symmetrical form.  The right consists of a spaudler permanently attached by means of a turning-joint to an upper cannon which is linked by two transverse lames to a couter which in turn is linked to the outer plate of a lower cannon by two similar lames.  The front articulation of the spaudler was originally by means of a leather secured by pairs of rivets.  The inner plate of the lower cannon is hinged to the outer plate, and was originally closed by a strap and buckle (now missing). The wing of the couter is shaped like an ace of spades. The inside of the elbow is protected by a series of fifteen transverse lames that overlap inwards to the eighth. The free edges of the various plates are turned over a wire and boldly roped. The rivets are of iron fitted in the case of those visible externally with domed heads of brass.

    The left spaudler and vambrace are similar to the right except that the articulation of the spaudler has been restored and the majority of the rivets are later replacements made entirely of brass and of slightly smaller size. The hasp of the buckle on the first lame is U-shaped.

    The decoration consists of etching in relief against a deeply but irregularly hatched ground, originally gilt overall, and set against a black-from-the-hammer overall finish. The roping was also originally gilt, as were the narrow plain bands between the etching and the roping.  Five main designs are identifiable, incorporating stylised foliage and flowers, winged grotesques with bearded human faces, figures of men, winged dragons, harpies, S-scrolls and stylised dolphins. 

    Painted in white inside the top lame of the right spaudler are two figures, the first of which is ‘1’, and the other an ‘O’, ‘C’ or ‘G’.

    Measurements: Right Spaudler and Vambrace: length 69.9 cm; Left Spaudler and Vambrace: 70.3 cm.
    Weights: Right Spaudler and Vambrace: 2.353 kg; Left Spaudler and Vambrace: 2.438 kg.

    Tests undertaken by Dr Alan R. Williams on the turner of the upper cannon of the right vambrace and on an inner elbow-lame of the left vambrace show them to have microhardnesses in the ranges 365–417 VPH (average 388 VPH), and 581–700 VPH respectively. Both elements appear to be formed of medium carbon steels, which have undergone some form of heat-treatment to harden them. In the case of the upper cannon of the right vambrace, the microstructure of its metal would suggest a delayed quench. In the case of the inner elbow-lame of the left vambrace, however, the microstructure of the metal, exhibiting some intergranular cracking, suggests that the quenching of that specimen was not delayed (perhaps as a result of a distraction in the workshop) and it was therefore over-heated and too drastically quenched.

    The microstructures of these specimens resemble those found in examples of Greenwich armour produced in the 1540s. They do not resemble those recorded in any contemporary Italian armours.

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

    Provenance

    The painted figures inside these pieces suggest that they came from the Tower Armouries and could therefore have formed part of one of Henry VIII’s armours.  Recent research indicates that they are the second pair of vambraces belonging to a field garniture of Henry VIII, now in the Metropolitan Museum New York (32.130.7a-l).  A Royal Armouries inventory dated 1555 describes this armour as ‘One. ffelde harnesse blacke graven wt lambes and guilte wt a placard / ij paier of vambaces.'   The armour in New York has full pauldrons, so the exchange arm-defences might have been employed in an infantry role.

    The pieces appear in the 1611 ‘Remayne of his Maties Armory’, which describes ‘Guilte vambraces late king Henry the eightes one p[ai]re’. They are also recorded in the 1628/9 Remain.  Thereafter a pair of parcel-gilt vambraces appear regularly in Tower inventories but without the ascription to Henry VIII. 

    It is likely that these pieces are the pair of ‘Vambraces p[ar]cell gilt’ recorded as having been issued with other armour from the Tower to Windsor Castle on 22 July 1688.  ‘An Account of the Armour and Arms in the Guard Chamber at Windsor Castle’ prepared by the Board of Ordnance at the Tower of London, on 29 July 1831 (Appendix IV), included as part of the 15th group: ‘2 Pauldrons with Rerebraces and Vambraces United by Splints, Chased, and Richly Engraved’, which are probably these.

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    Italian (nationality)