Royal Armouries

Breastplate

Images

monochrome photo of a breastplate with a large shot away section across the middle

Breastplate with firearm damage. (III.107)

  • monochrome photo of a breastplate with a large shot away section across the middle

    Breastplate with firearm damage. (III.107)

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King James II in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

Date: 1590 | Object number: III.107

Statistics

Object Provenance: English or Flemish, about 1590
Object Number: III.107
Height: 57.5 cm (22.6 in)
Width: 39.8 cm (15.7 in)
Depth: 25.5 cm (10 in)

Breastplate

Description

Steel munition breastplate of peascod form with scalloped flange to lower edge. It was probably made as bullet –proof, and has been ultimately tested to destruction. It very graphically illustrates contemporary firepower, showing the damage of having been hit by four small-arms shots and one cannon shot. The latter has blown away a large section of the lower left abdomen. A number of undamaged munition quality breastplates of this form have been preserved in Tower stores from the late 16th century.

With the growth in the power and availability of firearms in the 16th century, armourers fought back by “proofing” their product. A fixed charge was fired at the breastplate and the resulting dent showed their customers that it was resistant –not as many modern commentators would have one believe that it had been in battle. The practice continued into the 17th century, and James II harquebusier’s armour by Richard Holden (II.123) had a musket proofed breastplate and pistol proofed back-plate.

This particular breastplate was one of the star pieces in the late 18th century Guidebooks –not only because it is spectacular to behold, but also because its story contained a royal element. The only part to change in different editions is the ‘lateness’ of his Royal Highness:

‘Having entered the room, you firft behold a vaft number of iron caps and breaft plates, moft of which were in ufe in former wars; but the only one which was wont to be fhewn as a great curiosity hangs upon a beam on the left hand as you pafs thr’ the entry; it has the lower edge of the left fide carried away by a flant stroke of a cannon ball; and ,as an old warder ufed to tell the ftory, the rim of the man’s belly that wore it, and part of his bowels, were carried away at the fame time; not withftanding which, being put under the care of a fkilful furgeon, the man recovered, and lived ten years after. This ftory this old warder conftantly told to all strangers, till his late Royal Highnefs Frederick Prince of Wales, coming to view the curiofties of the Tower, and it falling to the old man’s lot to attend his Highnefs, when he came to this breaft-plate he repeated his accuftomed tale: his Royal Highnefs liftened to him with feeming pleafure, and when he had done, looking at him with a fmile – “And what, friend”, faid he,”is there fo extraordinary in all this/ I remember myself to have read in a book of a foldier, who had his head cleft in two fo dextroufly by his enemy that one half fell on one foulder, and the other half on the oppofite fhoulder; and yet, on his comrade’s clapping the two fides nicely together again, and binding clofe with his handkerchief, the man did well, drank his pot of ale at night, and fcarcely recollected that he had been hurt.” This ftory, fo feafonably applied, put all the company that attended his Royal Highness into a horfe laugh, which so chagrined the old warder, that he never had courage to tell his ftory again, fo the poor battered breaft-plate has lain unnoticed ever fince.”

With the re-arrangement of the exhibits along more scholarly lines in 1826-27, the breastplate is no longer mentioned, and so far has not been identified in any of the photographs or illustrations of the later period displays.

It is illustrated in C. Paggiarino, The Royal Armouries, Masterpieces of medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Milan, 2011, vol II, p.161

Statistics

Object Provenance: English or Flemish, about 1590
Object Number: III.107
Height: 57.5 cm (22.6 in)
Width: 39.8 cm (15.7 in)
Depth: 25.5 cm (10 in)

Related Objects

James II in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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