The Royal Armouries is huge with galleries spread over four floors. On our “first visit”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/attraction/153385-review-royal-armouries we only had time to visit the top two floors, covering Oriental warfare and hunting.
Another visit was needed to cover the Medieval galleries. This is probably what everyone thinks of when Royal Armouries in mentioned, as this is where the medieval knights in armour are.
We began in the War Gallery on Floor 2. The focal point is a large display of armed knights on horseback with foot soldiers. This is a real eye catcher. There is also a diorama of the Battle of Parvia. This was a decisive engagement in the Italian War of 1521-6 when the Spanish Imperial Army defeated the French, so establishing the Spanish Habsburg dominancy in Italy.
Display cases contain examples of complete sets of armour from the C15th – C17th. The decoration on some is exquisite. There are also examples of horse armour, including the C15th Warwick Shafron, the defensive armour covering a horse’s head. This may have belonged to Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and is the earliest piece of Medieval armour in the museum. There are also examples of swords, bayonets, pistols and halberts.
Across the central passageway is the smaller Jousting and Tournament Gallery. This has a small stripped jousting tent with the armour of Maximilian II displayed inside it. There is a fairly large open area in the centre of the gallery which is used for sword fighting displays.
Also displayed in the centre of the gallery is the Horned Helmet, which is the symbol of the Royal Armouries. This was made in 1514 and presented to Henry VIII by the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I. It is a most unusual helmet with its horns and ‘spectacles’ and was designed for pageantry rather than fighting. For some time after Henry’s death was thought to have belonged to his court jester. There is also the horse armour given to Henry by Maximilian, to mark his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and embossed with her symbol of a pomegranate. There is the suit of tonlet armour worn by Henry VIII at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. This is decorated with Tudor roses.
Round the walls are display cases containing armour (including children’s armour) and helmets. All the armour is highly decorated to show off the rank, status and wealth of the owner. There are also displays explaining the different methods of decoration from etching and engraving to embossing, damascening and mercury gilding.
There are some beautiful exhibits. Nearly all were behind glass and the harsh spot lighting caused glare and threw reflections which made photography difficult. There was a lot of information in the Jousting and Tournament galleries but it wasn’t always clear what it referred to. There is little attempt to trace the development of armour in the second floor galleries. This is done in the war gallery on the third floor which has exhibits on the development of armour from 1000 to the present day.
We enjoyed our second visit to the Royal Armouries. Knowing how the museum is arranged, it was less intimidating on a second visit. We knew what we wanted to see and had read the guide book before visiting.