Object Title

Elephant armour (bargustavan-i-pil)

Elephant armour (bargustavan-i-pil)

Date

about 1600

Object Number

XXVIA.102

Provenance

Acquired in India by Lady Clive, wife of Edward, 2nd Lord Clive (Governor of Madras), between 1798 and 1800, and brought back to England in 1801; displayed in the 'Elephant Room' at Powis Castle. Placed on loan to the Tower Armouries in 1949 for conservation. Presented to the Armouries in lieu of death duty by the Earl of Powis, 1962.

Physical Description

The armour in its present state is composed of six elements: a shaffron, a throat defence, three panels for the left of the body and one central panel for the right. All the elements are of mail and plate construction, and are lined with modern black fabric. In total the armour now comprises some 5,840 plates, and would have comprised around 8,439 plates when complete.


The shaffron (head defence) is composed of some 2,195 plates, arranged in vertical columns, with cusped overlapping edges, and joined by riveted mail. It extends midway down the trunk, and has flaps for the ears. There are two small holes for the eyes, and two larger holes for the processes on top of the skull, all of which are bordered by radiating plates. At the base of the trunk and at either ear is a circular plate similarly bordered by radiating plates. At the centre of the trunk is a heart-shaped iron plate with a brass border, with a central boss containing a threaded hole, probably for a hair tassel. Small fragments of the original lining survive, under the leather straps retaining the iron loops under the ears on the shaffron. Next to the mail and plate is a thick layer of cotton wadding. The lining is of beige cotton, printed with alternating bands of dark brown, eight-leaved rosettes, and of dark brown, red, brown, red and brown stripes. These bands are separated by narrow dark brown stripes.


The throat defence comprises some 1,046 plates. It has a straight rear edge, extends up to the shoulders, and its front edge has a medial cusp for the lower jaw. It is made of columns of plates like those on the shaffron, with a broad band of mail at the centre.


The side panels are composed of columns of plates interspersed with large, embossed iron plates with brass borders: the front panel has eleven of these, each central panel has twelve, and the rear panel has ten. The front panel contains some 948 plates, each central panel some 780 plates, and the rear panel some 871 plates. The embossed plates of the front panel are decorated as follows; five with charging elephants, one with a lotus, one with a peacock, and the four in the bottom row with pairs of adorsed fish. The plates of the central panels have seven elephants, one lotus, one peacock and three pairs of fish, while the rear panel has six elephants and four pairs of fish (again forming the bottom row. All the elephants faced forwards in the original configuration.


Each element is joined to its neighbour by modern leather straps or ties fitted to original iron loops. The body panels are attached by a series of leather straps passing over the elephant's back.


The armour was extensively restored at the Tower Armouries in 1949-50, with around 600 plates and approximately 12,000 mail links being replaced. It was further repaired and cleaned before being put on display in its new home in the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds in 1996.

Materials

Dimensions

OverallHeight3900mm
OverallLength4850mm
OverallWeight118kg
OverallWidth1750mm
Left front panelLength1670mm
Left front panelWeight18kg
Left front panelWidth1370mm
Left central panelLength1700mm
Left central panelWeight19kg
Left central panelWidth1060mm
Right central panelLength1700mm
Right central panelWeight19kg
Right central panelWidth1060mm
Left rear panelLength1700mm
Left rear panelWeight23kg
Left rear panelWidth1340mm
ShaffronLength2430mm
ShaffronWeight27kg
ShaffronWidth1900mm
Throat defenceLength2510mm
Throat defenceWidth750mm
Throat defenceWeight12kg

Inscriptions and Marks

None.

Bibliographic References

List of items for transport back to England, Powis MS, about 1801

G Evans, The beauties of England and Wales, 24, 1809: 879, 'the model of an elephant with two Indians sitting upon its back; brought from India by the late Lord Clive'.

H R Robinson, Oriental armour, London, 1967: 120-1

P Hammond, Royal Armouries official guide, London, 1986: 58

M Archer et al., Treasures from India, the Clive collection at Powis Castle, London, 1987: 29, 72.

C A Bayly, The Raj, India and the British 1600-1947, London, National Portrait Gallery, 1990: 97-8, no. 105

S Z Haider, Islamic arms and armour of Muslim India, Lahore, 1991: 278

D Nicolle, Mughul India 1504-1761, Osprey Men-at-Arms 263, London, 1993: 20

T Richardson and D Stevens, The elephant armour. Royal Armouries Yearbook 1 1996: 100-6

Thom Richardson, An introduction to Indian arms and armour, Leeds, Royal Armouries, 2007: 28-29

Notes

The tusk swords which are associated with this armour and which also came from the Clive Collection at Powis Castle now reside in the Royal Armouries collection as accession number XXVIM.40.

Another (apparently complete) example of an elephant armour, also of mail and plate construction, is supposed to have been in the armoury at Bikaner, Rajasthan (according to correspondence in 1993). The head defence of another armour, of mail on a fabric backing, was in a private collection in London circa 1991. There is also a copy of the Royal Armouries armour which was made in England, and which is now in a private collection in America.

A nice illustration of an elephant armour is in the Philidelphia Museum of Art, no. 1994-148-394, painted in Kota, Rajasthan about 1750.