The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Partial armour
  • Partial armour
  • Unknown Artist / Maker
  • Nuremberg, Germany
  • c. 1540
  • Iron, painted
  • Weight: 12.28 kg, total weight
  • Mark: Nuremberg guild mark stamped
  • A40
  • European Armoury III
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The distinctive class of military armours known as ‘black and white’ armours originate in the German lands in the middle of the 16th century. All over Europe, Renaissance armies were becoming better organised, more professional, and more strictly defined, regulated, and disciplined. A typical German army of this period was made up of both infantry and cavalry forces, each of which was split up into several different types of fighting man, and each of those had their own distinct requirements in regard to defensive equipment. Some infantrymen were armed with the harquebus, a type of wheel-lock long gun. These ‘Harquebusiers’ usually wore a helmet, but little other armour. Later in the 16th century they were joined by musketeers wielding either wheel-lock or match-lock muskets and wearing no armour at all. The most heavily armoured men on foot were the pikemen or ‘Knechte’, armed with great 3.5 metre spears. A German pikeman wore armour of precisely the basic form illustrated by this armour, made up of a burgonet, ‘Almain’ collar (a gorget with attached articulated shoulder plates), and cuirass (breast- and backplates) with attached tassets (hip and upper thigh guards).

    However this type of armour would also be worn by the new medium class of cavalry introduced in the 16th century. These troops were more heavily armed and armoured than the light cavalry or hussars who wore open helmets, mail shirts and breast- and backplates and who fought with sabres and estocs, and more lightly equipped than the heavy cavalry or men-at-arms, who still wore full plate armour and charged into the enemy with the long war lances favoured by knights for centuries. The medium cavalryman again wore the form of armour exemplified by A40, with the addition of mail sleeves and gauntlets, and was armed with pistols and either a spear or a wheel-lock harquebus. Later the spear was discarded and such ‘pistoleer cavalry’ came to rely almost exclusively on firearms, often as many as one mounted man could physically carry.

    Most military armours worn by lower-ranking troopers or infantrymen were left ‘black from the hammer’, that is, the metal was worked only up to the point when the armour would function as required. The surface finish was left black and hammer-marked. Bodies of cavalry wearing such armour were therefore often described as ‘Schwarze Reiter’- black riders. The armours of officers commanding groups of men armed in this way often had the bands and borders of their armour polished bright, producing the distinctive visual effect characteristic of ‘black and white’ armours.

    Of the three black and white armours in the Wallace Collection, A40 is the finest in quality. It has been decorated with embossed ridges within the white bands, the edges of the plates have been thickly roped, and the lower edges of the shoulder plates have been embossed with a ‘wolf’s teeth’ pattern. The basic armours of lower-ranking soldiers would not include such decorative embellishments.