Arms And Armour, Wallace Collection
( Originally Published 1908 )
We have at Hertford House the finest collection of arms and armour of its kind in England ; to really appreciate its beauty and interest it would be necessary to spend years in study. As we go through the rooms and see in what guise men fought in the earlier days, what weapons they used, I shall tell you a little not only of the exhibits, but also of their use.
Let us think for a moment before walking round, of the prehistoric times, when men lived in caves, and made their implements of stone. They made even a knife in this way, though it cannot have had much of a cutting edge. They made axes and arrows of stone. At first these weapons were intended only for killing animals, but after a time men used them against each other, and tribe warred with tribe. I cannot tell you of the gradual changes that were made in the weapons used, for we must pass on to the time of comparative civilization when the Bayeux tapestry was woven.
This gives us the best idea that we can have of the Battle of Hastings. The armed men who fought on that great day are clad in shirts of mail, made in one piece, with short sleeves, which just protected the body. Armour followed the fashion of the ordinary costume of the time at which it was made, so that if it were worn now in battle, I suppose it would look something like a frock coat, with long plated trousers, and the helmet would try to be like a top hat !
But now, as you know, armour is no longer worn. There is all the difference in the world between war in the earlier ages and war as it is now. When men fought hand to hand in direct personal combat, every part of the body was protected as far as possible, so that the sword and the lance might find no vulnerable point. Whatever else was possible in those days it was not possible for a heavily armed man to run away.
What a different picture we have in our minds when we think of the South African war—our soldiers, clad in the lightest of khaki (a colour chosen because it would not make them conspicuous from a distance), dying sometimes from the shot of an enemy they had never seen. We begin to realise how the methods of war, like everything else, change with the changing years.
In the days when knights and nobles wore the splendid armour which we shall see here, protecting themselves and their horses, the armed peasantry did their best to imitate them by wearing a quilted tunic made of leather, well padded, with some sort of iron covering for their head.
The story of armour begins with the light shirt of mail of Norman William. It gradually was made to cover the body more and more ; the arm became fully covered, the hands which had worn leather gloves were cased in mailed gauntlets. Then the legs were sheathed in mail, the feet covered with sollerets. From top to toe (cap-à-pie) the body was protected. The lance of the enemy had to find some weak place, some joint in the armour, or it would be shattered against the steel plate. The horse too was protected, for on him the life of the rider depended, should he fall, the heavily armed knight would fall with him. The covering for the horse's head is called a chanfron ; the covering for the mane and neck, the crinet and gorget ; a sort of flounce of mail that covers the chest, a poitrel ; the back is covered by a croupière. There is even a special piece of armour called a tail guard. You can see one specimen of it in this collection (664) with a dolphin's head embossed on it, dating from 1530, but such tail pieces are rare. Besides the weight of his master, and of his own armour, the horse wore also an armour-plated saddle. You can see one here (277), capable of holding a very burly man—it is thickly padded and covered with white leather. War horses, you must remember, were specially selected for strength, not swiftness. They were of Flemish breed, strong and big, like our cart horses. Directly it was found that the armour was not effective against the weapons then in use—the lances, the spears, and the swords—it was altered and improved, and then in their turn the weapons were improved. The rivalry came to an end at last, the weapons conquered. Gunpowder was invented, firearms came into use, and plate armour was no protection against bullets.
Most of the suits here are of plate armour. You will see that many are half suits, which belong to a time when it had been found so inconvenient to be heavily encumbered that the legs were left free. It was argued that, when fully equipped, the soldiers were not only unable to move without great difficulty, but that with all the inconvenience, they were not secure against being killed. The soldiers hated armour for many reasons : they had to provide it for themselves, at least they had to pay for it and it was very expensive. Then too, it exhausted them, it depressed them to be cased up in this way, and it sometimes even deformed them. You have only to look at a complete set of cap-à-pie armour to understand how it was that, even though the soldiers were not armed so fully as their leaders, they preferred to risk their lives without such an encumbrance and left it off whenever they could.
Armour was used for other purposes than actual fighting : as you know, it was used in the great tournaments. A tournament was a contest in skill, and the knights engaged in it in order to show their valour and courage. When a tournament was to be held at the invitation of some prince, heralds proclaimed it throughout his kingdom and at the foreign courts. Scott, in Ivanhoe, gives a stirring account of the tournament that took place near Ashby de la Zouche at the time when Richard Coeur de Lion was away on the crusades, and Prince. John presided in his stead. The prince, seated on his throne, gave signal to the heralds to proclaim the laws of the tournament. There were five challengers and they were to undertake all comers. ` Any knight proposing to combat, might, if he pleased, select a special antagonist from among the challengers by touching his shield. If he did so with the reverse of his lance the trial of skill was made by what were called the arms of courtesy, that is, with lances at whose extremity a piece of round flat board was fixed, so that no danger was encountered, save from the shock of the horses and riders, but, if the shield were touched with the sharp end of the lance, the combat was understood to be at outrance ; that is, the knights were to fight with sharp weapons as in actual battle.
Thirdly, when the knights present had accomplished their vow, by each of them breaking five lances, the Prince was to declare the victor in the first day's tourney, who should receive as prize a war horse of exquisite beauty and matchless strength, and in addition to this reward of valour it was now declared, he should have the peculiar honour of naming the Queen of Love and Beauty, by whom the prize should be given on the ensuing day.
Fourthly, it was announced that, on the second day, there should be a general tournament, in which all the knights present who were desirous to win praise might take part ; and being divided into two bands of equal numbers, might fight it out manfully, until the signal was given by Prince John to cease the combat.
The second day was very popular, for many knights did not feel sufficiently skilled to take part in single combat. But nothing prevented the tournament from, being a very dangerous pastime, and there were special laws to prevent bloodshed. Any knight breaking the rules of the tournament or otherwise transgressing the rules of honourable chivalry was liable to be stripped of his arms and having his shield reversed, to be placed in that posture astride upon the bars of the palisade, and exposed to public derision, in punishment of his unknightly conduct.'
You must read Ivanhoe yourselves if you want to know more of what happened on this great day. I have just told you enough to help you to under-stand the rules of the game.
If you are interested in armour and want to know about it fully, you must take with you Mr. Laking's guide, to which I shall refer again and again as we go through the rooms, for I am indebted to it for the dates and other details. I shall have to omit a great deal as we walk round together, but I hope that some of you will study the subject for yourselves. Here is a sword (5) with blackened hilt and fig-shaped pommel dating from 1530, bearing on its blade the words :
NO ME SAQVES SIN RASON.
Do not draw me without reason.
The inscriptions on many of the weapons have an interest all their own, for they tell of the owner's faith in God, of his love for his country, of his hope that the just cause (his cause) will triumph. His enemy may have a similar prayer on his lance, as he thrusts at him, and leaves him dead on the field.
The first cap-à-pie suit of armour (to) that we will look at is of German make, and dates from 1470, the time when we in England were busy with the Wars of the Roses. Notice the Salade or head covering, with lifting vizor. The vizor is the part that covered the face, and it is so arranged on the salade, that it can be lifted up at will, and the face can be seen. You will find it easy to remember the names of the different parts by remembering that they come from the French. Remember ` le visage' the face, and you will remember vizor ; ` coudes ' tell you that they must be covering for the elbows ; jambs' for the legs ; ` genouillières ' for the knees ; ` sollerets ' (souliers) for the feet. The sollerets belonging to this suit are pointed as were the shoes at that time. If you want to know what sort of foot wear, as the Americans call it, was worn in those days, you have only to look at the sollerets of the cap-à-pie suits of armour. At last the shoes became very exaggerated in fashion and their points so inconvenient that a change was made. Square toes came in, and word was passed to the armourers that the latest thing was square toes,' and ' be sure you make them for the fine new suit that you are sending home.'
A sword of an early date (12) takes us back to the days before Norman William came to England. It was at one time decorated, but in long years this has worn off. Near to it is a plain undecorated sword (13) which is the first example of one bearing an armourer's mark. It is always interesting to have anything signed, it shows the pride of the craftsman in the finished work.
It was not quite in such a suit as this (21) that Ivanhoe overcame De Bois Guilbert, for this belongs to a later time, 1485 ; but it was made for wearing at a tournament. The covering which protects the entire head and face is called a heaume, it is made so as to shield the wearer as much as possible. It is very heavy, for it weighs twenty pounds. We know that this suit actually was worn in a tournament, there are dents on it of the pointed lance. The combat had been a bloody one. The wooden shield on which we see the arms of the owner emblazoned had been struck with the sharp end of the lance, challenging the wearer to mortal combat.
You will see in a German suit of armour (56) that a new fashion has come in. It is now the correct thing to have the suit fluted. This style was introduced in the reign of Maximilian, who was Emperor of the West and King of the Romans in the sixteenth century, and bears his name.
Here is a horse muzzle (6g) with a quaint inscription. You can see the lettering on the front of the muzzle. Mr. baking has translated it for us. It is the prayer of the steed to the God of battles.
` I ride forth, God give me good speed That I my foe may overcome.'
Among the many powder flasks to be seen in this room (VII) I was much attracted by rlo, for the delightful quaintness of its design, we see a little man and woman sitting at a table eating bread and fish, while outside waits a man and a fierce dog, looking as if they would like to dash in and spoil the meal.
Powder flasks or powder horns were at first simply the horns of animals into which the powder was poured at the wide end, and let out slowly at the other. But if you look at the specimens here, you will see that this was not found very practical after a time, and that a long tube had to be inserted for letting out the powder.
Those of you who are especially interested in decoration will be able to spend hours in these rooms looking at the designs, exquisitely wrought, on flask, sword or pistol. It is marvellous to think of the beautiful work that is put on some of these weapons.
On two magnificent saddles (116 and 117) you will see fine designs. On one (116) there is the romantic figure of St. George with his spear in the dragon's mouth.
A whole book might be written on the story of the little man and woman (117), who, holding a scroll between them are evermore discussing the problem of life. The woman utters the plaintive wail to her lover ;
`I, am here I know not how,
As part of a suit of tilting armour (125) you will see a closed helmet with small holes on the right hand side ; when the vizor was down it was only through them that any air could come. In putting on armour the knight began with his feet and clothed upwards, the helmet came last. When we look at this suit we are not surprised to hear of knights, who having been dismounted, lay on the ground and died of suffocation.
A sword which carries its own history engraved on it (16o) is covered with inscriptions, and Dr. Meyrick, who has written much on arms and armour, says that it belonged to Wolfgang Wilhelm, Count Palatine of the Rhine, and was presented to him by Philip III of Spain, on the occasion of the Count's succession to the electorate of Neuburg and adoption of the Roman Catholic religion in the year 1614. Portraits of King Philip III and Wolfgang Wilhelm are etched on the blade, and patriotic and religious inscriptions are written below. It was a symbolic present—the sword of faith that was to wage war for God and the country.
There is a case of very beautiful Arquebuses in this room, especially rich in decoration. On one of them (171) of German make, dating from about 1620, we see inlaid a figure of Justice, a woman in Elizabethan costume, holding the scales in one hand, the sword in the other ; her eyes are unbandaged—her hand is steady.
Along the barrel of a carved and inlaid Arquebus (173) is depicted a hunting scene, the animals are racing along after the boar who at last turns round with a snarl and looks at them. Then carved in low relief on the handle of the gun is a favourite heroine of the Wallace gallery, Judith, with the head of Holofernes, you will find her inlaid in furniture, you will see her on coins and wax. In case you do not know it, I will tell you her story. She was a beautiful Jewess of Bethulia, who, in order to save her native town resolved to kill the enemy Holofernes. She went to his tent, she charmed him, and when he fell asleep she cut off his head, and returned in triumph with it. The townspeople were so delighted when they saw that her purpose had been accomplished that they rushed out and overcame the enemy.
There are one or two Salades (Case 4) which you would like to look at. One (214) is probably the Salade, Mr. Laking tells us, of a mounted archer.
In one of Albert Durer's pictures.` The Knight, Death, and the Devil,' the knight is arrayed in just such a head covering as this. Then you might look at the Tilting heaume (217), made of cast-iron in England, about 1515. There is not much armour of English make here, and it is interesting on that account. It is also interesting because of its rarity. If any of you know Haseley Church, in Oxfordshire, you will see there just such another helmet hanging over the tomb of Sir William Barendyne, high sheriff in the reign of Henry VIII. The ` pig-faced' bascinet (218) which was, I should think, laughed out of fashion, was made in that curious way with a snout so that the wearer should be able to breathe more easily. The knight must have looked very ridiculous when in the full glory of his armour he placed this queer-shaped covering on his head. The Queens of Love and Beauty were a little disappointed when they saw their best and dearest so arrayed.
As we go through the rooms we cannot help thinking of the men in bygone days who donned the armour, covered their heads with the Salades and bascinets and heaumes, protected their hands with the gauntlets. We imagine them thrusting the lances and swords into the joints of another man's armour, or into the body of his noble horse, sending to their death many a gallant knight and his powerful steed. Now these weapons, defensive and offensive, are gathered here, long years after, elaborately catalogued with their date and all the details of their make their reign of glory is over. The knights are dust, but these few weapons have escaped the doom of rust. They hang here, and we can but try to imagine their story, and the bloody stains that marked them.
I expect you will pause most often at the suits of armour, but I shall have to leave many of them to speak for themselves. Look at one carefully from head to foot, look at every piece of it, and then, if you have observant eyes, you will note all kinds of small differences in one and another. I have told you what is meant by the Maximillian design, you will find 224 of this pattern, it is a suit that is said to have belonged to Ferdinand, King of the Romans. Here is one (233) that must have been made for a deeply religious man, for he has had engraved on it a kneeling knight in. prayer, and the crucifixion.
I should like you to have a good look at a suit of German armour (555). The hand grasps a two handled sword with blackened hilt. This suit bears out what I was telling you as to the armour following the fashion of the dress of the day. A slashed costume was then being worn, the slashes being supposed to represent the cuts received in warfare. The armourer with great skill imitated in steel the velvet and satin garments.
In the middle of this room is a complete war harness for man and horse which is one of the illustrations to this book (564). It is Gothic armour, so called because of its decoration of radiated flutings and channelings. When I looked at it I noticed the beautiful pointed cuffs of the gauntlets which are made into offensive pieces of armour, as well as defensive, by the cruel ridged knucke duster. And then I noticed the extremely pointed sollerets. This is one of the most valuable suits in the collection ; worth about £5,000. It was copied (and the copy is in the Tower of London) for the Marquis of Waterford to wear at the Eglinton Tournament in 1839. That tournament was arranged as a revival of the ancient jousts which went out of fashion when King Henry II of France was killed in a tilt with the Count of Montgomery in 1599. But this one at Eglinton had no such tragic end. No doubt they used the arms of courtesy, and no private grudges were settled on that great day.
One would hardly think that the grotesque head covering (646), an open Casque with bushy eyebrows and a hooked nose, was intended to be used in the stern business of war. It has its interest in being a wonderful piece of work. If you think how difficult it must be to model anything at all in steel, you will wonder at the freedom of the design.
I am now going to close this chapter by taking you round to see the historic armour. We have the sword of Henry, Prince of Wales (1302), the son of James I, who had the good fortune not to live to succeed his father. I do not need to remind you of the fate of his brother Charles I. You will see that the sword is decorated with the heads of Roman emperors, that it has on it the initials H. P., and the Prince of Wales's feathers. It was a gift from an heir to the throne of France to the heir to the throne of England. Another of Prince Henry's possessions is his right hand gauntlet (1303), this is surmounted by a crown with a design of the thistle of Scotland and the Tudor rose of England. Prince Henry died in 1612 when he was sixteen, leaving his fine suit unpaid for ; .34o had been too much for him to put down all at once, but he had given the armourer something to keep him satisfied, and the King settled for it afterwards.
The dagger (1306) which belonged to Henri IV of France is here. It was given to him by the City of Paris when he married his second wife, Marie de Medici : that unhappy union lasted ten years, and then the king was assassinated. You will see the initials H. and M. on the dagger, the collar and order of St. Esprit, and a long inscription telling us that the stars in their courses are fighting for the happiness of Henry of Navarre and his Queen. Notice the order of St. Esprit,, it has for its emblem a dove, just as the order of the golden fleece which you will see on some of the armour has a sheep's skin.
There is a magnificent oval shield (1308) which once belonged to Diana of Poitiers, the favourite o" Henry II of France : to her influence it was said the massacre of the Huguenots was due. The story told on this shield is of Scipio receiving the keys of Carthage after the battle of Zama B.C. 202. At Zama, the last battle of the Second Punic War, Scipio defeated Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general, and thus Spain was lost to Carthage.
On this shield we see the historic scene as thought out by the Italian artist Georgioni, and wrought with marvellous skill by the armourer. Scipio is surrounded by his generals who share with him the honour of victory. A woman, bowing submissively, offers him the keys of the town, and behind her are crowds bearing gifts. In the back-ground is a city, probably Carthage, surrounded by hills, and through one of its gates pass out Hannibal's brave soldiers. Overhead Fame is blowing her trumpet, and a cherub flies down bearing a crown for the conqueror.
Diana was the goddess of the moon, and the insignia of Diana of Poiters was two moons inter-laced. You see them in the frame work round the shield. Surely this shield was never meant for anything but show—Diana was no Joan of Arc going forth full clad to battle.
Let us now look at the hunting set (587), which is said to have been given by Frederick the Great of Prussia to Prince Charles Edward Stuart, as a token of friendship.
We must not miss the splendid suit of armour (1164), damascened in gold and encrusted in silver. It is far too beautiful, and in too perfect a condition ever to have been used, but it belonged to Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, a powerful prince, and a patron of literature in the sixteenth century. On it you see the figure of Mars, the god of war, satyrs—half man half goat—Medusa, her beautiful hair turned to coiling serpents by Athene, whom she had offended. There are emblematic figures too, Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Equality, all the virtues. It dates from about 1570.
We have now come to the room in which are kept the memorials of the pageant of war of the East. The Oriental room is not catalogued, so I shall not be able to tell you much about it. As you go in you will notice a Japanese suit of armour covering the model of a man, with a richly embroidered robe over his chain tunic, and you will notice on it the Japanese crest of the dragon. You will notice jewelled sword hilts, and handles of great magnificence. The east is the land of colour and brightness. Most of these weapons belong to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I noticed a ram's head in crystal on one, a horse's head with harness of rubies on another. There are a few interesting exhibits in this room, apart from the armour.
Among the few things that you can identify are (in the glass case at the end of the room) an African head or mask in ' beaten gold. It is a ghastly looking object and formed part of the treasure that Sir Garnet Wolseley brought from Coomassie after his expedition there in 1873. To this treasure also belongs the two weird golden birds with but one claw apiece.
At the further end of the case there is a modest pouch in leather, the tobacco pouch of Sir Walter Raleigh, the first English smoker, who brought that soothing plant to England.
And lastly you will notice standing in the room two Chinese incense burners in champlevé and cloisonné enamel, which I mention here as you are sure to wonder what they are.