Sculpture Journal


Sculpture Journal (2017), 26, (1), 119–132.


Reviews Tobias Capwell, Armour of the English Knight 1400–1450 London, Thomas Del Mar, 2015, 308pp., numerous illustrations, £54. ISBN 978-0-99332-460-4 In the summer of 1813, Charles Alfred Stothard spent three weeks at Warwick, drawing the fifteenth-century monument of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, for his magnum opus, The Monumental Effigies of Great Britain. He was thrilled by the earl’s effigy: ‘for the armour of the time, nothing can be conceived more explanatory … it seems a real suit of armour of that aera, in brass’. Stothard told his friend Alfred Kempe that he had turned the earl’s gilt-metal effigy over so he could see and draw the ‘whole oeconomy of the armour. What a treat of buckles, straps, and hinges for Mr Kerrich!’1 Stothard, Kempe and the Revd Thomas Kerrich, Stothard’s mentor in depicting effigial sculpture, would have loved Tobias Capwell’s new book, which is stuffed full of images of buckles, straps and hinges, as well as excellent new photographs of the sculpted (and engraved) effigies to which they belong. Armour of the English Knight is written by an enthusiast whose interest in the subject borders on the obsessive. One cannot but feel sympathy for Capwell’s poor wife when he tells us that ‘he has been riding and fighting in full plate armour’ for some twenty years. His immense practical knowledge about wearing armour and its constructional techniques combine with his intensive academic study to inform every page of this long-awaited book. It presents a revised part of his 2004 PhD thesis, and concentrates on armour putatively made in England (thus excluding the Italian armour represented on Beauchamp’s effigy). It contains a 52-page introduction discussing such fundamental issues as whether there was an ‘English style’ of armour at all. This is followed by Part I, concentrating on the armour of c.1400– 1430, detailing changes in helmets, then cuirasses, spaudlers, besagews and the earliest pauldrons, vambraces (the terminology of medieval armour is one of its esoteric pleasures), gauntlets, leg armour and sabatons. Part II covers the period 1430–1450, again working down from head to toe protection. This is followed by a conclusion and an appendix detailing the practical (re) 119 | Sculpture Journal 26.1 [2017] construction of an ‘English armour’ of c.1440–50 for Capwell by Robert Macpherson. It is the introduction that demands analysis here, since its conclusions constitute the premises for all of Capwell’s subsequent discussions. First, he identifies the Englishmen who fought in armour: he calls them ‘men-at-arms’ because, although they could be knights, they often were not; so the book’s title is inaccurate. Capwell then turns to discuss the evidence for a distinctively English type of armour; were the English designing and making armour distinct from that produced in Italy and the German lands? The problem he faces is that almost no armour of verifiably English manufacture survives from the period. Capwell argues that the famous English (and Welsh) longbowmen have been given too much credit for the victories over the French at the expense of the well-armoured elite who led and protected them. English armies in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries comprised large numbers of archers interspersed with dismounted armoured men-at-arms, tactics learned from the Scots at Bannockburn in 1314 and used successfully against them thereafter. At the Battle of Morlaix in 1342, the Earl of Northampton defeated a numerically superior French force using these formations. English armour, thenceforward, was generally deployed for use in combat on foot not on horseback, and its designs and structures must have reflected this. Clearly armour was made in England, there being an armourers’ guild in London from the first half of the fourteenth century, and Capwell valuably gathers together a great deal of other documentary evidence. In default of physical survivals of English fifteenth-century armour, he turns, like his Regency and Victorian predecessors, to the visual evidence of extant tomb effigies. Contracts for English medieval effigies – of which there are very few – tend to be extremely vague about particulars, instead focusing on issues of status. Capwell concludes that patterns – he even mentions a three-dimensional small-scale model – must have been widely employed. Most modern scholars do not consider medieval effigies as realistic portraits of the deceased. Capwell, though, suggests