The Royal Armory of Madrid

The Royal Armory of Madrid

This sumptuous armor and barding was a gift from Carlos Manuel, Duke of Savoy, to Philip III. It was made in Milan in the 1580s.
This sumptuous armor and barding was a gift from Carlos Manuel, Duke of Savoy, to Philip III. It was made in Milan in the 1580s.

Europe is rich in collections of early arms and armor. Most major cities and many smaller towns have their local armories. Generally these collections span a broad range of time, but La Real Armería, the Royal Armory, in the Royal Palace in Madrid, is unusual in that most of the collection dates to the lives of Charles V (1500-1558) and Philip II (1527-1598). This makes it perhaps the best collection of high quality sixteenth-century arms and armor in the world.

Two suits of armor of Philip II. The one on the right hearkens back to Roman styles and was made in Italy in 1546. The Hapsburg royal family liked to compare themselves to the great rulers of ancient Greece and Rome.
Two suits of armor of Philip II. The one on the right hearkens back to Roman times and was made in Italy in 1546. The Hapsburg royal family liked to compare themselves to the great rulers of ancient Greece and Rome. Note the fine blued steel on the breastplate.

These were not practical suits of armor and weapons used in battle. Instead they were parade and presentation pieces. Some were probably never worn. Elaborate decoration, often with Classical themes, were created with gold inlay. The steel was often blued, a process that requires heating the metal to 300° C, polishing it, and then reheating it again. This expensive treatment gave the steel a distinctive blue color.

There are a number of suits of children's armor, given as gifts to princes by leading families in the hopes of currying favor once the child grew up and took the throne.
There are a number of suits of children’s armor, given as gifts to princes by leading families in the hopes of currying favor once the child grew up and took the throne.

The museum is one of the best collections of Hapsburg armor in Europe. The other main collection is in Vienna, which we will look at next week. The Madrid collection has some other artifacts as well, such as samurai armor given as gifts from Japan, Turkish flags captured at Lepanto, and early guns.

Parade armor of Philip III, made in Pamplona c.1600-1610. This is a rare piece from a leading craftsman from Spain. Most pieces in the collection come from Italy or Germany. The workshop had been created by Philip II in 1596 and staffed with experts from Milan.
Parade armor of Philip III, made in Pamplona c.1600-1610. This is a rare piece from a leading craftsman from Spain. Most pieces in the collection come from Italy or Germany. The workshop had been created by Philip II in 1596 and staffed with experts from Milan.
A set of barding made for Charles V decorated with the Labors of Hercules. Here Hercules defeats the Nemean Lion.
A set of barding made for Charles V decorated with the Labors of Hercules. Here Hercules defeats the Nemean Lion.
A few pieces date to before or after the sixteenth century. Here are two handgonnes, probably made in Spain around 1450.
A few pieces date to before or after the sixteenth century. Here are two handgonnes, probably made in Spain around 1450.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan unless otherwise noted.

Sean McLachlan is a freelance travel and history writer. He is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles. His most recent novel, Trench Raiders, takes place in the opening weeks of World War One. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.

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[…] week we looked at the Royal Armory of Madrid, founded by the Hapsburgs in the 16th century. Another of the great Hapsburg armories of Europe is […]

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