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Cuirass

Steel and leather cuirass, made in Greenwich, England,  about 1600

Steel and leather cuirass, made in Greenwich, England, about 1600

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This cuirass (breast and backplate) was made around 1600 in one of the foremost armouries in Europe, the ‘Almain Armoury’ in Greenwich. It was founded by Henry VIII to make armour for the royal person that was as good as that of any of his fellow European rulers. By the time it was made the ‘Master workman of Greenewhyche’ was Jakob Halder, the son of an Augsburg goldsmith. Halder may have been taken on by Queen Mary after her marriage to Philip II of Spain. Philip was known to have loved the Augsburg style of armour and patronised many of its armourers.

The cuirass is beautifully formed to fit its wearer and is decorated with a bold double line etched at the borders. Being made of the finest quality German steel it would have offered its wearer a great amount of protection. In 1590 the Master of the Armouries wrote a letter in which he described a test of a Greenwich breastplate made by Halder’s men and one made from ‘Yenglyshe mettell’ to ‘trail them bothe with all indyfference’:

"I chose a good and stronge pystolle, I took very good powder and weighed it, so I dyde the bulletes and with equall charge I tryed fyrste the one and then the other; that made in the Offyce [of Greenwich] held out and more than a littell dent of the pellet nothinge perced, the other clene shotte thereowe and much tare as longe as my fyngeers. Thus muche for this Yenglyshe mettell!"

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