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Medieval Arms and Armor at the Wallace Collection, London

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

South German armor, c. 1480. By this period, the finest armor was being made with low-to-medium carbon steel, which was lighter and more comfortable than earlier steel suits of armor.

South German armor, c. 1480. By this period, the finest armor was being made with low-to-medium carbon steel, which was lighter and more comfortable than earlier steel suits of armor. The barding (horse armor) is extremely rare. Only three complete suits from before 1500 are known to exist and this is perhaps the best preserved of the three. The barding and knight’s armor was quite light. This horse would have carried about 140 kilos (308 lbs), which included the weight of the rider, his armor, and the horse’s armor. This is not an unreasonable load for a warhorse.

The Wallace Collection in London is often overlooked by international visitors in favor of the more famous British Museum and National Gallery, but if you’re looking for a world-class collection of medieval European and Asian arms and armor, this is the place to go.

The Wallace Collection is a national museum that displays works of art collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897. Located in Hertford House and free to the public, it gives you an insight into a sumptuous home of a leading art collector of that era. The collection is especially strong in paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and antique furniture. The arms and armor section has some 2,500 objects dating from the 10th to the 19th century and is one of the best collections in Europe.

Back view of the same armor.

Back view of the same armor.

Field armor of Otto Heinrich, Count Palatine of the Rhine (1502-1509). The armor was made by Hans Ringler of Nuremburg c.1530-40 and says a couple of things about Otto. The black portions have been left unpolished and "rough from the hammer", like the suits of armor worn by battle-hardened soldiers. The gold etching shows his noble status.

Field armor of Otto Heinrich, Count Palatine of the Rhine. The armor was made by Hans Ringler of Nuremburg c.1530-40 and says a couple of things about Otto. The black portions have been left unpolished and “rough from the hammer”, like the suits of armor worn by battle-hardened soldiers. The gold etching shows his noble status.

Morning star, c. 1500, and a decorated parade shield of roughly the same date.

Morning star, c. 1500, and a decorated parade shield of roughly the same date.

Decorated parade helmets, early 16th century.

Decorated parade helmets, early 16th century.

A trio of polearms. I can't imagine the one in the middle being any use in an actual fight, unless you were going to spank your opponent.

A trio of polearms. I can’t imagine the one in the middle being any use in an actual fight, unless you were going to spank your opponent.

The other galleries of the Wallace Collection contain fine art and antique furniture.

The other galleries of the Wallace Collection contain fine art and antique furniture.

A bust of an African man with a headdress symbolizing the Americas, Italian, 18th century. COnsidering how Africans got to the Americas in the 18th cnetury, one can understand the angry expression. I wonder if this was a statement on the part of the sculptor?

A bust of an African man with a headdress symbolizing the Americas, made in Italy in the 18th century. Considering how Africans got to the Americas in the 18th century, one can understand the angry expression. I wonder if this was a statement on the part of the sculptor?

For more on Europe’s great armories, check out my posts on Vienna, Madrid, and Brussels.


Sean McLachlan is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and several other titles, including his action series set in World War One, Trench Raiders. 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.

All photos copyright Sean McLachlan.

2 Comments »

  1. That first field harness!

    A few years back a crowd of HEMA folks were at the Wallace. “Oh, Indian weapons! Cool! How come we never spend time looking at them….” And as we enter the Indian gallery, there, framed by several doorways, is the Gothic mounted knight. As if by magic, we find ourselves standing right by him, having utterly skipped the Indian section AGAIN.

    Comment by M Harold Page - May 21, 2015 5:42 am

  2. Great pics and info, Sean! I enjoy your posts immensely – through you I’ve been able to visit a lot of places around the globe. Much appreciated :)

    Comment by Jason M 'RBE' Waltz - May 21, 2015 9:45 am


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