Some Thoughts on “Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3”
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Categories: Medieval

Some Thoughts on “Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3”

Tobias Capwell, Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3: Continental Armour in England, 1435-1500 (Thomas Del Mar Ltd.: Great Britain, 2022) only for sale from the publisher

My copy of Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3 arrived in December 2022. I hope to publish a review somewhere which will count on my CV, so I will be brief here.

Like volumes 1 and 2, this is a chronological study of knightly armour in England based on effigies (life sized recumbent sculptures of the deceased, placed in churches as a focus of memory and prayer) and supported by other art, documents and surviving armour. This means that it is focused on the highest-status armour and has little to say about even the warriors commemorated by brasses and certainly not the mass of untitled men-at-arms and archers. It is illustrated by frighteningly powerful photographs of effigies, brasses, surviving armour, and occasionally paintings, plus technical line drawings (and one watercolour painting) by Robert Macpherson and Jeff Wasson. I was especially intrigued by two styles: the fluted and gilt Burgundian style of c. 1450-1480, and the Italo-Flemmish style from around 1500 with its big smooth surfaces interrupted with as few mechanical details as possible.

The strengths of these volumes are Capwell’s intimate knowledge of English effigies and brasses and the practicalities of fighting in armour on horseback. In addition, armour scholarship never transitioned from a hobby carried out by antiquarians to a profession carried out by salaried and credentialed experts at universities. So full-scale academic studies of medieval and renaissance armour are very rare and precious.

Volume 3 must have been especially challenging to write because it focuses on all armour on effigies which does not fit into a coherent English style. Much of this armour was imported from Italy or Flanders, but there are no similar studies of Flemish armour and nothing on Italian armour which uses such a wide range of sources. As I am not a specialist in the later 15th century, I felt that the argument often bogged down in describing differences between very similar armours (or between two armours from two shops given the same model to copy) and that important written sources and research were addressed very briefly or not at all. Surely Chris Dobson‘s books, the French Treatise on Military Costume from 1446-1448, the letter of Flemish armourer Martin Rondelle to a client in England (mentioned once but not quoted), the contrast between Flemish and London armour in the inventories of the earl of Arundel from 1397, the description of armour with a hard steel face and a tough iron back by St. Bernardino of Sienna (d. 1444), Pietro Monte‘s criticisms of Italian armour circa 1490, and Sylvia Leever’s studies of duplex armour belong in a book like this! Especially when few studies of medieval armour are published with full scholarly apparatus to help newcomers organize sources and research. Art other than effigies is covered less thoroughly than in volume 1, even though Capwell argues that the wealthy and respectable men commemorated with effigies usually wore armour in the English style from the small, expensive English armour industry. I don’t think Capwell has had an opportunity to commission a harness in any of these styles (although he has worn a classic fifteenth-century Milanese armour).

The obvious next step is a study of Flemish and Burgundian armour, and that requires time, language, and paleography skills which could only be acquired by a young scholar doing a PhD or postdoc. Whereas volume 1 feels like a definitive study, I think that volume 3 is more of a giant leap towards a way of thinking about all the slight variations on Milanese armour in 15th century Europe. After 20 years of this project, its certainly time for other scholars to do their share!

I am poor. As always, donations on Patreon or other sites are appreciated to keep me able to write for this site.

Further Reading

Sylvia Leever, “For Show or Safety?” Arms & Armour, Vol. 3 No. 2 (2006) pp. 117-125

Anthony de Reuck, David Starley, Thom Richardson, and David Edge, “Duplex Armour: an unrecognized mode of construction.” Arms & Armour, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2005) pp. 5-26

Salzman, Louis Francis (1953) “The property of the earl of Arundel, 1397,” Sussex Archaeological Collections, vol. 91, pp. 32-52 especially pp. 44-49

Edit 2023-10-02: a document identified too late to include is also relevant. In 1383, an armourer of London swore an oath not to sell bascinets of Flanders as London work and not put London marks on bascinets of Flanders (Ralph Moffat, Medieval Arms and Armour, a Sourcebook. Volume I: The Fourteenth Century (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2022) no. 122 = London Metropolitan Archives, Plea and Memoranda Roll A23)

Edit 2023-10-29: a sallet in the Wallace collection has been attributed to Martin Rondelle! A.V.B. Norman, “Wallace Collection Catalogues: European Arms & Armour- Supplement” (London: 1986) pp. 1-2 as cited in Alan Williams and David Edge, “A Suit of Armour Produced by Five Workshops: Wallace Collection A20,” in Ricardo Córdoba ed., Craft Treatises and Handbooks: The Dissemination of Technical Knowledge in the Middle Ages (Brepolis: Turnhout, Belgium, 2013) pp. 197, 198

(scheduled 15 January 2023)

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3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on “Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3”

  1. dearieme says:

    I hope he somehow worked in a reference to Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb”.

    1. Sean says:

      Humh, I did not know that poem! Alluding to a poem is not Dr. Toby’s style, more his mentor Claude Blair’s. And Claude Blair was not a jouster, just a regular scholar of metalwork. In a topic without a global network of researchers covering each other’s blind spots and getting paid to write books together, we all have to do what we can.

      The Wallace Collection also does not have PhD students or postdocs who he could send into Flemmish archives once he decided that Flemmish armour had some differences from Italian armour.

  2. Books Read in 2023 – Book and Sword says:

    […] Capwell, Armour of the English Knight, Volume 3 (2022) review} rating:~ (but only because I had very high […]

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