Two fine and imposing suits of armour are to be offered for public auction on 29th March. The two full suits of steel armour (two of four) were once a familiar sight in the famous Bower procession which dates back to the reign of Henry II.

Richard Winterton, proprietor of the Auction House examining the suits

Both suits are composite, (ie with later additions/alterations) and date from the mid sixteenth century. Believed to be essentially German in origin, they are typical of those produced and imported into England. They would have offered very little protection in battle at this time with the increased use of hand firearms which were gradually being introduced during the same period. Towards the end of the sixteenth century full armour would have been mainly worn at tournaments rather than in battle.

Both are adult suits and the first suit comprises close helmet which covers the head entirely and incorporates a double visor. The gorget below, again in steel was used to protect the throat against swords and in this case belongs to the breastplate and backplate. The knight on horseback etched onto the breastplate is believed to be a nineteenth century addition. The vambraces, (arm/shoulder armour) are from a cuirassier style and the Italian style full leg harness, (dating from c.1600) did not originally belong to the other components.

The second suit, again a full suit has a much later ‘burgonet’ design helmet with a peaked brim over the eyes and skull with central ridge. The collar supporting the breastplate and backplate is known as an ‘Almain Collar’. The collar, breastplate and backplate are all thought to be north German dating from the mid sixteenth century and are in the ‘Black and White’ style, (where the dark areas would have been painted black to protect against rust and the light areas polished to a bright finish. The leg armours are in the ‘Cuirassier’ style and have a blued surface for rust protection. The gauntlets (armoured gloves) displayed should not be worn as a pair as shown on this suit.

Mystery surrounds the origin of the armours. For many years they resided in the old Lichfield Museum beside Beacon Park, (old photos exist of them in situ) and were later transferred to The St Mary’s Centre where they have remained displayed on loan from The Lichfield Bower Committee who have title to them. Up until the early 1960’s the suits were even worn during the famous procession, until it was decided they were too valuable and delicate to do so. All fours suites were professionally and sensitively conserved in the mid 1990’s.

The Lichfield Bower Committee has taken the long and difficult decision to sell two of the four suits to raise essential funds for The Bower.

With such a strong Lichfield connection, it is fitting that the Armours be sold in Lichfield by the City’s Auction House, Richard Winterton whose family business dates back to the 1860’s. They will be offered in the International Fine Art Sale held at The Lichfield Auction Centre at Fradley on 29th March. The current market for antique armoury is particularly strong at present and experts estimate the suits to fetch in excess of £20k.

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