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Erasmus Kyrkenar (c.1495-1567)

Armour for the field and tilt of Henry VIII  1539

RCIN 72834

Lantern Lobby, Windsor Castle

  • As a young man, Henry VIII was outstandingly athletic and excelled in the arts of the tournament. His commanding presence was due in part to his great height (1.9 metres, or 6 feet 2 inches) which set him apart from most of his contemporaries. After a jousting accident in 1536 he grew corpulent, but four years later at the age of 49, the King was reported to have found a new vigour, rising early and spending long hours each day in the saddle. This armour is a garniture: a single armour with a set of alternate and interchageable pieces which combine to create armours for use in a number of different tournament events. It comprises a close helmet with integral gorget-plates and a fall, gorget, breastplate with skirt and tassets permanently attached, backplate, culet, complete leg harness, asymetrical pauldrons with removable haute-pieces, complete vambraces, grandguard, pasguard and manifer (these last three for the tilt). Tests undertaken by Dr Alan R. Williams on the lowest lame of the right pauldron, the third lame of the left pauldron and the rear plate of the left greave of the armour show them to have microhardnesses in the ranges 279-308 VHP (average 293 VHP), 172-277 VHP (average 266 VHP) and 250-301 VPH (average 277 VHP) respectively. The left greave, the left pauldron, the grandguard and the pasguard are all formed of medium carbon steels which have not been quenched to harden them, at least not successfully. The metal of the right pauldron includes in its composition some irresolvable carbides. Its increased hardness suggests that an attempt was made to quench it. The skull and uppermost lame of the left vambrace contain microconstituents which are definitely the result of a quenching, if not necessarily a full quench. Measurements: helmet: height 29.1 cm, width including pivots 24.1 cm, depth with associated visor 31.6 cm, width of gorget-plates 25.4 cm; fall: length 24.6 cm, width 21.9 cm; gorget: height 16.8 cm, width 38.4 cm, ternal diameter of the neck-opening 19.1 cm; front of cuirass: height from shoulder to lower edge of main plate 33 cm, height from centre of neck to lower edge of plate 36.9 cm, height from shoulder to lower edge of waist-lame 39. cm, height from centre of neck to lower edge of waist-lame 44.2 cm, width beneath arm-openings 43.3 cm, width at waist 43.2 cm, height from right shoulder to lower edge of right tasset 6.0 cm, height from left shoulder to lower edge of left tasset 68.3 cm; backplate: height from shoulder to lower edge of plate 33.0 cm, height from centre of neck to lower edge of plate 32.1 cm, height of shoulder to lower edge of waist-flange 39.6 cm, height from neck-opening to lower edge of waist-flange 39.6 cm, width beneath arm-openings 46.1 cm; culet: height 11.1 cm, width 52.1 cm; right pauldron: height 25 cm, width 25.4 cm; left pauldron: height 16.2 cm, width 32.1 cm; right haute-piece: height 16.2 cm, width 32.1 cm; left haute-piece: height 21.3 cm, width 35.6 cm; right vambrace: length 55.3 cm; left vambrace: length 55.6 cm; right cuisse without poleyn: height, width: 24.3 cm; left cuisse without poleyn: height 3.9 cm, width 24.6 cm; poleyns: height of each knee-cap 12.4 cm, height of each 15.3 cm; right greave: height 3.5 cm, width 13.5 cm; left greave: height 35.6 cm, width 15.3 cm; right sabaton: height 19.4 cm, length of original part 25.4 cm, width of toe-cap 14.5 cm; left sabaton: height 19.4 cm, length of original part 26.1 cm, width of toe-cap 14.9 cm; grandguard: height 58.6 cm, width 60.5 cm; pasguard: height 39.2 cm, width 3 cm; manifer: length 46.4 cm, width 22.6 cm. Weights: helmet without associated visor 3.15 kg; helmet with associated visor 4.285 kg; fall 0.539 kg; gorget 5.59 kg; front of cuirass 6.832 kg; backplate 4.252 kg; culet 1.106 kg; right pauldron 1.95 kg; left pauldron 1.914 kg; right haute-piece 0.349 kg; left haute-piece 0.428 kg; right vambrace 2.25 kg; left vambrace 2.693 kg; right cuisse without poleyn 1.12 kg; left cuisse without poleyn 1.114 kg; right poleyn 0.480 kg; left poleyn 0.509; right greave 1.025kg; left greave 0.992 kg; right sabaton with heel-plate; left sabaton with heel-plate 1.219 kg; grandguard 5.698 kg; pasguard 2.381 kg; manifer 1.89 kg. RCIN 72834.a–g & i–o Text adapted from the forthcoming publication 'Arms and Armour in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen. Volume I: European Armour'


    There have been various conjectures regarding the provenance of this 'Windsor' garniture and that of a later and unique double garniture now in the Royal Armouries: all were made between 1539-40. Two tournaments were held by Henry VIII in the latter part of his reign and the armours may have been made in preparation for one of or either of these tilts. The first was held on 11 January 1539/40, 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.

    Recent research has also suggested that the etching of the garniture may have been the work of one of two engravers - Frances Quelblaunche, who appears in the royal accounts for 1539 as ‘gilter and graver of the Kinges harnis’ or the Florentine, Giovanni da Maiano who seems to have arrived in England in 1518. In the English royal records, where his name appears as John Demyans, he is sometimes described as a ‘graver’. He was employed as a decorator both by Cardinal Wolsey at Hampton Court Palace in 1521 and by the King at Greenwich Palace from 1527. From 1528, if not earlier, he was in receipt of an annuity from the crown of £20. He is last recorded in 1542. Although there is no evidence for his ever having decorated an armour he was paid, inter alia, for gilding. His workshop, being in Greenwich, indicates he would have been an obvious person to decorate an armour when such work was required.

    The armourer, Erasmus Kyrkenar (or Kirkener), a man of presumed German origin, is first recorded in an English royal bill of 10 February 1518/19. On 5 November 1519 he was appointed armourer for the King’s body at an annual salary of £10, and on 4 May 1538, additionally appointed to the sinecure post of briganderius. At some unknown date between 1521 and 1540 he replaced Martin van Royne as Master Workman in charge of the royal workshop 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 workshop. He died at Greenwich on 27 May 1567, when he was succeeded by John Kelke.

    Transferred to Windsor Castle in an exchange of pieces to and from the Tower Armouries in 1914.
  • Medium & Techniques