Object Title

Great bacinet

Great bacinet


early 15th century

Object Number



Purchased from the Vicar and Wardens of St Bartholomew's Church, Aldbrough, Yorkshire, through the Archdeacon of the East Riding of Yorkshire, on 29 July 1992

Physical Description

The skull is of ovoid, medially-ridged form with a circular hole at its apex. It extends downwards at the sides and the rear to form a flared, integral rear gorget-plate with a convex lower edge. Its arched face-opening has an almost horizontal upper edge and widens towards the bottom. The top of the face-opening is pierced around its edge with twenty-two close-set rivet-holes for the attachment of a missing lining. Ten of the small, externally-flush rivets survive on the left side. The bottom of the face-opening was originally pierced at each side with three larger rivet-holes for the attachment of a bevor. The lowest hole on the right side is now broken away with a portion of the lower, front corner of the skull. The hole above it is vacant, but but the others are still occupied by iron rivets. A line of nine rivet-holes for the attachment of the missing lining runs around the nape of the skull. All the holes ,except for one at the rear, are still occupied by externally-flush iron rivets. At either side of the face-opening, at about the same height as these lining-rivets, is a rivet-hole for the attachment of a movable gorget-plate. The hole on the right side still retains its iron rivet. The lower edge of the skull is pirced with four pairs of small holes for sewing on the missing ling. Approximately six more such pairs of holes must originally have existed, but have broken away withe the bottom edge. Each side of the skull is pierced with a large hole for pivoting a missing visor.
The lower edge of the skull is broken away at the rear and at the front right side. The skull has rusted and broken through at many points where it has subsequently been heavily restored with epoxy resin.

Featured in

Hundred Years War


Dimensions: Max. height: 360 mm (14.2 in), Max. width: 265 mm (10.5 in), Max. depth: 229 mm (9.0 in) Weight: 3.07 kg (6 lb 12.25 oz)

Inscriptions and Marks


Bibliographic References

Dorling Kindersley, Weapon. A visual history of arms & armour, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, London, 2006, p. 87

C. Paggiarino, The Royal Armouries, masterpieces of medieval and renaissance arms and armour, Milan, 2011, volume 1


The helmet originally formed part of the funerary achievement of Sir John de Melsa who had served in the retinue of John de Grey, 1st Lord Grey of Rotherfield, in the Crecy campaign of 1346, and died in 1377.
Its association with the tomb of Sir John de Melsa in Aldbrough Church, Yorkshire, was first recorded by Christopher Hildyard, 'List...of All the Mayors etc of York', 1644. Hildyard's account was repeated by James Torr, 'Antiquities of York City', York, 1719, p.23.
According to Thomas Thompson, 'Ocellum Promontorium', Hull, 1821, pp. 252-5, the helmet had suffered from use as a coal bucket in a period when the chantry of the church served as a school room. Thompson's story was repeated by George Poulson,'History and Antiquities of the Seigniory of Holderness', 1841, p. 12. By Thompson's time the monument had been transfered to the belfry of the church. The move must have occured only a short time after Richard Gough, 'Sepulchral Monuments', Vol. I, part 2, 1796, recorded the monument as still remaining 'In a part of the church now made a school...'.
National attention was first drawn to the helmet in aletter concerning church armour published in 'Notes and Queries', for 25 January 1879. From 3rd to 16th June 1880 it was lent to the historic exhibition of helmets and mail held in the rooms of the Royal Archaeological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland in London. As a result of its publication by the Baron C. A. de Cosson and W. Burgess, 'Ancient Helmets and Examples of Mail', 'Archaeological Journal', 1881, No. 14, pp. 39-41, figs 10 & 11, and by Sir Guy Laking, 'A Record of European Armour and Arms Through Seven Centuries', Vol. I, London ,1920, pp. 256-8, fig. 301, the helmet has become well known to students throughout the world.
In 1978 the church authorities, who had had just had the helmet repaired, became concerned about its security and decided to lend it to the Royal Armouries at the Tower of London (AL 75) in exchange for a glass fibre replica which now hangs over the tomb.
On 17 april 1992 the Consistory Court of the Diocese of York granted a faculty to the Vicar and Wardens of Aldbrough Church to sell the helmet. The helmet was first offered to the Royal Armouries, but on terms that were considered unacceptable. On 18 June 1992 the legal Secretary to the Archbishop of York informed the Master of the Armouries that the terms of the faculty that had been objected to had been removed, but that the helmet would first be offered the York Castle Museum and only offered to the Royal Armouries if, after three months, the York Castle Museum was unable to find the necessary purchase funds. On 20 April 1992 the Legal Secretary to the Archbishop of York informed the Master of the Armouries that the York Casle Museum was unable to meet the price specified. The helmet was therefore offered to the Royal Armouries and purchased as recorded above.