Leeds Royal Armouries – They’ve got knives, knights, sharp sticks, boomsticks, falchions, flintlocks, helmets, habergeons, mail and men-at-arms. Or as the Royal Armouries at Leeds say themselves, examples of arms, armour and artillery. The Hall of Steel displays 2500 pieces of mainly 17th century armour including steel breast plates, pikes and poleaxes to 19th century military equipment.
Do you remember from school history that our Henry VIII was more of a lover than a fighter, chicken drumstick in one hand, the other up his next wife’s skirt? Well, his striking Horned Helmet is here, a gift to Henry VIII from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian in 1514. This, as part of a suit of armour, was purely ceremonial, it never saw battle.
Step into the War Gallery and you are immediately confronted by a stunning one piece Corinthian (Greek) bronze helmet from 650 BC. A Roman Gladius, a short stabbing sword for a Roman foot soldier, Viking axes that may be a little rusty but still have a very sharp edge. No wonder people rather paid tribute with Danegeld. The Early Middle Ages, or The Dark Ages, were certainly gruesome for those on the receiving end of the axe.
Now we’re looking at medieval warfare and the Middle Ages, things are starting to improve for protection, chain mail and padded haubergeon for us serfs and for well to do knights and men-at arms, plate armour (Gothic style armour on the image to the left). If you’re fighting at Agincourt or in the Hundred Years war, it best pays to be equipped when you’re in the midst of action. Even horses could get armour. Didn’t see any longbows, but you could see arrowheads and bodkins designed to penetrate armour and mail. The sheer range of edged swords and blunt weapons is staggering, Rondel daggers, bastard swords, hand-and-half swords, war hammer’s and mace’s.
Turns out that spacesuits and armour have a common connection. In the Tournament Gallery is Henry VIII’s foot combat armour which was originally to be worn at the Field of Cloth of Gold tournament in 1520, but a change of rules meant this was never used. However, it did come in handy for the space program when NASA examined this all enclosing armour when they were developing space suits and looking to help provide solutions in astronauts mobility. Never seen a cod piece on a spacesuit like that though. Nice to see all those centuries of warfare finally came in handy for something good.