The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
  • Gauntlet
  • Attributed to Jacob Halder (died 1608)
  • Royal Workshop, Greenwich
  • England, Greenwich
  • c. 1608
  • Steel, copper alloy and gold, etched, blued and gilded
  • Weight: 0.6 kg
  • A276
  • Not on display
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales (1594-1612) was the eldest son of King James I of England and VI of Scotland, the successor of Queen Elizabeth I. As a boy he already showed great promise, being intelligent and physically active, widely read, an enthusiastic art collector, curious about military and political matters, and an excellent horseman and martial artist. Showing all the qualities valued by the nobility at the time, Henry was seen as promising England a bright, heroic future, a return to the muscular, triumphal days of Henry VIII. A whole literary and artistic cult grew up around Prince Henry; allegorical portraits represented him as the perfect prince, waiting to take up the reins of power, poems extolled his virtues, and elaborate courtly festivals were organised to glorify him and the promise of a new chivalric golden age which he was seen to represent. His early death at the age of just eighteen led to his younger brother Charles eventually succeeding as King Charles I.

    This gauntlet belongs to what is undoubtedly the finest of Prince Henry’s surviving armours, a superb example created for him by the Greenwich master Jacob Halder. This extensive garniture for the field, joust and tourney displays the extremely elaborate decorative system for which the Greenwich royal workshop was famous in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a rich combination of acid-etching, embossing, heat-blueing, and fire-gilding. The Wallace Collection gauntlet retains good amounts of its gilding, while traces of the blueing or tinting can just be glimpsed on close inspection. The heat-tinting process, which gave the polished steel a peacock blue-purple colour, was achieved by heating the piece very carefully in a special kiln while ensuring that plenty of air was blown over it. The combination of heat and oxygen caused the steel to oxidise in a controlled way, giving the steel a dark, almost iridescent hue.

    The Prince’s armour remains almost entirely intact in the Royal Collection at Windsor, apart from the gauntlets for the field. The right field gauntlet here at Hertford House, while the left is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, displayed with a similar, earlier armour made for Sir George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, Queen’s Champion to Elizabeth I. Henry also had another armour in this style made around the same time as his own, as a gift for his cousin Christian, Duke of Brunswick. His father King James is believed to have commissioned yet another of these rich blue and gold armour for himself, the design being closely similar to that of his eldest son. However the King’s armour project was abandoned when Prince Henry died tragically of typhoid fever in 1612. The intended appearance of the King’s armour can be glimpsed in a portrait of him at Holyrood Palace, painted in 1618 by Paul van Somer, six years after Prince Henry’s death. The careworn monarch is represented with the gorget of the armour around his neck, while the other pieces rest forlornly at the King’s feet. Recalling the prince’s armour, etched with the monogram ‘HP’ (Henricus Princeps) in several places, the breastplate in the Holyrood portrait is etched IR (Iacobus Rex). Perhaps this portrait, through the symbolism explicit in this unrealised armour and that of the Prince, is an expression of a symbolic or real bond between father and son, one that was broken by the Prince’s untimely death.