Royal Workshop, Grenwich - Field Armour of Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst

Field Armour of Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst

Royal Workshop, Greenwich

Date: 1587

Place: Greenwich, England

Materials and Techniques: Steel, leather, brass and gold

Dimensions: Weight 32.03 kg

Museum Number: The Wallace Collection, A62

 

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A drawing of the armour

This very fine war 'harness' is one of only a small group of armours surviving from the Tudor Age. It was essential battlefield equipment for a noble and also a status symbol of the wealth and social position of its wearer.

 

It was probably made in 1587 for Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (1536-1608), a key politician, soldier and diplomat in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. In 1587 he was appointed cavalry commander in charge of mounted forces defending the south coast, in preparation for the invasion of the Spanish Armada. This armour was undoubtedly made for Buckhurst to wear while serving in this important military position.

 

The armour was made in the Greenwich royal workshop, established by Henry VIII in around 1525. It is made of steel and decorated with gold and designs etched into the metal with acid. The shapes of its various parts are the same as those found on fashionable clothing of the time. For example, the breastplate displays the same 'peascod' (pointed) shape found on Tudor doublets. Just like today, military design had a significant influence on our day-to-day fashion.


The open helmet, without the falling buffe

This armour is what was called a 'garniture', a harness that could be set up in a number of different ways using a number of extra armour parts called 'exchange pieces'. Without its extra plates, this armour could be used for combat on foot or for light or medium cavalry combat with firearms or light spears and swords. For heavy cavalry use, where Lord Buckhurst would have charged straight into the enemy with his knights, the reinforced breastplate ('plackart') was attached over the main breastplate and the falling buffe (plate face-guard) could also be added to better protect the face.

 

The helmet shown with the falling buffe in place

Although it looks heavy and restrictive, Lord Buckhurst would actually have been able to move easily; the plates are very carefully put together and articulated so that they slide and bend as the body inside flexes. He would have been able to mount his horse, wear the armour all day, fight, or do anything else he needed to do. In its heaviest set-up Lord Buckhurst's armour still only weighs just under 40 kg, which is half the weight carried by modern soldiers in the British Army.