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From librarian to monarch

There are times when answering enquiries from members of the public can lead to the most unexpected results. Stuart Ivinson, librarian at the Royal Armouries, recounts the story of how his involvement in a project ten years ago saw his own likeness immortalised as that of one of England’s greatest monarchs.

2007 marked the 700th anniversary of the death of Edward I of England, the Hammer of the Scots and one of Medieval England’s greatest monarchs. He died on July 7th, in the small village of Burgh-by-Sands on the shores of the Solway Firth in Cumbria as he led his army north to crush Robert the Bruce and enforce his sovereignty over Scotland.

To mark the anniversary of Edward’s passing, the village decided to erect a statue of the king. Burgh-by-Sands is located near the western end of Hadrian’s Wall and is an established location for tourists and walkers, and it was hoped that the new statue might act as a further attraction in the area.

Christopher Kelly, a Harrogate based sculptor, was given the job of making the statue, which was to be an above-life-sized bronze of Edward himself. Christopher wanted his depiction to show the king at the height of his physical power around the opening phase of the war with Scotland in the early 1290s. He was keen to make the depiction as accurate as possible, and that is how the Royal Armouries became involved.

Man poses beside statue with a remarkable likeness

Stuart Ivinson striking a pose alongside a familiar face.

Christopher and his brother and business partner Bernard, came to the museum to research the arms and armour of the period, and were shown round by Bob Woosnam-Savage, Karen Watts, and myself. We were able to show them examples of 13th-century arms and armour, and also some replica items from our Education Department. The replicas allowed Christopher to literally get a feel for the armour, but what he really wanted was to see it actually on someone, to see how it fitted and looked, how it altered the shape of a person and how he would stand while wearing it.

In fairly short order, therefore, I found myself attired in the complete armour for a knight of the 1290s standing with my foot on an upturned plastic bucket, striking an appropriate pose. Mail chausses were squeezed onto my legs, supplemented by poleyns on the knees and gamboised cuisses (padded thigh protection) on the thighs. A full sleeved mail hauberk over a padded gambeson covered my body, over which was added a corset-like coat of plates covered by a surcoat. My head was encased in a mail coif, padded out with an arming cap. A great helm was clasped to my chest in one hand, and a sword held out behind me in the other. I was hot, and the day had taken a most unusual turn.

Armed with a wealth of photographs and information, Christopher was able to go away and create his statue. First, a full-scale clay armature was made which was used to create a silicone mould. This mould would then be filled with molten wax, and the wax model used to make a rigid mould. When this rigid mould is fired in a kiln, the wax melts out to leave a void, into which the molten bronze is poured. The statue itself was cast in a foundry in Wales in June 2007 and was then cleaned and finished by Christopher, with the fine details being chased in by hand.

Bronze statue of Edward I

Examples of the wonderful detailing on the statue of Edward I at Burgh by Sands.

The statue was installed on July 3rd, just in time for the anniversary, and was unveiled by HRH the Duke of Kent. The figure of the king is spectacular; he stands with one foot on a shield bearing the Royal arms, sword held out behind him, his crowned great helm clasped to his chest as he gazes north towards Scotland. Details of the features of the armour of this period have been faithfully depicted, such as the laces that held the padding in place inside the great helm. The mail is wonderfully rendered, and the coat of plates can be clearly seen in the armhole of the surcoat. The hand that holds the helm has been withdrawn from its mail mitten, which hangs down by the wrist, and the mail coif is thrown back and can be seen bunched at the nape of the neck. The poleyns have been fashioned in the form of snarling leopard’s masks, mirroring the leopards of the shield and surcoat, and more leopard motifs adorn the sword belt and the scabbards of the sword and dagger. These features combine to create a great level of authenticity and also add interesting sculptural elements to the whole.

Most surprising for me when I first saw the statue a week or so after it was unveiled, were the features of his face. I had shown Christopher an image of a statue of Edward I from Lincoln Cathedral, showing him with a beard and long wavy hair, and we joked that it was not dissimilar to my own. Possibly as a result of this, Christopher had used my face as the basis for the statue. I have to say I was both surprised and rather impressed. Edward may have been taller than I am but I’m better looking, and Christopher definitely got my good side.

three faces of "edward I"

From left to right: Edward I in Lincoln Cathedral, Stuart Ivinson, Edward I at Burgh by Sands.

It was refreshing to work on a project where attention to detail and authenticity were so important. Victorian romanticism and Hollywood fiction were kept firmly at bay, and Christopher has succeeded in producing an excellent evocation of late 13th century arms and armour. The great bronze statue is a fitting tribute to a man who dominated his country in his own time, and who is still considered a pivotal figure in the history of Britain today.

It’s also nice to think that in a small corner of my home county there’s a seven-foot-tall version of myself; not every librarian can boast as much. Ten years on it is weathering nicely, and I can only hope that I age as gracefully, though perhaps with a bit less adornment from the local bird population…

I would like to extend my thanks to Christopher and Bernard Kelly, who were kind enough to provide me with notes on the background to this project, as well as the design and casting processes.

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