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Armours of childhood

There has been much academic debate as to the nature of childhood and children’s experiences throughout the ages. As few children set down accounts of their lives and innermost thoughts, we often rely on their surviving possessions to build a picture of the worlds they inhabited. Today we share just a few of the artefacts in our collection designed for use and wear by children.

Armours for boys fall into three categories: for war (called field armours), for foot combats (in the tournament) and for parade (ceremonial armours). Boys had to get used to wearing a full suit of armour as part of their military training. Young boys practised on foot with each other using wooden and blunted swords and they familiarised themselves with the weight distribution and the heat generated by their armours. Contrary to a popular misconception, armour is not disablingly heavy or restrictive. A full field armour for a boy weighs between 7-18kg (16-40lbs) and movement is free enough even for somersaults or leaping onto your horse unaided, though it would have still taken some getting used to.

Field Armour, Italian, 1600-1630

This early 17th-century European field armour, designed for a 6-year-old boy, shows just how young they were when introduced to armour. Designed for war training, the armour weighs 7kg (16lbs). With its full leg defences, it could also have been used to practise foot combats fought against other boys within an enclosure.

Parade Three-Quarter Armour, German, 1620-1640

Some boys’ armours were richly decorated, intended for the son of an emperor or king. They were meant to be seen and admired at important court ceremonies and to present the boy to spectators in his future role as military commander. This parade three-quarter armour, made for a 3 or 4-year-old, is a particularly decorative armour and would have been a bright peacock blue with gold bands. Weighing in at 7.7kg (17lbs) it would have been worn with knee length boots.

Composite Field Half-Armour, English and Italian, 1600-1630

It is difficult to tell how common full suits of armour were for boys, as a suit of armour tailor made to fit its owner represented a considerable investment. Made for a boy of about 7 years of age, this armour is made up of pieces from lots of different armours that actually fit together very well. It shows how armours were appreciated and reused by different children. The open-faced helmet would have had a padded lining to make it fit comfortably, and would have been worn without leg defences.

Field Armour, German, 1540

Very young boys did not take part in combat, but by the age of 16, they were certainly expected to do so. This German field armour is for a boy of around 16 years old. At this age, the wearer would have mastered the art of the lance used in jousting and war – notice the lance rest on the right-side of the breastplate. The armour weighs 19.3kg (42lbs), a full adult weight. An adult armour, perhaps for his father, was made in the same workshop in Nuremberg and is also in the Royal Armouries collection.

Three-Quarter Armour, English, 1550

This English three-quarter armour for a boy of about 12 years old dates from 1550 and probably belonged to Edward VI. It was made in the Royal Workshops at Greenwich, founded by Henry VIII, and at the time of its making the workshops only made armours by order of the King.

You can see a number of child armours on display in the Tournament Gallery at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, including two armours made for brothers aged eight and ten.

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