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Greenwich armour was a distinctively English style of plate armour of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, produced by the Royal "Almain" Armoury founded by Henry VIII in 1525 in Greenwichmarker. The armoury's name came from the German master armourers hired by Henry VIII. During the 16th century the armoury was traditionally headed by Germans - the most notable armourer of the Greenwich workshop was Jacob Halder, who was master of the armoury from 1576 to 1607. This was the peak period of the armoury's production and it coincided with the elaborate, colourful fashion styles and decorative art characteristic of late Tudor England, incorporating these forms into the armour. As the use of full plate in actual combat had declined by the late 16th century, the Greenwich armours were primarily created not for battle but for the tournament. As such, this was a workshop which catered exclusively to the nobility; the book of Greenwich armour designs for 24 different gentlemen, known as the "Jacob Album" after its creator, includes many of the most important figures of the Elizabethan court.

By the time of the mid-1600s, plate armour had adopted a stark and utilitarian form favoring thickness and protection (from the ever-more-powerful firearms which were redefining battle) over aesthetics and was generally only used by heavy cavalry; afterwards, it was to disappear more or less completely. Therefore, the Greenwich workshop represented the last flourishing of decorative armour-making in England, and comprises a unique genre of late-Renaissance art in its own right.


Henrician Period

Gilded Greenwich harness of King Henry VIII
The first Greenwich harnesses, created under King Henry VIII, were typically of uniform colouration, either gilded or silvered all over and then etched with intricate motifs, often designed by Hans Holbein. A good example of this early sort of Greenwich style is the harness which belonged to Galiot de Genouillac, Constable of France, but was initially created for King Henry. The armour, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Artmarker in New Yorkmarker, has a specially-designed corset built into the cuirass to support the weight of the burly king's large stomach. This harness also has very wide sabatons in the Maximilian style. Very similar in design, but ungilded, is another tournament harness made for Henry VIII which now resides at the Tower of Londonmarker and which is famous for its large codpiece.

Elizabethan Period

Armour of William Somerset, at the Tower of London
After the reign of Henry VIII, the Greenwich armour began to evolve into a different and unique style. There were several defining characteristics of this second wave of armour. One was the mimicking of popular fashions of the time in the styles of the armour to reflect the individual wearer's taste in civilian clothing. Cuirasses were now designed to imitate the curving "peascod" style of doublet which was immensely popular among gentlemen during the reign of Elizabeth. This type of cuirass curved outwards in front at a steep angle which culminated at the groin, where it tapered into a small horn-like protrusion. All-over gilding or silvering was replaced by strips of blued or gilded steel, typically running horizontally across the pauldrons at the edge of each lame, and vertically down the cuirass and tassets, which emulated the strips of colourful embroidered cloth that were popular in civilian fashion. The tassets were sometimes very wide and curved outwards to the sides in imitation of a puffy pair of trunk-hose - this effect is particularly noticeable in the tournament harness of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. The armour of William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester is similarly styled.
William Somerset's armour as it originally appeared

Another defining characteristic of Elizabethan-era Greenwich armour is the extravagant use of colour in general to decorate the steel. Other schools of armour-making, such as Maximilian and Gothic, tended to emphasize the shaping of the metal itself, such as fluting and roping, to create artistic designs in the armour, rather than using colour. The Greenwich style, however, saw an unprecedented use of many different colours to form vibrant, striking patterns. Colour contrast became extremely important, as it was in civilian fashion. The extent to which a suit of armour was decorated depended on the wealth of the buyer, and ranged from wildly elaborate and artistic pieces such as George Clifford's famous gilded garniture to relatively simple harnesses of "white armour" overlaid with intersecting patterns of darker-coloured strips. In either case, the use of contrasting colours became a hallmark of the Greenwich style.

There were three main ways in which the steel of the armour was coloured: bluing, browning, and russeting. Bluing the steel gave it a deep, brilliant blue-black finish.
Sir Anthony Mildmay, a young knight, in a partial Greenwich harness.
Peascod shape is highly pronounced.
, as the name would suggest, coloured the steel a dark brown, which contrasted vividly with gilding as in the harness of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland.Finally, russeting imparted a dark-red hue to the steel, which was also typically used in conjunction with gilding. All of these base colours would be applied uniformly to the steel of the armour, and then strips of differently-coloured steel would be laid across to create patterns, or etched sections of the armour would be gilded. The Earl of Worcester's armour is one striking example of a scalloped design which was originally gilded over blued steel.
George Clifford

The Greenwich tilting helmet has a distinctive form. The typical Greenwich helm is a close helm with a very high visor perforated on one side by vertical slits. The rim of the visor juts out forward gracefully, giving the helmet a characteristic "ship's prow" appearance. It also typically has a high raised comb from the rear of the skull extending up to the top of the visor, a feature influenced by the French style.

Finally, Greenwich armours were often made in the form of a garniture, which meant a large set of interchangeable armour pieces with the same design which could be arranged to form a suit for either mounted combat such as jousting, or combat on foot in the tournament. A garniture would typically include a full plate harness plus an extra visor specially meant for tilting; a burgonet helmet which would be worn open-faced for a parade or ceremony, or with a removable "falling-buffe" visor for combat; a grandguard, which would reinforce the upper portion of the torso and neck for jousting; a passguard, which would reinforce the arm; and a manifer, a large gauntlet to protect the hand. It might also include a shaffron, which would cover the head of the knight's horse, and a set of decorated saddle steels.

The Jacob Album

An album was drawn up by Jacob Halder which contains full-colour illustrations of twenty-nine different Greenwich armours for various Elizabethan gentlemen of high rank; many of the armours are part of large garnitures with the additional pieces also depicted. The album displays a picture of each knight standing in the same stylized pose, with right hand on hip and left hand holding a staff of office, and wearing the armour which was to be furnished for him. The wearers listed in the album include some of the most illustrious and powerful nobles of Elizabeth's court. Among them are Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester; William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke, Sir Thomas Bromley, Lord Chancellor of England; Sir Christopher Hatton, who succeeded Bromley as Lord Chancellor and was also rumored to be Queen Elizabeth's lover; Sir Henry Lee, Queen Elizabeth's first official jousting champion; and George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, the Queen's second official champion and also an important naval commander who briefly captured Fort San Felipe del Morromarker.

Other notable figures whose suits of armour are displayed in the album are Thomas Sackville, 1st Earl of Dorset, who served as Lord High Treasurer but is perhaps best known as the co-author of Gorboduc, one of the first tragedies written in blank verse, and Sir James Scudamore, a gentleman usher and tilting champion who was the basis for the character "Sir Scudamour" in The Fairie Queene by Edmund Spenser. One of the armours in the album is labeled as being for "John, Duke of Finland" - the future king John III of Sweden, who visited England in 1560 to promote a marriage between Queen Elizabeth and his brother Eric.

Twenty-three of the twenty-nine armours in the album all belong to different individuals; Robert Dudley, Christopher Hatton and Henry Lee, probably owing to their status as favorites to Queen Elizabeth, all had two suits of armour each, in addition to large garnitures with many extra pieces.

Several of the armours depicted in this album survive to the present day. The armours of Robert Dudley, William Somerset, and William Herbert are all at the Royal Armouries at the Tower of Londonmarker, and Christopher Hatton's armour is at the Royal Armouries gallery in Leeds, along with the harness of a soldier named John Smith who is listed in the album. The complete garniture of George Clifford is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Artmarker in New York, along with the armour of Sir James Scudamore.


  • European Weapons and Armor. From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution Ewart Oakeshott, F.S.A ISBN 0-85115-789-0
  • Tudor Knight Christopher Gravett and Graham Turner, ISBN 9781841769707
  • The Archaeological Journal (Volume v. 52) - The Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 1895

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