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Sallet

Sallet

  • Place of origin:

    England, Great Britain (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    1460-1490 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Iron

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Major Victor Alexander Farquharson

  • Museum number:

    M.580-1927

  • Gallery location:

    Ironwork, room 114c, case 27

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This helmet is known as a sallet (from the Italian celata meaning helmet or ambush). It is loosely attributed to a England owing both to elements of its style and to its reputed discovery in the moat of a castle in either Worcestershire or Warwickshire.

It's possible this helmet saw action during the Wars of the Roses but a hole in the crown (now filled in) suggests it was later used as a funerary helm, placed above the tomb of its owner who wished to be remembered for his warrior prowess. Under the helmet a separate piece of armour, a bevor, guarded the neck and lower face. The sallet's visor allows for very limited vision and ventilation meaning helmets were often removed or visors lifted for a breather, sometimes with fatal consequences. At the Battle of Towton in 1461 Lord Dacre was shot and killed after removing his helmet to take a drink.

The headpiece is forged from a single piece of iron meaning there are no seams which might make it weaker. It has a beautiful moulded shape and an aerodynamic plasticity that would be familiar to an Olympic cyclist. If the helmet is English it suggests a very high level of technical sophistication and artistic ability in the country some time before the establishment of the royal armour workshops at Greenwich in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII.

Physical description

Visored helmet, with skullpiece forged from a single piece of iron, the central ridge slightly raised, the crown elongated to a rounded point, the neck at the back drawn out into a tail with rounded outline. The hinged visor has a small ridge beneath very narrow, separated eye-slits. The visor's profile complements that of the skullpiece enabling it to be raised over the helmet in close contact with it. Inside the sallet are visible repair marks including one where a hole was filled in on the central ridge of the skull showing where the helmet had a crest fitted to the skull to enable it to be hung as a funerary monument in a church after it was retired from use.

Place of Origin

England, Great Britain (possibly, made)

Date

1460-1490 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

Iron

Dimensions

Height: 25.5 cm, Depth: 31.6 cm, Width: 20.5 cm

Object history note

This helmet is known as a sallet (from the Italian celata meaning helmet or ambush). It is loosely attributed to a England owing both to elements of its style and to its reputed discovery in the moat of a castle in either Worcestershire or Warwickshire.

So little English armour survives from before the 16th century comparisons with contemporary local products are difficult. The origin of the helmet is therefore hard to define precisely. The elongated form of the crown was fashionable on both Burgundian and German helmets, the rounded tail was common in Italy and the ridge below the eye-slits was often found on French helmets. The cusped visor following the line of the skull as it is raised, and reinforcing the brow when closed has been attributed to English helmets (see Oakeshott, p. 112, 38A). It is not uncommon for armour to display a range of international influences. Armies travelled as did armourers.

The headpiece is forged from a single piece of iron meaning there are no seams which might make it weaker. It has a beautiful moulded shape and an aerodynamic plasticity that would be familiar to an Olympic cyclist. If the helmet is English it suggests a very high level of technical sophistication and artistic ability in the country some time before the establishment of the royal armour workshops at Greenwich in the early years of the reign of Henry VIII. A company of helmers had protected the armour trade and ensured quality control in London since 1347 becoming established as the Armourers' Company in 1453. It survives today as The Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers. The presence of a well-established industry might explain the riots that occurred in London at the time the royal armouries were set up when apprentices did not welcome the influx of foreign, especially German ('Almain'), workmen at Henry's court.

The helmet was bequeathed to the Museum in 1927 from the collection of Major Victor Farquharson. A note in the Museum's Object Register shows a photograph of the helmet before restoration showing the hole in the crown for attaching a crest and a missing piece to the visor, now filled in. Under the picture is a handwritten note stating: "Dug up in Warwickshire bought by a dealer in Birmingham and sold to [?Rochelle] itonos [?] who sold it to F. Also two cruets dug up in the same place."

Not long before the Museum acquired the helmet it served as a model for the helmet of the statue of St. George, designed by Adrian Jones in 1924, which forms the Cavalry Memorial in Hyde Park, London. The memorial was originally sited at Stanhope Gate and was moved to its current position in 1961.

Historical context note

It's possible this helmet saw action during the Wars of the Roses but a hole in the crown (now filled in) suggests it was later used as a funerary helm, placed above the tomb of its owner who wished to be remembered for his warrior prowess. Under the helmet a separate piece of armour, a bevor, guarded the neck and lower face. The sallet's visor allows for very limited vision and ventilation meaning helmets were often removed or visors lifted for a breather, sometimes with fatal consequences. At the Battle of Towton in 1461 Lord Dacre was shot and killed after removing his helmet to take a drink.

During the second half of the fifteenth century, armour was at its most elegant. Closely fitting the profile and contours of the body, armour styles emphasized a high waistline, narrow hips and long legs. The stress was on vertical lines, accentuated by long, pointed sabatons (foot defences) and long-tailed helmets. Contemporary clothing emphasised similar attributes. The extended crown and the drawn out tail of this helmet are an expression of this style. Some early writers on armour interpreted the tail of the helmet as neck protection against sword blows, and it may well have provided this, although this does not explain its role in jousting. The tailed helmet coincided with a fashion for shoulder-length hair, both of which emphasized the elongated forms popular in late Gothic design. Both also disappeared around 1500 when shorter hair and a more rounded profile took hold, although the threat of being attacked with a sword did not disappear with them.

Descriptive line

Visored helmet (sallet), iron, possibly English, 1460-1490, of elongated form with an extended skull and tail, with a close-fitting visor with narrow eye-slits above a horizonatal ridge.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

J.F. Hayward., European Armour, London, 1965, cat. 2a
Oakeshott, Ewart, European Weapons and Armour from the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, The Boydell Press, Woodbridge, 2000 (first published by The Lutterworth Press, 1980), pp. 111-114
For comparative examples and a basic explanation of the type
Humphrys, Julian, Clash of Arms: Twelve English Battles, English Heritage, Swindon, 2006, pp. 70-111
For historical context and comparative examples
Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe. Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, London, V&A Publishing, 2009. ISBN 9781851775811 (hbk)
Explanation of design context

Materials

Iron

Techniques

Forging

Categories

Arms & Armour

Collection code

MET

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