Armour of Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst
  • Full Armour
  • Armour of Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst
  • Royal Workshop, Greenwich
  • Jacob Halder (died 1608)
  • Greenwich, England
  • Date: c. 1587 - 1589
  • Medium: Steel, leather, gold and copper alloy
  • Weight: 32.03 kg
  • Weight: 36.7 kg, with the plackart
  • Inv: A62
  • Location: European Armoury II
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Further Reading
  • In 1514 King Henry VIII (r. 1509- 47) founded a royal armourers’ workshop at his palace at Greenwich, across the River Thames and just downstream of the City of London. Some of the best armourers in Europe were brought there to make armour for the King’s own use. They made a number of great armours for him, but after Henry’s death in 1547, the short reign of his son, the boy King Edward VI (r. 1547-53) was followed by those of two Queens, Mary I (r.1553-8) and Elizabeth I (r.1558- 1603), neither of whom as women had any need for personal armour. The Greenwich workshop therefore began instead to produce armours for the Queens’ close friends and supporters, who bought special licences from the Crown granting them this special privilege.
    One such licensee was the diplomat and writer Sir Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, later Earl of Dorset (1536-1608), who is named as the person who commissioned this armour in the ‘Almain Album’, a series of watercolour illustrations which record many of the finest creations of the Greenwich workshop under the Elizabethan master Jacob Halder (Victoria and Albert Museum, Inv. D.586-614-1894). Sir Thomas served as a cavalry commander during the defence against invasion by the Spanish Armada in 1588, and it is possible that this armour was made for him to wear in this role. However the fact that the Greenwich licence was granted to Sir Thomas does not necessarily mean that the armour was intended for his personal use. It is possible that he instead commissioned it as a gift for his son Sir William, who went to fight (and was killed) on the Continent in the 1590s.

    The garniture ‘for the field’ includes interchangeable parts which were used to configure the armour for several different forms of ‘field’ combat; armour for war, rather than for jousts or tournaments. For infantry use, only the helmet (without the face-guard), cuirass (breast- and backplates) and gauntlets were worn. For light or medium cavalry combat, when the wearer fought on horseback with his firearms, sword, and light spear, the pauldrons (shoulder defences) and tassets (hip plates) might be added, along with in some cases the vambraces (arm defences) and cuisses (thigh guards). For heavy cavalry charges with the lance, the armour would be worn in its most complete form, with the addition of the plackart (bullet-proof reinforcing breastplate), lance-rest (the bracket on the right side of the breast which supported the lance and braced it against the shock of impact), buffe (face-guard) and greaves and sabatons (lower leg and foot armour). The Buckhurst armour is also the only Greenwich garniture to retain its original set of matching stirrups. In fact, the only parts of this armour to have been lost are the saddle steels.

    Like most Greenwich armour of the late sixteenth century, this flamboyant garniture is richly decorated with etched and gilt strapwork and borders. The main bands contain a dynamic ‘zigzag and guilloche’ pattern against a blackened and granulated background. The clothing fashions of the time are also reflected in the design of the armour, which for example displays the drawn-out, pigeon-breasted torso form, called the ‘peascod’, the standard shape of men’s doublets in the late 1500s. It also has wide, rounded hip-plates mirroring the shape of Elizabethan ‘trunk-hose’.

    A number of other armours and works of art survive which relate closely to the Buckhurst armour. At least four other Greenwich armours employing the same decorative scheme were made; parts of three of these survive. The most complete is that made for Sir James Scudamore, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and which Scudamore is seen wearing in a portrait in an English private collection. This painting is especially important since it shows the armour as it was intended to be worn, complete with richly embroidered skirt or ‘base’, elaborate sword, sword-belt and military sash. Costly ostrich plumes also adorn the helmet. Another important portrait which relates to the group is that of Peregrine Bertie, 13th Baron Willoughby d’Eresby (1555-1601). The famous Elizabethan soldier is depicted reclining with a romantic landscape behind him, dressed in an armour very similar to that of Lord Buckhurst. His armour is blued as well as gilt, just as the Buckhurst armour once was; the Scudamore armour, in contrast, was always white and gilt, as his portrait shows. Of the ‘Willoughby’ armour only the armet is known to survive, in the Royal Armouries (Inv. IV.577). Parts of another armour belonging to the series, in the Art Institute of Chicago (Inv. 1982.2241a-h ), also seem always to have been white, with no traces of blueing such as those found on the Buckhurst armour. The Chicago armour comes from the Ratibor Collection at Schloss Grafenegg in Austria, dispersed in 1933 and 1934. It is possible that it was made as a diplomatic gift and given by Elizabeth I to an unknown German nobleman. Finally a gauntlet from the series, perhaps belonging to the Chicago armour, is now in the Grand Curtius Museum, Liège.

    Apart from the Buckhurst armour only one other ‘zigzag and guilloche’ armour, and parts of a third, are illustrated in the Almain Album. The disassociated parts, a set of ‘zigzag and guilloche’ exchange pieces, may once have formed part of the armourer’s record of the Willoughby armour- the facing field armour page, which would have carried the identifying inscription, is now lost. The other identified armour illustrated is accompanied by an inscription stating that it was made for ‘Lorde Compton’. Like the Buckhurst and Willoughby armours, the Compton garniture, now apparently lost, was blued and gilt (blueing being represented throughout the Album by means of a rust-coloured wash). The final part of this fascinating group of armours and representations of armour is a charming portrait miniature in the Royal Collection (Inv. 420895) depicting a young seventeenth-century nobleman wearing one of the blued armours; based on the clearly recognisable design of the armour, of which the gorget, cuirass, pauldrons and helmet are visible, the sitter has in the past been identified as both Compton and Buckhurst, but the date of the miniature and the sitter’s youthful features would seem to exclude both as candidates. It is possible that this is indeed one of the documented armours, but worn at a later date by someone other than the original owner; old armours were frequently employed in seventeenth-century portraits. Alternatively it could be yet another undocumented and now lost armour belonging to the same series.