Royal Armouries

Two Japanese diplomatic gifts

Gift of armour from Tokugawa Hidetada to King James I

On 18 April 1611, Captain John Saris of the East India Company set out from England aboard The Clove to negotiate for trade rights with Japan. Among the lavish exchanges of goods which accompanied the negotiations with the Tokugawa, ‘the king [Hidetada] sent 2 varnished Armors, a present to his Majesty the King of England, also a Tatch or long sword and a wagadash [wakizashi] a present from him to my self’ (British Library; Shogun, the life of lord Tokugawa Ieyasu, Leeds, 2005, no. 48; The voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613, ed. E. Satow, Hukluyt Society 2.5, London, 1900, 134).

Saris returned to Plymouth on 27 September 1614. One of the two armours appeared in the sale inventory of King Charles I, 1649-50: ‘one Indian box with an Indian armor in it, a head peece, a vizard, back and brest, two sleeves with gantletts, one placard for ye brest & one for ye back, two pieces for ye thighs & legs & three small brass plates’ (see A. MacGregor, The late King’s goods, London, 1989, 353-4). This appears to be the blue and red laced domaru on loan from the Royal Collection (no. AL.27 11), also by Iwai Yozaemon, and it was sold to Bass for L10.

The ‘View and Survey of the Tower armouries’ of 1660 included an ‘armour sent to his now Majesty, Charles the second, by the great Mogull, consisting of backe, breast, taces headpiece, vizor and pieces of the greaves’. This appears to be the present red and purple armour. It was placed on display and excited considerable public interest. In July 1662, ‘many persons of quality went to the armoury in the Tower of London to see that most noble and strong defence for the body, the suit of armour sent from the emperor Mougul, which suit was presented to His Majesty the King of England’ (Thomas Rugge, Mercurius Politicus Redivivus, 1659-72). In 1688 a valuation of L5 was placed upon the armour. By 1972 after 300 years of constant museum display the armour had fallen into a dreadful state of disrepair, so that it had been too poor to take part in the Exhibition of Japanese Armour of 1965, and it was sent to Japan to be restored by the armourer Hiromichi Miura, through the generosity of Mitsukoshi Ltd.

The two armours – both signed by Iwai Yozaemon of Nambu, one of the most acclaimed of the Iwai and the personal armourer of Tokugawa Ieyasu – form part of a series of presentation armours by the same maker (all of domaru type), which may be seen in a number of European collections. Four are in the Musee de l’Armee, Paris (nos G.751-4). Two are in Schloss Ambras near Innsbruck (nos PA.586-7). One of the two royal gift armours in Copenhagen is signed by Iwai Yozaemon (from the Royal Danish Kunstkammer, nos EAb31-2). Two more are in the Real Armeria, Madrid (nos E-133-4). Both of these were damaged in the fire of 1884 in the Real Armeria, but one (E-133 with the kote now shown with E-134) was illustrated in its original state by Gaspard Sensi in Achille Jubinal, La Armeria Real, Paris, 1839 2, no. 13.

Gift of weapons from Tokugawa Iemochi to Queen Victoria

When modern American warships arrived in 1853 the Japanese could not refuse the demands to open their ports to foreign ships. Other nations quickly arranged diplomatic relations with Japan, including Britain, which sent an envoy in 1859.

The new relationship included an exchange of gifts in 1860: Japanese arms and armour, some of which can be seen on display in the Oriental Gallery at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, were sent to Queen Victoria from Shogun Tokugawa Iemochi. In 1867 the last shogun abdicated and Japan entered a period of rapid change.

May 2013

Thom Richardson

Keeper of Armour and Oriental Collections