Made for James II and VI and costing £100, this was the last suit of armour ever made for a British monarch.
The set of harquebusier armour – or light cavalry armour – is part of the collection of the Royal Armouries and includes a triple barred helmet (known as a pot), breastplate, backplate and a single, long elbow gauntlet. Together it weighs in at 17kg, with the pot alone a hefty 3.32kg.
Even so, for its time this armour, which was based on the design for a light horseman armed with an early hand gun called an arquebus and two pistols, was considered lightweight and was designed as a replacement for the heavily armoured cuirassier of the previous generation.
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Outwardly it’s much like ordinary munition armour of the time, but it’s of a finer quality and the whole suit is decorated with elaborate engraved designs, known as bands of trophies.
On the faceguard, initials spell out IR (Iacobus Rex – King James) alongside the royal coat of arms supported by a lion and a unicorn.
There’s a proof-mark on the breastplate, showing it was tested by firing a gun at it. The armourer, Richard Holden, delivered the suit on December 14 1686 for the princely sum of £100. Holden had been the armourer responsible for Royal commissions since 1681, five years before James’ succession.
From Swadlincote in Derbyshire, Holden who died in 1709 and is considered to be the last of the London armourer makers, was apprenticed to a London armourer in 1658, made free in 1665 and was supplying munition armour to the Board of Ordnance from 1673.
A similar but cheaper suit of composite harquebusier’s armour can be seen on the Royal Collection website, made from rough blackened iron it could cost as little as 19s per suit, although others of officer’s quality may have cost £6.
James himself would later flee in the face of William of Orange’s Glorious Revoltion of 1688, eventually leaving British and Irish shores in 1690 for the protection of the French King, leaving his armour behind to be kept by the Tower Armouries at the Tower of London.
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