Object Title

Three-quarter field armour

Three-quarter field armour



Object Number



Purchased from H Ricketts, London, February 1984, with the aid of a public appeal and assistance from the National Art Collections Fund, National Heritage Memorial Fund and Sir Emmanuel Kaye. Formerly in the collection of Lord Astor of Hever Castle, purchased from the London dealer R Partridge in 1907 by William Waldorf Astor, by succession to Gavin Astor, 2nd baron Astor of Hever , sold Sotheby's 5 May 1983 lot 47.

Physical Description

With two-part stand of carved oak, decorated en suite with the armour, of the late 19th century. The armour comprises a close helmet with a two part skull joined in a high comb with a file roped top; the rear gorget plate is intergral with the skull. Around the inner edge are the remains of canvas lining, attached by lining rivets with washers. The upper and lower bevor and visor are pivoted on large headed rivets at either side, chiselled with eight nointed asterisks. The visor has a pair of vision slits, and reaches a sharp point at the front. The upper edge of each slit is flanged and file roped, but not turned. The replacement lifting peg at the right is accommodated in a square notch in the upper bevor, which has an outwardly turned and file roped upper edge, and a pointed keel which is slightly concave in section. It is pierced on either side with two sets of nine holes in rosette formation. At the lower right edge is a pierced quadrangular stud which is engaged by a swivel hool on the lower bevor. The lower bevor has a sharply keeled chin and an integral rounded gorget plate, with an inwardly turned file roped main edge accompanied by a sunken border. The edge of the face opening is ourwardly turned and delicately file roped, and retains traces of canvas lining on lining rivets with washers. On either side of the jaw there are two brass headed lining rivets which retain lining fragments. Around the edge of the gorget plate are replacement picadills, attached by large brass headed rivets. The lower bevor is fastened to the skull by replacement leather straps with a replacement cast brass buckle in the form of two intertwining snakes.

The collar is of two lames, front and rear, the lower lames large and falling to a rouned point at the front; the lower front lame is slightly convex in section. The lames are articulated on six internal leathers; The collar is hinged at the left, where the lower lames are articulated by a sliding rivet, and opens at the right, where the upper lames are fastened by a pin-catch, and the lower by a stud and keyhole slot. The rear lower lame has been repaired with two crude internal riveted plates at the left shoulder and one at the right. At each shoulder is a strap for fastening the pauldrons. The main edges are inwardly turned and file roped, the upper edge more boldly than the lower, which is bordered by a series of rivet holes for the attachment of the original lining picadills.

The breastplate is of a single heavy plate, of deep peascod form with a sharp medial keel, and a broad flange at the wiast with a central cusp. The backplate, made in one piece and gently shaped to the spine, has a broad flange at the waist. The back and breast are attached by straps at either shoulder to simple gilt iron buckles at the shoulders of the breastplate, and straps at the waist from either side of the waist of the backplate, fastened by a cast brass buckle matching that on the bevor. The original form of this buckle was like those on the tassets and culet; it is visible on the Portland portrait. The breastplate has four straps for the tassets, the backplate has three for the culet. The neck and arm edges of the back and breast are outwardly turned and file roped, the waist inwardly turned and file roped. The waist edge is bordered by replacement picadills, attached by lining rivets.

The culet is of three lames, the large upper lame angled to fit over the flange of the backplate, and the lower lames divided in two at the centre, and flaring down at either side. The upper lame is fitted with three gilt iron buckles with rollers, with rectangular notches in the edge above them to accommodate the straps from the backplate. Each side of the culet is internally leathered on three straps. The main edges are all inwardly turned and file roped, and are fitted with replacement picadills attached by lining rivets.

The pauldrons are large and symmetrical, and composed of four lames with a sharp medial keel. The are articulated on rivets at the rear, and internal leathers at the middle and front. They are attached to the collar by straps, which pass through square medial holes and are engaged by buckle spikes on the outer side. The upper cannons of the vambraces are tubular, and are articulated to the pauldrons by a turner and four lames, which are articulated on three internal leathers. The upper lame of the upper canon of the left vambrace is a restoration. The bracelet couters have lateral medial ridges and large wings with medial puckers. Their edges are outwardly turned and file roped. The tulip shaped lower canons are formed of two plates, articulated by two simple hinges on the outside and fastened on the inside by a strap and buckle near the wrist. The cuff edge is inwardly turned and file roped. The pauldrons are bordered by replacement picadills which are attached by lining rivets.

The gauntlets have flaring, pointed cuffs, with longitudinal keels. There are five metacarpal plates, overlapping upwards, which are articulated by rivets with internal leathers at either side to a knuckle plate with embossed knuckles, outlined in gilt, and a roped and gilt transverse ridge. The fingers are each of seven scales, overlapping upwards and riveted to internal leathers. The inner sides of the metacarpal plates have domed brass headed rivets, the outer headless rivets, with fragments of the original leathers. Lining rivets at the cuffs hold replacement linings and picadills.

The tassets are of fourteen lames, of which the lower are detachable, and fastened by turning pins of the outer side of the tenth lames and studs in keyhole slots on the inner. The large upper lames are angled over the flange of the breastplate, to which they are each attached by two buckles matching those on the culet, with rectangular notches in the edges above them to accommodate the straps from the breastplate. The tassets are each fastened to the leg of the tenth lame by buckles, both, unusually, at the right, and straps, now missing, at the left. The poleyns have sharp medial keels over the point of the knee, and heart shaped wings with a medial pucker. Each is articulated by a narrow lame to the long lower lame of the tasset, and continued over the knee by a curved lower lame, each of which retain fragments of the original canvas lining of gilt brass headed lining rivets. The tenth lames of the tassets retain traces of their original lining, and fragments of the original internal leathers survive on the lower lames of the left tasset. Each tasset ia articulated on three internal leathers. The main edges are all inwardly turned and file roped, while the subsidiary edges are plain.

Each plate of the armour is etched and gilt with an overall design of interlacing eared snakes in vertical bands, joined by diagonally interlacing spindly foliage with occasional flowers, amongst which are perching predatory birds, flying parrots, various insects, including grasshoppers and dragonflies, snails (some winged), long eared squirrels and gambolling hares. The surface, though blackened with rust, appears as bright steel where protected. The borders, which accompany each turned edge, are etched with a simple scrolling foilage frieze on a hatched ground. The comb of the close helmet is etched with a more complex scrolling foliage frieze on a hatched ground. Both border types are all gilt, and are bordered on either side by plain gilt bands.


OverallHeight1480 mm
OverallWeight27.7 kg

Inscriptions and Marks


Bibliographic References

G F Laking, A Record of European Armour and Arms, V, London, 1922, p.9. fig. 14218.

J G Mann, 'The Master of the Snails and Dragonflies,' Waffen und Kostumkunde, NF II (1961), pp.14-27, plates 14-18.

S W Pyhrr, 'The 'Master of the Snails and Dragonflies' revisited', in H Nickel and S W Pyhrr (ed) Arms, Armour, and Heraldry; essays in honour of Anita Reinhard, New York, 1981, pp.95-114, at p.96.

R Shearer, 'The Armour of Southampton,' Antique Arms and Militaria (May 1984), pp.30-31.

Sotheby's, The Hever Castle Collection, I: Arms and Armour, 5 May 1984, lot 47

D Blackmore, Arms and Armour of the English Civil Wars, London, 1990,

C. Paggiarino, The Royal Armouries, masterpieces of medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Milan, 2011 volume 2


This armour appears in a portrait of Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton (1573-1624), on Loan to the National Portrait Gallery at Montacute House from the trustees of the late Duke of Portland. In the portrait, Southampton is shown wearing the collar, with the cuirass on the floor to his left and the helmet, with plumes, on a plinth to his right. The portrait is thought to have been painted c.1595-1600; it is unlikely to have been painted in 1601-1603 when the Earl was imprisoned in the Tower, or after 1603 when he was created Knight of the Garter (R R Goulding, 'Wriothesley Portraits', 'Walpole Society' VIII (1920) 26ff, p.51-2).

Southampton served as a volunteer with Essex at Cadiz (1596) and the Azores (1597); in 1598 after a scuffle at court, he accepted a subordinate place in the suite of the Queen's Secretary, Sir Robert Cecil, to Paris. He returned briefly to marry one of Elizabeth's maids of honour, Elizabeth Vernon. In 1599 he campaigned with Essex in Ireland, and in 1600 in the Low Countries. His involvement with Essex in the attempted rebellion of 1601 caused his imprisonment, but he was released on the accession of James I in 1603. In 1614 he accompanied the Prince of Orange to Cleve. From 1620-23 he was the Treasurer of the Virgina Company. He died in 1624 at Bergen-op-Zoom, commanding an English regiment sent to aid the Dutch at the outbreak of the Thirty Years War. He was a great scholar and lover of the arts, and is best known as the only patron ever acknowledged by Shakespeare.

The armour was published by Mann as Flemish, and linked to a number of pieces of armours attributed by him to the 'Master of the Snails and Dragonflies.' This workshop has been identified as Flemish from a figure of Belgica, and the arms of Antwerp, and other towns which appear in the decoration, which utilises overall etching with strapwork, interlacing foliage and grotesques, including the eponymous snails and dragonflies. Pyhrr, in his analysis of the group, omitted the Southampton armour on the grounds that it is engraved, ['sic.'] unlike the rest of the group which is etched, and utilises a repeating motif unlike any other ornament in the group; the character of the etched decoration is anyway quite different. Although the group is still regarded as Flemish, at least one of the engraved sources is French, by Etienne Delaune.

The armour is now considered French, and may have been acquired during the Earl's diplomatic mission to Paris in 1598. It bears close comparison with a number of armours which are recorded as of French manufacture. Two suits at Windsor Castle are broadly comparable, no.577, said to have belonged to Charles I as Prince of Wales, and no.786, for Henry Prince of Wales and depicted in a minature of the Prince by Isaac Oliver in 1607 (G F Laking, 'The Armoury of Windor Castle', London 1904, pl.29 and 33)> A small group in the Musee de L'Armee may also be compared, the enamelled armour GB 457 of c.1590, the close helmet H 319, and more closely comparable, the half armour of the Duc d'Epe of 1606 (J P Reverseau 'Les Armes et la Vie', Paris 1982, pl.50, 52, and 51).

Most closely comparable is the Metropolitan Museum armour, (New York 1982, No.28), in which the vambraces are of exactly the same construction, the pauldrons attached by straps through medial holes, and bracelet couters with lateral ridges. The breastplate is of the same deep peascod form, with tassets and culet attached by straps accommodated in rectangular notches, the tassets may be shortened at the tenth lame, and many of the details, like the swivel hooks, are closely comparable. The distribution of the design over the whole armour surface, and the use of hatched grounds in the foliage borders seem to be characteristic French features of the period.

One graphic(portrait) to TL1991/4,one graphic(donors) to triforium of chapel.