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Joshua McGee

Joined: 14 Jun 2011

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PostPosted: Sat 08 Dec, 2012 7:31 pm    Post subject: Where Did All the Armour Go?         Reply with quote

I've often wondered: why do we have so few extant suits and pieces of armour compared to the number that existed?
What happened to all the armour of important people like kings, dukes, and princes? One would think that people would be reluctant to get rid of armour if it belonged to, let's say, someone like Henry V or Edward the Black Prince. Are there any accounts that describe where all this armour went? Did people just not save things back then like they do now? For comparison, we have several of Hendrix' guitars and personal items of presidents still floating around. Where did all the armour go?
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Gregory J. Liebau

Location: Dinuba, CA
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PostPosted: Sat 08 Dec, 2012 8:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

How many of Jimi's guitars do you think will be left in 500 years? Even in the past century, there have been tens of thousands of Medieval artifacts destroyed during wars, natural disasters, fires, acts of vandalism, etc... Over time, particularly with regards to less impressive antiquities, lots of things just get thrown away or recycled. Helmets were turned into cooking pots, cuirasses into shovel blades, etc, etc. During the French Revolution it was a point of the revolutionaries to tear down the image of the 'old regime,' and it is likely that thousands of effigies, religious and royal ornaments and anything else of value from the Medieval period that they could get their hands on was destroyed, and all of the precious materials melted down and scurried away...

Even as far back as the days of Greece and Rome, the armament of defeated peoples were often piled up in temples as dedications to the Gods, and less distinctive items were destroyed and remade into new weaponry that better suited the winning side's fighting style and sense of aesthetics. I reckon that particularly the latter theme was continued on into the future.

Even today, all is not saved. After World War II millions of pounds of armament was sent to the bottom of the oceans, lakes and rivers across the world in order to better sustain the promise of peace after such a destructive war. Aircraft, tanks, guns, whatever... Every now and again you hear about major surplus military equipment dismemberment over in Russia, when they take thousands of old weapons and recycle their material for new purposing. The guns, ammo and other equipment that escapes such fate is typically relegated to museums or else to the shelves of American gun stores as 'surplus' equipment... All those Mosin Nagant rifles they sell at Big 5? Those are leftover Commie weapons...

On the other hand, you mention maintaining the armament of important people. This has always been a priority among proud families and collectors of rare antiquities. Most of the armor that belonged to and was maintained by the Hapsburgs in their Imperial seat in Vienna is still viewable today in the Kunsthistoriches Museum. The Tower of London and the Royal Armouries in England still house much armor from the Tudor period onward. Most European nations (not to mention those of other places in the world, too) have maintained a wide variety of items of importance, including arms and armor. There are tens of thousands of finely crafted, attributed items to see in museums, castles and other public displays. There are probably even *more* of them in the hands of private collectors! But that's another can of worms entirely...

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Joshua McGee

Joined: 14 Jun 2011

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PostPosted: Sat 08 Dec, 2012 10:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thoughtful resonse! Another question: why did people decide to preserve the armour of Hnery VIII and not Henry II? What shift in Western society happened that caused people to save some of the later artifactsand not the earlier?
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Quinn W.

Location: Bellingham, WA
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Dec, 2012 12:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know you're thinking primarily western armor, but I wanted to toss out that Japan has a great number of surviving swords and a fair bit of armor. Even the most modest local history museum there often boasts a blade from the 1300 or even earlier
In fact, they had many more, but during the American disarmament of Japan after WWII many family heirlooms and artifacts that had been so well preserved for centuries were confiscated by the US military as weapons. Those that were not hidden during this process were at best taken home by soldiers as war trophies, and at worst left in warehouses to deteriorate.
So as mentioned above, I would hesitate to say we are any better at preserving things now then we were in the past, and this modern case reminds me of the French Revolution, as both were instances where making a political statement and crippling one's enemies superseded respect for history.
Basically, to reiterate Gregory's statement, a lot can happen in 500 years.

"Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth"
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Craig Wrenn

Location: Lincoln England
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Dec, 2012 1:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A lot of the armour in England was sold for scrap, including suits for people like Henry VIII. At the time (I think it was in the Victorian days) no one thought that it was of any use.

At least this is what the Royal Armouries says about it.

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Sean Manning

Location: Austria
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Dec, 2012 9:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregory nailed it: old armour got recycled or thrown out just like other old, useless things (or occasionally destroyed in disasters such as fires). It does not take many decades of neglect to turn a beautiful bascinet into a lump of old iron. Arms and armour could also be stolen or confiscated ... Churburg seems to have lost most of its firearms and edged weapons when Napoleon's troops occupied the area and seized stocks of arms to keep them out of the hands of rebels. Medieval inventories of armouries routinely list items “of no value” and references to cutting up old maille to repair new pieces are common.

Henry II is twice as far from us than Henry VIII, he was poorer than the later king, and there have been more upheavals between him and us. And maille seems to be hard to preserve because it rusts so easily.
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Benjamin Floyd II

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PostPosted: Sun 09 Dec, 2012 10:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mail also has a much larger surface for rust to eat away.
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Jeffrey Hildebrandt
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Dec, 2012 2:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Benjamin Floyd II wrote:
Mail also has a much larger surface for rust to eat away.

Corrosion is a major concern in the preservation of all armour, and a single generation of neglect is all that it takes for an armour to become unattractive enough to be of no value to the next generation. If leathers are not treated or replaced the pieces can no longer be assembled properly and parts are bound to go missing. Only a scholar is interested in the detached parts, and not all intervening periods between the useful life of the armour and our time have been noted for such interest.

Conservative establishments like royal and imperial armouries and the private armouries of noble households still boast the most impressive collections of armour not because they can afford them, but because they have provided a stable environment for their upkeep over the centuries.


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Last edited by Jeffrey Hildebrandt on Sun 09 Dec, 2012 4:34 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Sean Flynt

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PostPosted: Mon 10 Dec, 2012 7:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

English settlers of Virginia apparently cut up impractical plate breasts to make more jacks of plate better suited to their new combat environment.

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Joeri S. Timmerman

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PostPosted: Mon 10 Dec, 2012 10:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Besides all the really nice explanations; I think that armor with holes in it got scrapped , for obvious reasons. Also tons and tons of gear must have rusted away on battlefields. Blood is a good catalyst for rust.

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Elling Polden

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PostPosted: Mon 10 Dec, 2012 2:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Untill the renaisance, there was no cultural impulse to preserve things just because they where old. A mans armour was his personal equipment that he, himself, paid for, and most likely sold when he no longer needed it.

In the renaisance, however, two things change. Fist of all, an idea that old things have an inherrent value starts to spread, and second, Kings and noblemen start to store large quantites of arms in their personal armouries. Or simply displayed in their estates.
Thus, we have places such as the royal armouries of England and France, the arsenal at Graz, and lots of other places.
As a result, the number of surviving armours and weapons from these periods are huge compared to the "lucky finds" of medevial weapons.

In Norway, for instance, there are a lot more finds from the viking age than the middle ages, simply because large numbers of swords where deposited in graves.

Old armour or weapons in private care would be sold as scrap, and the metal reused. Many places, mail armour was cut into suitable pieces and used to scrub pots and pans.

Other pieces where sold to regions where armour was still in use, such as the middle east. In the 19th century, it was not uncommom to find modified european mail shirts worn by Indian warriors.

"this [fight] looks curious, almost like a game. See, they are looking around them before they fall, to find a dry spot to fall on, or they are falling on their shields. Can you see blood on their cloths and weapons? No. This must be trickery."
-Reidar Sendeman, from King Sverre's Saga, 1201
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