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Diego de Çaias (active c. 1530-52)

Hunting sword, by-knife and scabbard 1544

RCIN 61316

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The Spanish swordsmith Diego de Çaias came to England to work for Henry VIII in 1543. This is the only piece made by him for the King which is known to survive, although others were recorded in the inventory of Henry’s possessions taken in 1547. The work comprises a hunting sword (sometimes described as a woodknife) and a small knife. The scabbard is probably eighteenth century but retains the metal mounts from the sixteenth-century original. The sword and knife are decorated with damascene work, in which gold wire is pressed into the background. At the top of the sword blade is a detailed illustration of a siege, with guns ranged around a walled city. This is an accurate representation of the successful siege of Boulogne by Henry’s army in September 1544. A Latin poem on the other side of the hilt records Henry’s victory over the French forces in this campaign. Henry was an enthusiastic sportsman from an early age. Many of his palaces were provided with tilting yards and tennis courts, which the King frequently used. Hunting, seen as a noble and virtuous sport, was one of the King’s favourite activities, and one he frequently enjoyed in the forests around Windsor Castle. By the time de Çaias made this sword, however, Henry was no longer hunting on horseback, having suffered a serious fall while riding in 1536. It is unlikely that this beautiful masterpiece was ever used.