Sunday, June 17, 2018

Fitting the Greenwich armour

   Crafting a suit of Armour is equal parts;
 Metal Smithing, Sculpture, Engineering and Tailoring. Most people making armour today either underestimate this, underestimate the level of skills required, or in some cases lack one or more of these skills completely. The result is armour that may look good to the untrained eye, but is found wanting.
...from the front, it clearly would not
fit a human head correctly.
Perhaps the armour is close in form, but isn't the correct proportion to the human body. As an example, with a trained eye, 19th century fakes can be instantly spotted by this error.
While this Sallet look "OK" from the side..
Then, some armour is much closer to their historic examples, and it is harder to spot the issues. But with a the experience of looking at hundreds of surviving examples, these are often reveled by their poor function, minor atheistic errors or a "gut feeling".
While other armour doesn't even bother to be critical of form or historical function and is built as "sport" armour, which requires or is given little "tailoring". This results in an armour that looks very little like it's historic counterpart and often has a sloppy look.
Then there is movie armor, but we won't go there.

While "shinny" and perhaps "cool looking",
 most sport armour is not very close
 to it's historical counterpart.
Even good armour, which is very close in form to extant examples, functions well, but is not as comfortable as it should be and sometimes "bites" the wearer.
Getting all of these right, is what is required to make armour "correct".
A few modern armourers have recognized the necessity of these skills and have worked at rediscovering and developing them all. (The internet has helped with this immensely)
When armour was being used on a regular basis, (Full armour pretty much fell out of use in the mid 17th century) these skills were handed down master to appentice, or sussed out work shop to workshop in the same way automotive technology is today.

As a contemporary example; In less than 50 years, a modern sports sedan, has higher performance, than a purpose built prototype race car of the 1970's. This is because lessons learned are remembered, developed and built on with each new generation. With armour, these lessons have been lost and are not easily divined from just looking at pictures, and only a little more apparent, when studying armour first hand. It really takes careful analyses of armour mechanics, while possessing a good understanding of human physiology, to even start to understand what our ancestors knew as matter of fact, through hundreds of years of development.

In the modern age of armour making, 99% of modern armourers are not using techniques used by our ancestors. We have the luxury of machine made sheet metal at our disposal. The medieval or renaissance armourer, did not. He started with thicker plates, that he worked it into shape by thinning areas that didn't need to be as damage resistant, in order to save weight, while keeping some areas extremely thick (By today's standards). The modern armourer starts with a uniform sheet of metal and either stretches or shrinks it into shape, but in the end, each piece is still fairly uniform in thickness. Also, the modern armourer, generally does all the work himself, while our ancestors often used specialist workshops to polish, heat treat, create padding & linings or decorate their work.
So in addition to figuring out the sophisticated mechanics and tailoring of historic armour, the modern armour has to develop techniques for moving the metal precisely and efficiently into the forms he requires, then learn heat treating and polishing. Not to mention, riveting, strapping, padding and decorating.

Then, once you think you have a little understanding of all of this, and you have made some armour, you need to be self critical of the pieces you build to learn even more, by looking for what isn't right and figuring out how to improve all the above mentioned skills. Many armourers are happy to make a piece, sell it and make another, as long as it sells. However, with the world wide web, the demand and therefore the availability of better quality reproductions has gone up considerably. So has the quality. Ten or twelve years ago, I could count on one hand, what were considered the "skilled" armourers, now there are three or four times that many. (So much good armour, so little time!)

The Greenwich armour;
The A62 "Buckhurst" armour
Wallace Collection London
With reproducing an armour of this type, with all it's decoration, it is common to see modern examples, with extensive etching and gilding, but with poor form and function. In the modern vernacular, "Lipstick on a pig"!

As I talked about in my last post, I made this mistake with my first Vendel helmet (and others) poor form covered in decoration. On a project of this scope, I really wanted to make sure the form and functionality of this armour was as good as it could be, before, I invested the required time and money to decorate it.
When I started this project, Robert MacPherson was one of those armourers you could count on the one hand. Mac started the garniture, crafting it from a steel that we feel is a modern equivalent of renaissance hardenable steel,  AISI-1050.  Mac built most of the main armour, but before he could finish, and start on the exchange pieces, he hurt his elbows and needed to retire form the heavy metal forming required for these pieces. The project was "on hold".
After a number of years sitting in my shop, I commissioned Jeff Wasson, of Wasson Artistry to complete the armour. Jeff is extremely talented and I feel he has the skills required to complete this in the manner it requires.

What is a garniture?
In the late 16th century, a number of English armours were produced for the the English nobility in preparation for the defense against the Spanish armada, these garnitures had "exchange" pieces so the base armour could be configured for different military requirements, but also for use in the sport of jousting.
An illustration from the book
"Arms & Armour in the Collection 
of Her Majesty The Queen: 
Volume I: European Armour"
      My Garniture would consist of the main armour like the Buckhurst armour, cap-a-pie (head to toe), plus:
 Reinforce breastplate; A second breast that fits over the main one, to make it proof against firearms for use in battle.
 Close helm with 2 visors; 1 for field (more openings) 1 for tilt (jousting, less openings)
 Grandguard; An additional plate mounted to the breastplate and helmet, to lock the two together for jousting.
 Passguard; An additional large elbow piece that mounts over the left elbow and arm.
 Manifer; A heavy gauntlet with flared cuff for the bridal hand.
 Locking Gauntlet; Like it sounds, a mitten

gauntlet for the right hand with an extra long last finger plate that latches to the cuff, to "lock" the sword in your hand. (Which when you wear it, it feels pretty scary, since you have this big extension locked to your hand and wrist, you cant let go of!)
 Vamplates; The bell guard on a jousting lance. (I have just added these to the list)
I sent all the pieces to Jeff and he and both gathered all the research on this type of armour we could find. Jeff also had a conversation with Robert MacPherson, who had started the project.

As you can imagine, it's tough enough to make the basic armour fit and work correctly, but when you add the jousting exchange pieces it starts getting into new territory that few today have experience with. Too make it even more difficult, I live in California and Jeff lives in New York. We would have lots of fittings.

 I'm sure this project was a little daunting to Jeff, in not only it's complexity, but the fact he was taking over from Mac. (Mac has a reputation as one of, if not the best modern armourer in the world) Jeff had come up to speed on the project and had started to make the missing pieces of the main armour. The first of our fittings happened at a medieval event I attend every year in Pennsylvania know as Pennsic.

Fitting #1


Mac looking over the new pieces.


 The pauldrons (shoulders) were pretty tricky and we learned from the first fitting they were not correct and would need to be remade. 
Our next fitting was the following year at Pennsic. This time we were doing the fitting in my early 16th century house.

Fitting #2




Jeff had the oppertunity to handle the A62 at the
 Wallace and is showing me some of his findings.


Jeff looking over the A62, thanks to the
generosity of  Dr. Tobias Capwell.
Getting a chance to handle and examine the original armour is always a treat and is an opportunity so rarely available to most armourers.  Along with the the increased acsess to better images and research, the internet has also allowed many museum curators to find the serious amateur researcher and dedicated reenactor, so they can share these pieces with those people.

Later in the year I was in London, so I took the opportunity to visit the Wallace, but also the Tower of London and the Royal armouries in Leeds.  (Many thanks to Jonathan Ferguson and Bob Savage for their generosity in sharing their day with me.)

While at the Tower of London, I took photos of one of the only "plain" Greenwich armours, lacking in the usual decoration found on virtually all other surviving examples. In some of these picture, i positioned my iPad showing my armour from the same angle for comparison.

It had now been about 12 years since this armour had been started. While the fittings were yielding positive results, but because the distance between us, and Jeff's other commissions, it was a slow process. To add to the issues, I am not getting any younger. 

 With the additional research and Jeff refining the pauldrons, the main armour was progressing nicely, so it was time to tackle the jousting pieces. This is the first time for Jeff making anything like this and I am unaware of anyone else who has tackled a full garniture, so, I knew I needed to be patient. 
In early 2016 I was in NYC filming a commercial, so I took the opportunity to set up a fitting with Jeff.

Fitting #3


This was the first time in the full set with the jousting pieces in place. It was pretty good. It became apparent that the grandguard needed to sit right on the breastplate at the bottom, to keep it rigid, but strategically move away from the breast further up, to allow a bit of movement in the shoulders.

We were both pretty happy an excited at the results, but there were some issues with the grandguard that needed further development.

Come August, it was time for Pennsic again and another opportunity to fit the jousting plates.
The main armour seemed pretty close, but the extra pieces were a little more trial and error.
Along with finishing the individual bits for fit and function, there was the task of "sinking" all of the boarders where the etched and gild decoration needed to go. This involves stepping the steel surface down about a sixteenth of an inch using a fluting stake and a hammer, so when the decoration is complete, this area is recessed enough to help protect the gold from undue wear.

This fitting happened in the Bardicci great hall under it's Sistine chapel ceiling.

Fitting #4


Life, the race car and paying bills....

After Pennsic, in late 2016 I realized I was going to live longer than my father, and being the youngest of his sons, it made a bigger impression on me than I expected. I also realized the race car he and I built, which he never got the opportunity to race, was going to have it's 40th anniversary in 2017 and the track it first ran on was to have it's 60th. So I told Jeff I was going to take a year off from the armour and rebuild my dads race car. (Here is that project) Plus, I knew he had other projects that needed to be completed.

Over the years I have gone up and down in my weight and "letting out" armour is not so easy. The weight change has affected out fittings a couple of times.
So in addition to making sure I fit in the armour, I have to start thinking about not only finishing it, but using it. If I want to joust in this, I have start improving my equestrian skills.
Now that I'm getting closer, I need to get the weight off and keep it off. Because our most recent fitting has shown I am going in the wrong direction on that front.

The process and the work to get to this point...

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