The Royal Palaces have been collecting and displaying great examples of armour and weapons since the 1600s. These can be seen around the Royal Palaces such as Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. Over the years the collection has been added to by monarchs such as King George IV, who looked for pieces that were particularly decorative. A good example of this is a gun made in the 18th century in Germany and which shoots heart-shaped bullets.
One of the main features of the collection can be seen at Windsor Castle. This is the last suit of armour that was created for Henry VIII and it is estimated that it was completed in 1540 in Greenwich. Located in the Lantern Lobby at the castle, the suit consists of a close helmet, a breastplate that has a skirt and tassets attached, a backplate, pauldrons, legharness, culet, passguard, manifter and grandguard, among other things.
Henry VIII was known for enjoying the finer things in life and over time the backplate of the armour had to be extended. Each side had just over 5 cm added in the form of a plain metal plate. There is also evidence that there have been other adjustments carried out on the armour.
Towards the end of Henry VIII’s reign there were two tournaments held and it is thought that the armour was made for one of these. The first was at the start of 1540 and was an event held to celebrate the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. The second was held a few months later for May Day in an event that lasted for around four days in total.
It is thought that the suit was made by a German armourer, Erasmus Kyrkenar, who was appointed as King’s armourer in 1519. In 1539 he took charge of the Royal Workshops at Greenwich. It is widely considered that he was the most innovative in the history of the Greenwich workshops. Originally this suit of armour was held at the Tower armouries but in 1914, George V transferred it to Windsor Castle, although some parts of the suit were not reunited with the main section until the 1950s.
It is the careful conservation work carried out by the conservators and the curators that has ensured that this suit of armour, which is almost 500 years old, is still in excellent condition and can still be displayed for the public to see.