Sunday, November 24, 2013

The horned helmet of Henry VIII

The horned helmet dates from 1511–14 (Austria, Innsbruck). This helmet originally formed part of the court armour of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and was made by Konrad Seusenhofer. Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I presented Henry VIII with the armour that included this extraordinary ‘Horned helmet’ in 1514. This helmet was chosen as the symbol of the Royal Armouries in Leeds because of its extraordinary appearance and association with Henry VIII.

The full armour from which the ‘Horned helmet’ originates was one of three of similar design. Only the armour given by Maximilian I to his grandson, the future Emperor Charles V, survives intact and it is now in Vienna.

The rest of Henry VIII’s armour no longer survives and for some time after Henry’s death this helmet was believed to have belonged to his jester or fool, Will Somers, because of its unusual nature.
Konrad Seusenhofer, the maker of Henry VIII’s gift armour, was one of the leading armourers of the early 16th century. The ‘dragon’ hinges, left and right, suggest that alternative face defences were also supplied. It was made for use in pageants rather than for combat. Henry VIII might have worn it at sumptuous events such as the parades that accompanied tournaments.

The ‘Horned helmet’ is technically called an armet, with protection for the skull, hinged cheekpieces and a face defence. Over the skull of the helmet can be seen sunken bands and rivet-holes for securing the now lost silver-gilt pierced panels that were originally placed over rich velvet cloth.

The craftsmanship of this armour set new standards which Henry was keen to match.

As well as importing fine armour from Europe, Henry recruited some of the best armourers from Germany, Flanders and Italy to come to England and work for him at the workshop he established at his palace at Greenwich. Armour was produced at Greenwich for Tudor and Stuart rulers, the workshop finally closing in the mid-17th century.

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