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The Almain Armourer's Album

  • Object:

    Armour design

  • Place of origin:

    Greenwich ( , made)

  • Date:

    1557-1587 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Halder, Jacob (designer)
    The Royal Armoury (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen, ink and watercolour on paper

  • Museum number:

    D.593&A-1894

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case MB1F, shelf M, box 142D []

This is a design for armour for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3-1588) and comes from an album of designs known as the Almain Armourers Album, or Jacob Album. The Album is one of the Victoria and Albert Museum's great Elizabethan treasures. It was compiled between 1557 and 1587 by Master Armourer, Jacob Halder, and records, in vivid detail, notable commissions at the English Royal Armoury in Greenwich during those years.

This design shows a heavy cavalry armour for battle with supplementary pieces for use as light cavalry. The supplementary pieces include a burgonet (open-faced helmet for light cavalry), a buffe (face guard), a reinforcing breastplate and horse armour including saddle steels and shaffron (face protector). The shaffron and couter (elbow guard) bear Dudley's crest of the bear and ragged staff. The armour is an anime constructed of horizontally articulated plates. The design is unpainted but shaded in light blue to denote that the armour should be finished in bright steel. Thick vertical bands of etching depict lovers knots, a sign of devotion to the Queen, and Dudley's ragged staff emblem. The designs in the album are stencilled, inked and painted with watercolour.

This design is annotated 'The Earle of Leiseter'. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was an English nobleman and favourite of Elizabeth I. On Elizabeth's accession in November 1558, Dudley was appointed Master of the Horse. He held many Royal appointments during his career, becoming a Privy Councillor in 1562 and Lord Steward of the Royal Household in 1587. In 1564 Dudley became Earl of Leicester, giving an earliest date for this armour design. Dudley hosted Elizabeth I at his seat, Kenliworth Castle, in 1575 in one of the most famous episodes of her reign, a monumentally expensive three-week festival of theatre, dancing, jousting, hunting, boating and fireworks displays. Dudley was a major supporter of the arts and literature.

A Dudley armour of around 1575, with ragged staff ornament, survives in the Royal Amouries in Leeds but this earlier garniture (ensemble) does not. Its last known appearance was in a portrait of Dudley's brother-in-law, Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, of about 1588, where some changes appeared to have been made from the design to the finished armour. The tassets (hip and thigh protectors) were longer than on the design and the background was heat treated to a deep blue.

The production of armour was a highly sophisticated process. The designs in the Album record armours whose manufacture combined the skills of the artist, the tailor, the blacksmith, the goldsmith, the engineer and the locksmith. Their use demanded the skills of the courtier, the soldier, the diplomat, the sportsman, the actor and the daredevil.

Physical description

Double-page design for armour for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3-1588) showing a heavy cavalry armour for battle, with supplementary pieces for use as light cavalry. The main figure is on the left hand page and stands on a green surface signifying grass, and faces right. The supplementary pieces are on the right hand page. The supplementary pieces include a burgonet (open-faced helmet for light cavalry), a buffe (face-guard), a reinforcing breastplate and horse armour including saddle steels and shaffron (face protector). The shaffron and couter (elbow guard) bear Dudley's crest of the bear and ragged staff. The armour is an anime constructed of horizontally articulated plates. The design is unpainted but shaded in light blue to denote that the armour should be finished in bright steel. Thick vertical bands of etching depict lovers knots, a sign of devotion to the Queen, and Dudley's ragged staff emblem. The design is stencilled, inked and painted with watercolour, and is annotated 'The Earle of Leiseter'.

Place of Origin

Greenwich ( , made)

Date

1557-1587 (made)

Artist/maker

Halder, Jacob (designer)
The Royal Armoury (made)

Materials and Techniques

Pen, ink and watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions

'The Earle of Leiseter'
The Earl of Leicester
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3-88)

ER
ELIZABETH REGINA
Made during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603)

Dimensions

Height: 43.0 cm Left hand page, Width: 29.2 cm Left hand page, Height: 43.0 cm Right hand page, Width: 29.2 cm Right hand page

Object history note

The Design

This is a design for armour for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532/3-1588) and comes from an album of designs known as the Almain Armourers Album, or Jacob Album. The Album is one of the Victoria and Albert Museum's great Elizabethan treasures. It was compiled between 1557 and 1587 by Master Armourer, Jacob Halder, and records, in vivid detail, notable commissions at the English Royal Armoury in Greenwich during those years.

This design shows a heavy cavalry armour for battle with supplementary pieces for use as light cavalry. The supplementary pieces include a burgonet (open-faced helmet for light cavalry), a buffe (face guard), a reinforcing breastplate and horse armour including saddle steels and shaffron (face protector). The shaffron and couter (elbow guard) bear Dudley's crest of the bear and ragged staff. The armour is an anime constructed of horizontally articulated plates. The design is unpainted but shaded in light blue to denote that the armour should be finished in bright steel. Thick vertical bands of etching depict lovers knots, a sign of devotion to the Queen, and Dudley's ragged staff emblem. The designs in the album are stencilled, inked and painted with watercolour.

This design is annotated 'The Earle of Leiseter'. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester was an English nobleman and favourite of Elizabeth I. On Elizabeth's accession in November 1558, Dudley was appointed Master of the Horse. He held many Royal appointments during his career, becoming a Privy Councillor in 1562 and Lord Steward of the Royal Household in 1587. In 1564 Dudley became Earl of Leicester, giving an earliest date for this armour design. Dudley hosted Elizabeth I at his seat, Kenliworth Castle, in 1575 in one of the most famous episodes of her reign, a monumentally expensive three-week festival of theatre, dancing, jousting, hunting, boating and fireworks displays. Dudley was a major supporter of the arts and literature.

A Dudley armour of around 1575, with ragged staff ornament, survives in the Royal Amouries in Leeds but this earlier garniture (ensemble) does not. Its last possible appearance was in a portrait of Dudley's brother-in-law, Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, of about 1588, where some changes appeared to have been made from the design to the finished armour. The tassets (hip and thigh protectors) were longer than on the design and the background was heat treated to a deep blue.

The Album

The Almain Armourer's Album contains 29 designs for armour on 56 sheets, plus one sheet of additional components. The first two in the series are marked MR for Mary Tudor (r. 1553-58), the rest, produced during the reign of Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603), are marked ER. Each design shows a figure in cavalry armour, posed to reveal as much of the armour as possible, with a sheet opposite showing pieces of exchange for converting the armour for lighter cavalry, infantry, tilting or tournament use. The stencilled designs, hand-coloured and annotated by Halder with the names of the noblemen who commissioned them, were probably working designs. Several of the armours produced from the drawings survive, some with minor alterations from design to finished product. The album is incomplete. A few lost drawings have left imprints on the backs of other sheets. Watermarks show that the paper on which the designs were drawn was imported from the south of France.

The Artist

The artist who produced the designs was Jacob Halder, one of many German or 'Almain' armourers working at the Greenwich Armoury during the 16th century. Originally from Landshut, Germany, he is first recorded in the 1558 list of the Almains working at the Armoury.

Halder was Master Workman at Greenwich from 1576 to 1607 and died in 1608. His contribution to the history of English armour cannot be overemphasised. He led the workshop at the peak of its creativity. Under his mastership, a combination of high quality construction and a prevailing fashion for outrageously shaped and coloured clothing brought Greenwich armour to its full flowering. From his workshop came some of the most magnificent forged, etched, gilt and blued armours ever made. His album of designs is also the key to understanding the place of armour at the Elizabethan court.

The Patrons

The Almain Armourer's Album reads as a Who's Who of the Elizabethan court. Before the Album's emergence on the market in the late 19th century, the origins of many surviving Greenwich armours were not known. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, commissioned several armours from Greenwich. Two designs in the album are annotated for him (D.588&A-1894; D.593&A-1894). Among Dudley's royal appointments, he was Master of the Horse and a member of the Privy Council. He exerted a powerful influence as both a politician and member of the Royal Household. Dudley was known by his rivals as 'the favourite' for his deep emotional ties with the Queen, and by Elizabeth herself as her 'eyes'. Dudley's armours shown in the album do not survive, although an armour made for him by the Greenwich workshop in around 1575, is in the Royal Armouries' collection in Leeds (Mus. No. II.81, VI.49).

Sir Christopher Hatton, had at least three, possibly four, armours in the album, elements of which survive from all of them (D.600&A-1894; D.602&A-1894; D.606&A-1894; possibly D608.&A-1894). His skilful fighting and dancing during tournaments brought him to the Queen's attention and he achieved the roles of Gentleman Pensioner in 1564 and Captain of the Guard in 1572. He entered the Privy Council in 1577 and ten years later was Lord Chancellor. His rise to power and lavish patronage of the arts, left him £42,000 in debt. His spectacular armour commissions, etched with lovers' knots and symbols of his romantic obsession with the Queen, were typical of his extravagant spending.

The most dominant commissioner of armour in the Album was Sir Henry Lee (1533-1611). He also used his armour to express his devotion to the Queen. Three armours in the album are annotated for Lee, one of which, Halder notes, was from 'beyonde see', which he decorated and supplemented (D.599&A-1894). The other two were Greenwich productions. One survives almost intact in the collection of The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers (D.604&A-1894). It was commissioned by Lee to fight the against the Spanish Armada. Elements of the other to survive, etched and gilded with quatrefoils and strapwork, testify to the magnificence of the perhaps most spectacular design in the album (D.604&A-1894). By Royal appointment, Lee was Master of the Armoury from 1578-1611, the 16th-century equivalent of its Chief Executive. He would have worked closely with Jacob Halder, who was the Master workman.

The Armoury

The Greenwich armoury operated from around 1514 to around 1630. Henry VIII (r. 1509-48) established the Armoury as a key component in his drive to broadcast his image to the world as a modern, formidable king. He wanted his Armoury to rival the great workshops of Germany and Italy. Under Henry, the English court employed the finest armourers, artists, goldsmiths and engravers to turn armour and weapons simultaneously into works of art and death.

Where the skills were not be found locally Henry imported them. Initially he invited armourers from Brussels and Milan to produce armours both for his own use and for diplomatic gifts. The first 'Almains', the German armourers Henry came to favour, began work in 1515.

Henry built his Armoury on the south bank of the Thames near Greenwich Palace. The site is now a lawn in front of the National Maritime Museum. The location, near the river, meant there was a ready supply of water to power the mills. It also kept the workshop away from London where tension with the local guild over the employment of foreign craftsmen occasionally turned riotous.

The first master of the Greenwich armoury, Martin van Royne, headed a staff of around 22, made up of hammermen who shaped the armour, millmen who burnished the metal, locksmiths who assembled and articulated the armour as well as labourers, apprentices and administrators. The armoury also had a mercury gilder, paid less than everyone else despite the dangers of his work. The first generation of armourers was from overseas but gradually English armourers appeared on the staff and became 'Almains'.

The Album comes from the second great period of the Armoury's history. The first 30 years had seen the Armoury producing armours for the King and a very few privileged noblemen. This was an outward looking period radiating Henry's aura across Europe. Under Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603), however, the Armoury became more inward-looking. This was an era in which Elizabeth's courtiers were obliged to compete for her favour by visible displays of devotion, bravery and theatricality. The armours were lavishly decorated, in keeping with contemporary fashion, but this should not suggest they were merely for show. These were battle-ready armours. Some of the later designs in the album are for armours commissioned to face the threat of Spanish invasion in 1588.

After Jacob Halder's death in 1608 the Armouries were run by William Pickering, an Englishman with a distinguished career with the Armourers' Company. Some superb armours were produced, notably that of Henry, Prince of Wales in 1611 (Royal Collection, No. WIND.678) but both demand and output declined. In 1630 a royal commission recommended the workshop should close. In 1642 a London armourer called Edward Ansley, was asked to retrieve the remaining royal armour from Greenwich and two years later it was moved to the Tower of London, where, in the 1660s, it was displayed as the 'Line of Kings' depicting the kings of England from William the Conqueror (in a Greenwich armour of around 1590) to Charles II. The present day Royal Armouries Museum has its origins in this display.

The Armour

The armours shown in the album were made of steel. The various components were made-to-measure around the body-shapes and biomechanics of their individual patrons. The articulated plates of the arms and legs were strapped together on the inside and the various elements of the armour were assembled and joined with hooks and clasps. It took practice to be comfortable in armour but, contrary to popular myth, its flexibility enabled its wearer to walk, run, sit and mount a horse unaided. The main discomfort was over-heating rather than the weight of the armour, which was distributed around the body. The best armour moved naturally with its wearer. The Spanish writer Luis Zapata claimed it was 'most unseemly for a jouster to move about in armour rattling like kettles'.

The Greenwich workshop imported good quality medium carbon steel for the first few decades it operated but it was not metallurgically advanced enough to harden it effectively. Under the mastership of Erasmus Kirkenar, between 1544 and 1567, the means to harden steel without warping it, were solved by slack quenching, leaving the steel to cool briefly after heating before immersion in water. It has been suggested that Kirkenar's early experimenting may have encouraged the production of animes, body armour constructed of horizontally articulated plates often associated with Greenwich, as the cool