The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
The Greenwich Field Armour of Lord Buckhurst (A62)
Lord Buckhurst's armour as shown in the Almain Armourers' Album
Lord Buckhurst's armour as shown in the Almain Armourers' Album
The saddle and reinforce pieces alone, as depicted in the Album
The saddle and reinforce pieces alone, as depicted in the Album
Treasure of the Month - April 2003

The Greenwich Field Armour of Lord Buckhurst (A62)

This is the only full suit of English armour in the Wallace Collection, and is one of the finest surviving 16th-century English armours in the world.

It was probably made around 1587, in the Greenwich workshops established by Henry VIII between 1511-13, at a time when the German, Italian and Flemish masters controlled the bulk of the armour-making industry in Europe. By the second half of the 16th century the armourers at Greenwich ranked as their equals in armour-making skill and design.

The armour was acquired in the early 19th century by Sir Samuel Rush- Meyrick, reputedly from the chateau of Coulommiers in France. Although Meyrick initially thought it French, an almost identical armour with matching etched-and-gilt decoration is depicted in the Almain Armourers' Album of manuscript watercolour drawings from the Greenwich workshops, now in the V&A museum in London. These pictures appear to record armours made for various aristocratic clients, the names of whom appear at the head of each illustration. That showing our armour is inscribed 'My Lorde Bucarte'.

Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst (1536-1608) was a key member of Queen Elizabeth's court, rewarded for a lifetime of service by James I, who created him first Earl of Dorset in 1604. An accomplished politician and diplomat, he was sent by Elizabeth upon a number of important diplomatic missions in the Spanish Netherlands, was constantly employed as a Commissioner at State trials, and in 1586 was given the painful task of conveying the news of her impending execution to Mary Queen of Scots. In 1587 he was both ambassador to the Low Countries and also responsible for mustering mounted troops along the South Coast in advance of the Spanish Armada. This richly-decorated but nonetheless fully functional 'field' (war) armour could have been ordered with either task in mind.

The appearance of the armour is typically Greenwich, but also echoes Tudor clothing fashions of the day; there is the same distinctive 'peascod' form to the breastplate seen in contemporary civilian doublets, and the tassets (thigh-defences) are boldly shaped to accommodate the puffed trunk-hose so popular at the time. The armour as it appears here is assembled as if for combat on foot; however, by attaching the reinforce breastplate on top of the existing one, and adding the falling buffe to further protect the face, the armour could be converted for use on horseback as a demi-lancer. Even with its additional reinforces in place, it still weighs only 39.695 kg., which would not have been heavy enough to prevent its wearer from mounting his horse from the ground unaided.