Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Lion Armour part two

click to see these details in their larger magnificence.....
This again, is the famous Lion Armour at the Tower of London collection, which of course, has been moved to Leeds where it is housed in a state of the art museum instead of a draghty old castle.
The above picture is tellling....the traditional "Knight in Shining Armour", An image beloved by little girls everywhere, and truth be known, by boys as well. The crash helmet "close helm" is made for jousting and as you can see, it rests neatly on the shoulders. You can't really see it in the above picture, but there is an interferance fit under the helm which means you have to lift the visor, swing the cheek pieces up and out of the way to unhook the helm from the gorget underneath. The gorget in turn sits under the breastplate. So the helm acts like a roll cage...this fellow could fall off the back of his horse, and land on his head with perfect safety. This is a rather specialized armour, useless IMHO for fighting, but perfect for the sport of equestrian jousting.
How do we know it is a jousting armour? Well, lets look at some details

Above is a closeup of the front of the Lion Armour. The first thing we notice (I mean, after being blinded by the bling of the repousse work and gold leaf) is the fact that the anonymous owner of this suit had an extra breastplate built for his safety which fits neatly over top the fancier parade armour underneath. (wow, the mind boggles at the magnificence of the under armour)

The above glimpse of the underarm of this suit shows an inch wide line of the under armour. Obviously I was not allowed to actually measure or gauge the armour, but if I had to guess (based on, oh, 17 years experience or so) I would suggest that the over breastplate would be a full fourteen gauge AWG, (possibly even heavier in some places) and the under breastplate is parade weight, no more than 18 gauge. But considering the general overall quality of this armour, some would be prepared to suggest that this armour would have been heat treated to stiffen it further. I don't believe that. If anybody went to the trouble of selecting expensive (more expensive pound for pound than silver at the time!) high grade steel for armour instead of using such hard to come by material for swords, the high carbon content would would cause it to crack under the repousee hammer, and by the time the armourer "browned" the steel and fire guilded the surface, any hardness would have been soaked out of it. I would allow my mind to change if anybody showed me an assay of the steel...unlikely at this juncture. Armour does not NEED to be heat treated to be effective.
Oh, while we are looking at that cool right hand pauldron, allow me to draw attention to joust damage....the corner up top where a lance snagged the pauldron, and again, the arm which has been caved in and the gold wiped away, possibly by the bell of the lance. Cool eh?

I will however bend my stiff neck to acknowledge that perhaps the under armour would be heat treated...there are cracks around the holes in the above picture which suggest something slammed into the armour.
A good picture, that one. The light is coming from the side, showing off some details which should be pointed out. First, the texture of the surface of the outer breastplate. The shiny robot like finish so beloved of fantasy artists is clearly not de-rigeur here. What you see is the rough surface of a finishing stake. This is the way armour comes from the "factory", before three or four centuries of garrison polishing with bricks.
Secondly, the armour has actually been used in a jouste, there is evidence of impact. (Imagine using a piece of artwork in a rough and tumble thing like a real jouste! I LIKE this guy!) Note the slight depression around the hook and eye fastener. More to the point, check out the much larger depression around the large hole created by the slamming inward of the lance rest base. The lance rest was clearly fastened to the under armour, but there would have been a large flange to soak up the impact of a lance. You can see the impact signature of that large flange. Note how the light pics out the gold at the bottom of the big rectangular hole, showing that it has been pushed in slightly? The impact signature even took a chunk out of the tip of the hook , and if you look at the lower picture, you can see impact damage to the right pauldron. The repair was inexpertly done, but perhaps the owner wanted to show a little damage, that he didn't want to be seen as a stay at home jouster. Certainly, the question of why that damage would be there right up in front for everybody to see and not repaired is a valid question considering the overall quality of the rest of the armour. Anybody care to contribute to this conundrum?

The above picture shows the fasteners of the over breastplate to the under breastplate. The hooks and eyes are common methods, but the turning key in the middle is actually more common. Note that the eyes have been "Browned" as well.
Browning is a method of controlled works best with low carbon steels. The browning provides a reasonably rust resistant surface. I have heard it said that the "Brown Bess" musket got its name from the surface treatment....(seems reasonable I suppose).
The repousse on the upper edge of the armour is actually quite stunning. But if you look closely, all the decoration is on the under-breastplate. The over-breastplate ends just above the turn key in the centre. The two plates match up really perfectly...and clearly the armourer intended it to look as though they were one. But if you look really closely, (click on the imgage) just under the wing of the left pauldron, you can see the slightest gap.
Like so much of this armour, I have to say... "Nicely done!"

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