Object Title

Elephant armour (bargustawan)

Elephant armour (bargustawan)



Object Number



Presented in lieu of death duty by the Earl of Powis, 1962. 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

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 lined with modern black fabric. The armour is displayed with the rear left panel at the front right. It now comprises some 5,840 plates, and would, when complete, comprise some 8, 439 plates.

The shaffron 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 (and presently containing a red foil sweet-wrapper!).

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 twelve, and the rear panel 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, 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 panel 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 would have faced forwards in the original configuration, but those in the acting front right panel face backwards.

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.
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 in the Armouries in 1949-50, some 600 plates and some 12,000 mail links being replaced.


Dimensions: shaffron 243x190cm (96x75in), throat defence 251x75cm (99x30in), front panel 167x137cm (66x54in), cenre panels 170x106cm (67x42in), rear panel 170x134cm (67x53in), as mounted length 485cm, height 390cm (to top of mahout) width 175cm Weight: shaffron 27kg (60lb), throat defence 12kg (27lb), front panel 18kg (39lb), centre panels 19kg (42lb), rear panel 23kg (51lb), total 118 kg (260lb), [total when complete about 159kg (350lb)]

Inscriptions and Marks


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


The tusk swords survive at Powis castle, see Archer et al. above. This is one of only two known examples of an elephant armour. The other apparently complete example, also of mail and plate construction, is in the armoury at Bikaner, Rajasthan (information from Les Rawlings, April 1993, and Tony Reddin, November 1993). The head defence of another, of mail on a fabric backing, was in a private collection in London c. 1991. There is also a copy of the Royal Armouries armour which was made in England, and is in a private collection in America. A nice illustration of an elephant armour of this type is in the Philidelphia museum of Art, no. 1994-148-394, painted in Kota, Rajasthan about 1750.