Man of War: Sir George Clifford
An article by Chad Arnow

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George Clifford, by George Perfect Harding, after Nicholas Hilliard, circa 1590

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Miniature of George Clifford by Nicholas Hilliard, 1580

Sir George Clifford was a figure nearly larger than life in England during the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603; reigned 1558-1603). A learned man, an accomplished jouster, and a naval commander, he looms large in many important English events of the late 16th century.

This son of the second Earl of Cumberland (Henry Clifford) was born at Brougham Castle on August 8th, 1558. His youth saw him sent off to several notable academic institutions: Battle Abbey, Cambridge, and Oxford. There, the young George showed an aptitude for mathematics, a skill that would serve him later in his career. His father's death in 1570 left the boy in the wardship of the Earl of Bedford, to whose daughter he had been betrothed. George Clifford was married in 1577 to Margaret, two years his senior.

George Clifford gained renown as a jouster and served as Queen Elizabeth's champion beginning in 1590 with the retirement of Sir Henry Lee. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1592, and was a prominent courtier in Elizabeth's court. When Mary, Queen of Scots was tried by the English in late 1586, Clifford was one of those appointed to sit in judgment.

His later military career took the Earl to the seas as a naval commander where he was aided, no doubt, by his early education in mathematics. He commanded the Elizabeth Bonaventure when the English defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. He was later sent to patrol the Spanish coastline. He sailed on multiple occasions with forces to the West Indies where he captured the Spanish fort of Puerto Rico in 1598.

He amassed a great deal of money from his adventures and his patronage by the Queen, but seems to have squandered a great deal of it. He did have enough money and clout, though, to assemble a large retinue in 1603 that escorted King James I of England (also known as James VI of Scotland) to his throne. It is said that his retinue rivaled or bested that of the King. He died in London two years later at the age of forty-eight and was buried at Skipton. He left a sum of £15,000 to his daughter Anne and was succeeded by his brother Francis.

In his lifetime, Sir George held the titles of 3rd Earl of Cumberland, 14th Baron Clifford of Westmoreland, Sheriff of Westmoreland, 13th Lord of the Honour of Skipton in Craven, Yorkshire, Baron Vesey, and Lord Vipont.

Equipment of Sir George Clifford
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Armour of George Clifford, Jacob Halder, Greenwich, circa 1590

Sir George Clifford left behind one of the most exquisite examples of armour that still survives. It is arguably the finest example of surviving English Greenwich armour. Made by Jacob Halder in the shop established by Henry VIII, it is a complete harness with pieces of exchange (extra pieces of armour that could substitute for, or add to, other pieces in various situations).

After Sir George's death, his daughter, the Baroness Anne, placed the harness and many of her father's other possessions in one of her inherited properties, Appleby Castle. It remained there until 1923, when it was sold to Clarence MacKay of New York, an antiques dealer. It was then sold to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it remains to this day.

All 48 pieces of the armour are richly decorated. The surface of the steel was once blued to a deep blueish shade, though some sections are now brown. To that were added many etched and gilt sections (some of which survive), decorated with fleurs de lis, interlaced strap-work, and Tudor roses.

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Details of the harness located at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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Pages from the Almain Album showing the design elements and exchange pieces of the complete armour

The harness is remarkably complete; only the left gauntlet appears to be missing. It has been replaced by a similar one, also from the Greenwich shop. In addition to the full cap a pie suit that weighs around 60 pounds, there are 4 vamplates for lances, an additional helmet with removable bevor, a grandguard (a breastplate and shoulder reinforcement piece for certain jousting styles), saddle steels, and a chanfron for a horse.

Located at The Victoria and Albert Museum is an album known as the Almain Album that records the ornamentation and design of several armours from the reigns of Mary I (1553-1558) and Elizabeth I (1558-1603). This album was likely used as a presentation tool by the armourers for wealthy customers prior to comission and construction. Amongst the 30 designs contained in this book is a detailed representation of an armour inscribed in ink for "The Earle of Cumberland". The ornate details found within the pen, ink, and watercolor drawings are a close match to the final details of the harness found at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Peter Fuller of Medieval Reproductions is in the process of replicating the entire garniture at the behest of the current owners of Appleby Castle. Aided by trips to the Metropolitan Museum, he has already reproduced the harness from the waist upwards, and is working to complete the rest. Peter's recreation shows the full splendor of the harness, unfaded by time and as it might have looked as it left Halder's shop.

Sir George Clifford's life and career show a remarkable picture of the Renaissance noble. Learned, skilled in the arts of war, and involved in courtly proceedings, Clifford was far from being a simple courtier with an inherited title and money. Much like the Black Prince in the 14th century, Sir George Clifford was an embodiment of chivalric ideals whose military skills ranged widely, from the tourney to naval combat. Aided by intelligence, the education ensured by his father, and his physical prowess, Sir George Clifford was an important figure in his day. The harness he left behind is a fantastic and fitting testament.

About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.

Photographic copyright notices are included on each photo, when available, and include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Edward Buehler from Tudor & Elizabeth Portraits, and Nathan Robinson.


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