Episode 79

Armour of the English Knight, with Tobias Capwell

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Show Notes:

Dr Tobias Capwell has a lifelong love of arms and armour, since being taken to the Met Museum in New York as a small child. He has made this passion into a career and is now the curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection in London. We talk about how he got the job as a museum curator, including offering his services to the Met Museum at the tender age of twelve.

If you are in the vicinity of London and are interested in seeing the wonderful Wallace Collection, or if you are far away but want to check out the online content, have a look on their website. And here is a video by Toby from The Wallace Collection, Armour as Renaissance Art.

In our conversation Toby tells us how he came to be one of two mounted knights in armour escorting the procession at the recent re-burial of Richard III, whose remains were found buried under a car park in Leicester, in the East Midlands of England. Click on the link for a YouTube video covering the event.

We talk about Toby’s ground breaking research into English stone funerary effigies that depict armour in exquisite detail, including showing repairs and bits which don’t match the rest of the armour. This research formed his Ph.D. and then became his trilogy of books, Armour of the English Knight. His eagerly awaited second book, Armour of the English Knight 1450-1500 is out now. His first book is sold out so get your hands on this one quick!

A couple more links:



GW:  I’m here today with Dr. Tobias Capwell: museum curator, author, historical advisor, armoured combat practitioner, jouster, fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London and a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers, one of London’s oldest livery companies. He’s also known for his TV and film work and his online presence, including, for example, the How Real Is It? series of films on the Insider channel on YouTube. And I was actually watching one of those while waiting for Toby to come on the line and they are great fun. So without further ado, Toby, welcome to the show.


TC:  Hi, Guy, thanks for having me.


GW:  It’s my pleasure, it’s nice to see you again. So my first question. How did you get into this? Tell us the genesis.


TC:  Well, this is for me, a child’s fascination that got kind of out of control, really. I mean, it’s often the case. I’ve talked to a number of colleagues in the field and fellow martial arts practitioners and so forth. And most people that I know have the same story, that one way or another this is something that they fell in love with as children. And I think it’s like that for a lot of different callings, really. I mean, the few firefighters I know all said that they wanted to do that when they were kids. There are those lucky, lucky few of us who actually end up doing what they what they always wanted to do.


GW:  Yeah. No one usually grows up wanting to be an accountant or dreams of working in an office as a child.


TC:  I bet there are those few weird children out there.


GW: Probably a few.


TC:  It’s sort of fitting that I ended up working in museums because that’s in a way how it started. One of my earliest memories is being taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art when I was four or five years old. My family’s from New York originally, on my mother’s side anyway, and New York City was a place I spent a lot of time as a kid, and I went to see that collection for the first time in 1976 or 77. And that was long before their major permanent gallery re-display in the 1990s, which is still very much in force today. So it was a very different take on the collection, but I have certain visual memories from it and certain emotional memories, too, which have always stuck with me. They’ve always had this extraordinary cavalcade of armoured knights in the centre of this beautiful daylit gallery. And you walk into that room and if you’re sensitive to such things, it’s like a spiritual thing. And I remember, on the one hand, being absolutely awestruck by these figures. That’s what arms and armour is designed to do. It’s fighting equipment, but it’s also expressive art that’s primarily about expressing power and splendour and the godlike identity of warriors. But then I remember there was this other part of me that wanted to be one of them. I didn’t want to be stood down there on the floor with the other museum visitors. I wanted to be up there on the horses. And I guess there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to learn by doing and to pursue interests, by doing. I’ve always loved reading and things, but the reading is meaningless to me if it isn’t harnessed to some kind of action, some active process, that all of your other work is kind of feeding into.


GW:  Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. Where to start? I went to the Met for the first time when I was about six or seven, so maybe January 1980, I think it was, when we were living in Argentina and we were going back to the UK and we sort of toured around bits of America on the way home. And my folks took me to the Met Museum and it is pretty much the only thing I remember from New York. And I was like seven and oh my God, every time I’ve been back to New York since the one thing I have to do is go to the Met.


TC:  And amongst the memories that you have from that visit, do you remember the German jousting armour with the bull horns and the ears and the huge red caparison?


GW:  No, I am not really an armour guy. I am a sword person. The thing I remember is they had this sword, I think it was a Celtic bronze dagger, which to a seven-year-old, is the right size. And then it was hanging on the wall, and it was like my size. And obviously for me. So I fixated on the sword and I fixated on the sword that was about the right size for me as I was then.


TC:  Then we’re similar in one respect, because after I’d admired these huge, mounted figures, the other thing that made a huge impression on me was the fact that they had several children’s armours on display there. And I was like five years old and the children’s armours are made for like 10, 11, 12 year olds. And so they were a bit bigger than me. But they weren’t nearly as big as the guys on the horses. And I remember looking at those children’s armours and thinking I could get in that. And then that opened the door of maybe you could actually become one of these creatures.


GW:  Yeah, that’s the thing, it has to be accessible. You look at it and if it looks like something completely out of a different world, you have no way in. But if there’s that hook, that little doorway that gets you in and you can actually see yourself doing the thing.


TC:  There was a sense that a child at some point obviously did this because the evidence is there in the little armours, so that was good enough for me.


GW:  So how did you get into like being Arms and Armour Curator? It is the kind of thing that so many of my listeners will be going, “Oh my God, I want my job.” So how did you do that?


TC:  Well, I mean it took a long time, and there’s a lot of timing and luck involved. I remember that when I was 12, I wrote to the Met. And I informed them that I was available, and I was aware at that point that they were preparing their big re-display. They had taken the old display down and they were in the process of years of work to re-display the permanent galleries. And I wrote to them and I informed them that I was aware of everything that they were doing and that they must need help. And I was available, and I also cheekily reminded them that Stephen Grancsay, their great magisterial early curator of the early 20th century, also joined the Met when he was 13 years old. So, you know, I sort of put it to them that they had a history of hiring kids and here I was and. And Don La Rocca, the curator there, wrote back to me and said they weren’t in a position to supervise any other staff, but that it was nice to hear from me. He was he wrote me a very nice letter. And he also took the trouble to put a reading list together of some pretty serious arms and armour literature that not many 12-year-olds probably know about. And I also had taught myself how to make mail at this point. And I had sent him photographs of the mail that I was working on, and he sent me some mail literature, some of the early research on mail making and so forth. And I read all of that and that sort of got me going on a scholarly level, I suppose in a way just by following Don’s advice. I was also riding horses by this point. I started riding horses when I was about 11. It had taken me a few years to wear my mother down. And she was slowly coming to the conclusion that I had to be allowed to do these slightly risky things. I was also sport fencing. I started sport fencing when I was nine or 10. Sport fencing, as you well know, doesn’t have a lot to do with medieval martial arts as we now understand them. However, when you’re a kid, you just have to do whatever you can do. And it’s not about doing what you want to do, it’s about doing anything that will get you closer in some way or other to what you want to do. And riding horses and sport fencing and teaching myself how to make bits and pieces was what for a long time kept me going. And in my undergraduate studies, I started to have more access to medieval studies courses as an undergraduate, getting on the riding team, getting on the fencing team. Just doing all of the things that I was doing and still having any realistic prospect as a curator was still very far away at this point. I guess what I’m saying is that I developed a lot and became quite an advanced practitioner before my academic career really took off. The fact is, I wanted to be a knight a long time before I wanted to be a curator at a museum. I was always aware that if you want personal contact with the real stuff, real swords and armour, museum careers are what you need to look at. So it was always in the back of my mind. But when can you approach that? It wasn’t actually really until I joined the Royal Armouries in the mid-90s when they when they first opened in Leeds. Again, I joined as a jouster, not as a curator, but that was my entry. That was my way into museums, was the practitioner aspect. It was riding horses that got me my first museum job, not studying medieval history.


GW:  I would not have anticipated that.


TC:  But once I once I was in, everybody gets their foot in the door however they can. Once I was in the museum and I had routine working contact with the curators, that side of me, really started to come out. I could really start to see that hands on study contact with real objects was what really was fulfilling spiritually, you know? So I just started asking the curators that I now had everyday access to, what kind of qualifications that they have, what were their stories? What did they do through school and how did they get into museums? And it very quickly was revealed to me that most curators have an M.A. in Art Gallery and Museum Studies, or a lot of them do now, which is a technical museum qualification. And a lot of them increasingly had PhDs in their relevant field or in some area close to their relevant field. So I was talking to people and making a shopping list and off I went. I went back to graduate school. Two Mas and a year later, I’m frantically writing up my Ph.D. in 2002, and I got the job as curator of arms and armour at Glasgow Museums after having been working as a curatorial assistant at the Royal Armouries before that.


GW:  Well, Kelvingrove has a magnificent collection.


TC:  It’s an amazing collection. It’s on the one hand, a local authority museum, but the collections are so good that in many respects, Glasgow deserves to be considered a kind of national museum by default. They don’t get that funding, but they sure should. And they certainly have international significance, not just in arms and armour, in all sorts of things. The Glasgow collections are astounding and an amazing place to learn the ropes, because you’re not part of an arms and armour department. There aren’t three other weapons curators, it’s just you. With this great collection that’s still a modest size. It’s very rich, very good. Lots of real treasures, but it’s not hundreds of thousands of objects. It’s a comparatively, as these collections go, comparatively small and manageable. And there’s also the Earl Scott Library of fencing books works on artillery, firearms, horsemanship. It’s the probably the greatest fencing library in the UK as well and you had that at your fingertips. Extraordinary luck.


GW:  I think most of the people listening probably want to kill you right now.


TC:  Well, it transpired that I was only there for three years. I thought I was going to be there for a lot longer. I could certainly see 25, 30, 50 years of work, easily. Research projects that wouldn’t dry up for a very long time. And, while I was there, I did my absolute best to make the most of it and try to start to reconnect the library with the fencing community and make sure that we started to build up connections with the people who needed to be using those books that needed to be aware of them. But as it transpired, I was only there for three years. So there was a limit to what I achieved. But I think I did something there.


GW:  Well, I went to Kelvingrove in about 2003. And I saw the Avant armour. And it was like, OK, I’m not an armour person, but now I actually understand armour people because they’ve got my armour in the museum. That is mine. It belongs to me. Obviously, it’s naturally my armour. I thought what’s it doing in the Kelvingrove? That’s my armour. I was really struck by the way the exhibition of the arms and armour really put together, though the fencing manuals, pictures from fencing manuals, quotes from fencing manuals and weapons, and then similar sorts of weapons from lots of different things, including some of the animal kingdom weapons. Weapons grown biologically on animals, which then we have perhaps copied or, we created for ourselves without ever seeing the animal original. It was a stunningly good way to present these things.


TC:  When I when I was thinking about the re display of that collection, I looked at the whole museum. Arms and armour is just one part of the museum collection and the place and the significance of arms and armour within the institution sort of hinges on what else is there and what other departments are there to complement it. So does the museum also have an amazing collection of medieval manuscripts? Well, then that has to be taken into account when you’re thinking about what is the special, appropriate way to display arms and armour in this particular museum? Trying to take account of other strengths, I’m a big proponent of integration of arms and armour in a museum space. I don’t want always for there to be a wonderful museum and then an armoury stuck off by itself in one corner. I mean, yes, it’s wonderful to go into places like that and see just wall to wall swords. But I don’t like arms and armour being segregated from culture as a whole. I don’t like seeing it pulled away into a dark corner in an art museum, because arms and armour is in art museums for a reason. It is art and it’s part of its original artistic cultural environment. And you can’t pull that apart. You’ve got to look at everything. So at Glasgow, I looked at the strengths of this unique museum and I thought, what can I do here that I can’t do anywhere else? What can Glasgow do that the Royal Armouries can’t do? What can Glasgow do that the Met can’t do? And I quickly realised there’s the display you’re referring to that there’s really no other major collection of arms and armour that exists in a museum that also has great natural history. That also has fantastic biological specimens and taxidermy and bone collections and things. So I thought that’s too good an opportunity. It might be a bit left field for some people. But the fact is that in their natural state, humans feel vulnerable and humans don’t have thick hides and hair and long teeth and claws, they are not the top of the pecking order in their natural state. In your natural state, if you get into a fight with a bear you will lose. And the fascinating thing is how we have found ways to appropriate the abilities and the defensive and offensive capabilities, or some shadow of them, of other creatures. And adapt ourselves to those environments and we worship the bear on the one hand, right before we pull out his teeth and his claws and we take his hide and we use them ourselves. We become the bear. That stuff is like deep, deep in the human psyche and in the longer history of arms and armour. So I tried to do something along those lines. I think the success of it is debateable. If I had another go at it, I’d probably do it a bit differently now. but when you’re a young curator, it’s a nice thing to be able to just take a few chances. I’ve never been that afraid of making mistakes. I try to do my best and check my sources and things. But you got to get out and do things.


GW:  Absolutely. Well, for me, at least, it worked fabulously well. It was revelatory, which is not something I often say about a museum exhibition, which normally tend to be a bit pedestrian.


TC:  Yeah, well, a lot of times curators are not encouraged to go back to the drawing board. Historically you’re often put in very strict shoe boxes of expectation. This is what we expect the display to look like, and it’s hard to really think in an original way and do original things often. But there are plenty of people trying similar things.


GW:  So what took you from Glasgow?


TC:  Well, as I said, I thought I was going to be there for a long time and I was quite happy up there doing my thing. I’d spent other years in London. I thought I’d done my time in London. I never would have imagined going back there, actually. The Wallace Collection advertised the post of Arms and Armour in about 2005. In that first attempt, they asked for a curator who had a specialism in Indian, Ottoman, Iranian, otherwise Asian arms and armour. And I looked at that and I just said, oh, it’s not me, I’m a European specialist and anyway, I wasn’t prepared to go back to London, so I dismissed it and didn’t apply. And then it transpired that they just didn’t at that point find the right person. Then maybe nine or 10 months later, they re-advertised for a European specialist. I ignored it again. Because I was just into what I was doing, and it didn’t seem like a realistic prospect to me. And then I got a phone call from quite an important private collector of arms and armour. And he was also a very close friend of Claude Blair’s. Claude Blair being one of the great 20th and early 21st century scholars of European arms and armour up to his death. He was really working right up to his death in 2010. And I had gotten to know Claude a bit over the years, and this collector said to me, he said, Toby, the Wallace Collection needs a curator of arms and armour and Claude and I have discussed it and we’ve decided that you’re the man for the job. So we’ll look forward to your application. So basically, someone took my hat off my head and threw it in the ring for me.


GW:  Oh, okay.


TC:  And the fact that this person and Claude had expressed confidence in me in something like this, in a job that on some level I probably didn’t feel qualified for or ready for. I’d only been a curator for three years. I’d only been running my own collection and not one of the big heavy hitters like that. And I guess I just needed that little bit of a confidence vote as well. So I applied for it and I got it. And that’s what happened, and off I went, and I’m still there, 15 years later.


GW:  Well, your predecessor in the post, David Edge, who is a lovely, lovely man and incredibly knowledgeable. I need to get him on the show.


TC:  David wasn’t leaving. I wasn’t succeeding David. The thing was that David had for many years at the Wallace served in this odd post, old fashioned style post, entitled Armourer. And the Wallace was the only other national museum to have an armourer, apart from the Royal Collection and the Queen’s armourer in the Royal Collection is someone who is both curator and conservator. They have that academic intellectual remit, but they also are the hands-on mechanic and care for the physical well-being of the collection, too. It’s all in one post, and for many years, David was doing that at the Wallace. But then in 2005, David was promoted to Head of Conservation, so he could no longer oversee any of the curatorial side. So it was only at that point, in the whole history of the Wallace Collection for 100 years, it was only at that point that they actually needed a curator of arms and armour. I’m still technically the first curator of arms and armour the Wallace Collection has ever had. And so then, I had the pleasure of working with David for many years up until his retirement last year.


GW:  Yeah, and he was in the equivalent of the post since about 1975. So I’d say it doesn’t seem like you’re going to be going anywhere anytime soon.


TC:  Well, who knows? I’ve long since realised that it’s not really up to me. Occasionally you dip your paddle in the water, but you’re not in charge of the river.


GW:  Very true. OK, so you’re currently in London at the moment?


TC:  No, I live in Suffolk. I live just across the river from Sutton Hoo, in Woodbridge on the River Deben. And it’s very nice.


GW:  I thought you were in London right now working at the Wallace. We could have done this in-person because I’m in Ipswich, and we’re doing it over the bloody internet! That’s ridiculous.


TC:  Let’s just blame COVID or something.


GW:  We’ve had some mutual acquaintances and stuff for a long time, we’ve met a couple of times. And when you write your book, Armour of the English Knight, I reviewed it on my blog and I told all of my readers, all, like four and a half of them, that it would become sold out very quickly and get very expensive if they didn’t go buy a copy right now. And I’m right, because now you can pretty much only get it second hand and it’s going for like three times what it was originally sold for.


TC:  Yes, you were basically right.


GW:  Yeah, so this is a kind of a warmup and a warning to current listeners that with other books coming out soon, they need to jump on them. But when I read the book I’d never encountered that way of evaluating armours before, and it struck me as really innovative. And I’m not going to describe it because I’ll probably got it wrong. It’s probably much better to get you to describe it thing as you’re right there on the line. So tell us about the book, Armour of the English Knight, and how you went about it and what makes it different.


TC:  OK, yeah. Initially that project began as my Ph.D. and then it just kept going. I did my Ph.D. between 1999 and 2004. And then I just basically kept working on it. And trying to work towards something that I regarded as publishable. I often feel sorry for graduate students these days because, if you want an academic career of any sort, there’s fantastic pressure to publish your PhD immediately after completion. And as far as I can tell, that’s usually a mistake. The Ph.D. has certain academic requirements and a function that are not always congruent with the makings of a good book. And you need that work to mellow and you need it to sit for a while and you need to get other experience and come back to it. Look at it again, restructure it, and so it took a very long time. But essentially when I started working at the Royal Armouries as a jouster and then as a curatorial assistant pondering his future. I knew I had to be thinking about a Ph.D. subject, and I was given some very good advice early on by my M.A. supervisors at the Institute for Medieval Studies at Leeds, that try to find a Ph.D. subject that’s a, as original as it can be, a contribution to your subject, original research and so forth, but also something that you think you’re going to be able to stick with. It’s going to take a while and you can’t burn yourself out on this subject in a year because you’ll never get through it. It’s got to be a subject that really speaks to you where you want to submerge yourself in it and roll around in it and live with it and keep going with it. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure of something like that, but that’s what you should be thinking about when pondering a Ph.D. subject. After I’d been at the Royal Armouries for a few months, I’d been spending more time in the library and as well as one of the world’s greatest arms and armour research libraries, the archive at the Royal Armouries has an amazing image archive of photographs that its staff have taken on research trips, for decades. And they had this filing cabinet full of eight by 10 black and white images of funerary effigies, in a church. When a knight dies they often set up a funerary monument of some kind. And this is not just a glorified tombstone. It’s a kind of engine for intercessory prayer. So, when people go into the church and they see your monument, they see your image carved in alabaster of this knight in his armour that moves them to say an intercessory prayer for your soul, which also helps speed the soul through purgatory to the ultimate afterlife. So the art of funerary effigies is really art that will literally save your soul. And medieval and renaissance knights often spent enormous amounts of money on these fabulous monuments that record their appearance in life, or their appearance in life as they would wish to be remembered, with extraordinary detail. And I later talked to another Ph.D. candidate who told me about her research, indicating that there was a connection between the effectiveness of a monument as an engine for intercessory prayer and the realism of the depiction. And there’s a sense that the more realistic and lifelike the effigy is, the more successful it is at giving the observer a sense of who this person was, then the more effective are their intercessory prayers and the harder those prayers hit. They don’t just fly off into the astral plane, they get to where they need to go, right? And so realism is a major, major priority for these monuments, and realism is not something we often think of when we’re thinking of late medieval art, certainly in England. But the fact is that these effigies, because of their very specific function, are remarkably successful images of the real medieval world or, a certain aspect of it. And I was looking through these effigies. And now, for arms and armour people, there are like 10 effigies that are super famous, that are in all the books. You’ve got the Black Prince in Canterbury. And Richard Beecham at Warwick, the really glamorous ones, the Fitzherberts at Norbury in Derbyshire there in all the books on the Wars of the Roses, but there’s only like 10 that everybody knows. And then, the people who know a little bit more will know all the ones that were published in Stothard, the Monumental Effigies of Great Britain published in the early 19th century. So now your awareness of medieval effigies in England goes up to 30 or whatever. But looking through these files at the Royal Armouries, I realised that there were scores of fantastic English effigies of men in Armour that at that stage in my career already I knew weren’t in any of the books and had never been published and certainly had never been looked at by an arms and armour person. You only see what you’re already looking for. You only can see what you know to look for. And, if a Mason looks at an effigy, he’s going to see the carving technique. And if a costume person looks at an effigy, they’re going to see the embroidery on the sleeves and the buttons and the whatever. But armour is a huge part of the iconography of these things. And the armour people just hadn’t really looked at it comprehensively. Claude Blair and A.V.P. Norman in the 20th century had driven around the country in the days before motorways and collected a lot of the photographs that I was looking at. But they were in a pre-digital world and, they didn’t have the powerful instruments that we have now at our disposal for the interpretation and digestion of vast amounts of visual information. And when I was contemplating this, digital cameras were a brand new technology, totally new. The first generation had only just come out. But I was aware of that and I knew, hey, I’ve now got a list of hundred and fifty effigies of men in armour all over England and Wales that have not been looked at and not been studied really by an arms and armour person. And I know there are more. And if I spend another couple of months, I think this list is going to get a whole lot bigger. So why don’t I do my Ph.D. on that? Why don’t I go around the country for two years? Go to all these churches, look at all these effigies, photograph them with my whizzy new digital camera, dump it all into my whizzy new laptop and then see what all this has to say about armour in England during the 15th century. Because this is not just a 15th century story, but when you’re doing a Ph.D., you have to focus. I had to be specific or I’d never have gotten it done. The 15th century was always something that really spoke to me as a practitioner. It’s the century that had been starting to really form the basis of the jousting community that was starting to build up at this time. It was just where my heart was at that point. So that was a meaty enough thing to get accepted as a Ph.D. and I had the right experience by that point to look at it from the point of view of the visual evidence for the existence of armour that no longer survives as metal and off I went. So that was the Ph.D. and then after the Ph.D., another 15 years of work has led to the almost the publication.


GW:  OK, so one thing that really stood out to me in reading the book is in the stone effigies you can see rendered in exquisite detail of repairs to the armour, which you can then find sometimes the armour that that knight had and that repair is actually there in the armour.


TC:  Yeah, that was a really important realisation when I noticed that. And then once that’s a thing and you go out and look for it, you start to find many more instances of it. I first noticed that on an effigy at Aston near Birmingham. Home of Ozzy Osbourne, incidentally. And right behind Aston Villa Football Ground is the medieval church. And in that medieval church, they have several really great mid-15th century effigies. And on one of them, I noticed that all of the hinges on the armour matched stylistically, except for one on the greave, the lower leg plate, which was just a strip of metal with two rivets in it. It didn’t have any decoration. It didn’t have any shaping to it. It was just plonked on there.


GW:  Like an emergency repair.


TC:  Yeah, or even something that might have been on the original armour and the armour just ran out of hinges and that happens, right? But it could easily have been a repair. But the point is that’s not something that an effigy carver would have come up on his own and introduced inexplicably. That’s something that had to been present on the armour that he was copying, that he was working from as a reference. And not only that, there’s an implication of instruction. That the commissioner of this monument had told this artist, copy this armour and don’t leave anything out and don’t fix anything. Copy it as it is, because the way it is a testament to who this person was and the life that they led. If you’re wearing a totally pristine, perfect spanky armour, you’ve obviously never done anything in it.


GW:  That’s still true today.


TC:  The scars and scratches and dents have honour to them, and they tell a story. And sure, there are some that you’re not going to leave in the armour. If the side of your visor gets caved in in a joust, you’re going to fix that. But there is that physical evidence of an honourable life in arms. And it seems fairly clear that in some occasions when it was present, it was reproduced on the monuments and that was crucial to my work, because I had to demonstrate that there was a relationship between what you see on effigies and what existed in reality, and that’s a really hard thing to determine beyond reasonable doubt when you don’t have the armour to compare it to. There’s none of this English armour survives, nothing. There’s not one piece of armour from the 15th century that can be categorically proven to be English. So you’ve got the effigies, but you don’t have the original gear. So how do you prove that the effigies are a faithful representation of the original gear as it once existed, but is now lost? And things like that, those repairs and technical idiosyncrasies was a fundamental part of everything that I’m doing on this.


GW:  I seem to recall though there were a couple of examples in the book where you actually found the armour, European armour.


TC:  No, there aren’t. If I gave you that impression, I apologise. But I hope that you might have gotten that impression after being seduced by the extraordinary similarities that there are between effigies and surviving pieces of art.


GW:  I read the book when it came out. So four or five years ago, five, six years ago and I didn’t reread it in preparation for this interview. So that’s where that idea came from.


TC:  If I had already published book three of this study, which hasn’t come out yet, you will have seen that I’ve also studied an important group of English effigies that depict Italian armour rather than the domestic English fashion. And that is another fantastically important piece of the whole puzzle because, comparatively speaking, a fair amount of Italian armour survives from the 15th century. And so in that case, you have direct material and representational sources to compare and that Italian group goes a long way to proving just how fastidious and how skilled English carvers were in faithfully representing armour, real armour that would really work.


GW:  So why do you think Italian armour has survived where English armour has not?


TC:  Well, why is a difficult question. It’s funny, I spent the first four months of my Ph.D. asking myself the question “Why” prematurely. This is always what you start wondering. It’s natural to do so. But I had a very serious dressing down from my Ph.D. committee after the first four months when they wanted to see serious progress on the initial skeleton of my work. And I just gotten bound up with weird questions. Why is this like this? I don’t know. And I’d gotten nothing done, and they just said, look, if you don’t pick your act up in the next four months in the spring term, you can’t do this. You’ve got to get your act together. And they said, stop asking the question “why”, you should be doing nothing at this point with the question “why” you should be worried about what and where. And that’s it.


GW: What, where and maybe when.


TC:  So I try to wait for the question “why” until I’ve done a lot of other work and I have contemplated it. I think it’s important to wonder about it, but it’s a very difficult question to answer. I think, first of all, you have to take account of the extraordinary odds against any armour surviving from the 15th century at all. From your starting point the probability is terrible. And that’s demonstrated by the Italian armours, actually. If you just take complete or near complete armours for a second, ignore the helmets and odds and ends lying around. If you look at the complete armours or near complete armours like the Avant in Glasgow, that’s basically a group of 13, more or less, depending on quite how you define your group. That’s 13 armours made in Italy in the 15th century. Italy was the biggest, the most prolific armour industry in the world at that time, they were cranking out hundreds of thousands of armours. I’ve documented in my third book in the English Knight series coming out next year, I’ve got the documentation for these Italian operations. They undertake to produce three complete armours per day, in some cases, and different masters, in different workshops, they form contracts or condata to work together to get even bigger operations going for big contracts and so forth. The industry was enormous, hundreds of thousands of armours produced in the 15th century. And 13 survive. And furthermore, of those 13, something like 10 of them, off the top of my head, boffins can correct me at will. It’s something like 10 of those 13 come from only two highly improbable preservation contexts, to wit Churburg Castle in the Italian Tyrol and the sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie in Curtatone, near Mantova. A bunch of armours improbably got dumped ex voto in a sanctuary in Italy. And of the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of private medieval armouries that once existed only Churburg survives, with its original medieval armoury. And so, yeah, 13 Italian armours survived, but that’s not really very many in comparison to how many were made. And the preservation of those was completely fluke-ish and fantastically lucky. So if you take all of that into account, there is almost a precisely zero chance of any English armour surviving because England was a smaller operation. London was a major centre of armour manufacture in the 15th century, but they were, as far as we can tell, somewhat more modest than the Milanese operation. And they weren’t importing and exporting like the Italians were either. The English operation was very localised. And England is isolated economically as well, so things like good iron and steel are precious metals that are going to be more likely to get recycled or just used until there’s nothing left of them than they might be in Germany when it’s easier for a nobleman to set up grandpa’s armour as a monument to the family’s illustrious past or whatever. In England a lot of times they just couldn’t afford to do that, I think. So the odds are even more stacked against the survival of English armour. And undoubtedly there’s many other factors, but you can see the rabbit hole the question “why” leads you down?


GW:  Yeah, I’m totally not sorry. It is exactly the type of rabbit hole that this podcast exists for. And the thing is, in the back of my head, I have some imaginary listener sitting in their car on their commute to whatever job they do, listening to this and getting their bit of a sword fix. And it’s been a bit of a crappy week and they’re like, “Oh, it’s got Toby on. All right. Fantastic. Yeah. Got his book, brilliant.” And I’m trying to anticipate that person’s question and then just try to ask it so that that person can like have their curiosity at least scratched, if not slated. So all right, now your next book, which I happily pre-ordered a little while ago and should be with me very soon, but it’s not here yet. It’s not the Return of the Armour of the English Knight. It is the Armour of the English Knight 1450 to 1500. So I take it you’re basically chopping it up into fifty year segments and you’ve got a book for each fifty years. So what changed?


TC:  Yeah. I mean, basically the Armour of the English Knight is all one book. It’s just completely impossible to publish it as one book, both in terms of what is required in the production and the funding and the design and so forth, but also just in terms of binding. I mean, when this project is done, it will be over a thousand pages. And, producing a book like that in one volume is just not very helpful. Impressive, maybe, but not very helpful.


GW:  Yeah, you need to work out for six months just to be able to lift it and open the pages.


TC:  So I split it up and I split it initially into two and I just figured I got to get something out. This has been going on too long. I’ll break it down. I’ll do 1400 to 1450. That’s doable. Get that one out and then follow it up with the rest as soon as I can. I had originally intended that there would only be a second volume and that I would fit whatever remained to be said into the second book. That was profoundly naive. And I actually progressed quite far down the process before I faced the facts that I was looking at three books here. I just innocently did a word count of book two when I was getting close to design and the word count showed me clearly that I was looking at two books, not one. So the second book is Armour of the English Knight 1450 – 1500. It finishes the story of the domestic industry, the domestic side in England in the 15th century. What were the English doing that was different and special and aligned with their military practises and tactics and traditions and so forth. That’s the heart and soul of the Ph.D., originally, that there is an English style, the existence of which has never really been recognised. But then, if you are writing something called Armour of the English Knight and you’re talking about the armour that was used in England during the 15th century, another big part of the subject is foreign armour. The whole question of foreign made armour in England and its influence, technically and artistically. And how does it relate to all the domestic stuff that we talked about in the previous two books. For foreign armour, it’s primarily Italian and Flemish. Those are the two key industries that were really influencing England the most. German armour has for a long time and very popular with English living history people and so forth during the Wars of the Roses and what have you. But I found almost no evidence for the presence of German armour in England. At the end of the third book, which is coming out next year, is entitled Armour of the English Knight: Continental Armour in England, 1435 – 1500. So the third book broadens back out the timeline a bit because it’s at 1435 that’s the earliest date where you can really recognise foreign armour stylistically in the visual sources that I’m using. Not to say that Italian helmets weren’t present in England in 1400. It’s just that you can’t differentiate them because they look too much like the helmets that everybody else was making. And actually, I found evidence of imported helmets coming into England in the early 15th century and then being decorated in the English style by English craftsmen. So good luck differentiating those. But in around 1435, you start seeing guys on monumental brass who are wearing Avant armours, basically. And it’s suddenly boom, that clear. And the 1430s is also the point when I started finding more documentary evidence for Italian and Flemish armour being imported into England. We’ve got the ships coming in to the ports and being inventoried and they list what’s coming in. So that’s an important part of the story, too. So that really makes a third book on its own. The continental stuff is the third book on its own. I haven’t done the 14th century. I haven’t done the 16th century. And I’m not gonna.


GW:  OK. A couple of years after volume three comes out, I will perhaps give you a little nudge and say, “Toby, what about the 14th century?” Actually, probably one of the most famous armour, English armour sort of things, Henry VIII is super famous for having armour brought over and producing all kinds of armour and the 16th century English stuff with that heavy continental influence is really, really well known. But personally, from my own research interests, I am much more interested in the 14th century stuff. Because Fiore dei Liberi is one of my main fields of study and that’s his period, so that that’s where I kind of in my head, at least that’s where I live.


TC:  And it’s a fantastically interesting period. I mean, the 14th century is a really big subject, though. I mean, if you look at the early 14th century and the late 14th century, it sometimes feels like 300 years of artistic and technical development crammed into one century. So you know thinking about that as a project just makes my head spin.


GW:  Well, maybe we need to start you off on another Ph.D. And then 20 years later, we got three books on the subject, that’s worth waiting for.


TC:  You give me a wealthy benefactor and an early retirement, I’ll think about it.


GW:  Well, OK, people listening, some of you must be really rich, just by laws of averages. Toby needs a patron to produce a book on 14th century armour.


TC: We’ve done it now.


GW: It would have to be quite a lot of money to tempt you away from the Wallace though, I think.


TC:  Well, I don’t know. Everybody’s got their price. I’m not sure how high mine is.


GW:  Well, the Wallace is one of my absolute favourite museums in the whole world. When I was getting married in 2006. Stressful times, as you can imagine whatever, mother-in-law, totally lovely, but still mother-in-law a couple of days before the wedding and the priest, banging on about some Catholic stuff. And the general kind of chaos. At one point I said, I’m just going to go out for a bit and I just went out. I went to the Wallace, it was about 20 minutes away, walked in and just bathed in steel for half an hour, restored myself to a sense of normality. It was my shortest ever trip to the Wallace because, I had to get back to wedding preparations, but it absolutely saved my life.


TC:  Oh, that’s amazing.


GW:  It is a fabulous place. And also, I used to be a cabinet. So the furniture collection at the Wallace has me. But I had been to the Wallace perhaps three or four times before I even realised that it had a furniture collection because I was just fixated on the arms.


TC:  Yeah, that’s very common. My experience of our visitors generally is that there are there are two groups of visitors. There are the visitors who know the Wallace is a great art collection of old masters and French furniture and miniatures and so forth. And they have no idea there’s arms and armour there. And then there’s the other kind of visitor who comes straight for the arms and armour and isn’t aware of the rest of the art collection. And again, my instinct is always try and get everybody to see the whole museum because the two areas, are very closely linked.


GW:  Yeah, absolutely. If anyone is in London, they need to go to the Wallace as soon as possible and just you will see what I mean when you get there.


TC:  And I should add that just for the next couple of months until early 2022, I believe, at least to the end of 2021, I don’t have the dates in front of me. We have an exhibition on about Franz Hals, the Dutch master, and part of that is a little display that I put together of one of our finest early 17th century rapiers, which is on display for the first time ever for arms and armour at the Wallace in the Great Gallery. And it’s in a picture frame like a work of art.


GW: Well it is.


TC: Yeah, it is. But it’s also in the place where the Franz Hals masterpiece, The Laughing Cavalier is usually displayed, because the painting is in the exhibition downstairs, so we thought having a sword take his place was really fitting because he’s wearing a very fine rapier here in the portrait, which is something almost nobody ever recognises. Because again, you only see what you’re looking for, and most people don’t know to look for swords in paintings like that. And it’s partially hidden by his forearm. So that’s a nice kind of current role that edge weapons are playing at the museum. So come see that.


GW:  Absolutely. Actually, I think the last time I saw you in person was at the Wallace and Jessica Finley was visiting London and she was there and I just saw you open up one of the cases, pull out a 15th century poleaxe and give it to her so she could swing it around in the museum. OK, you’ve roped off a little section so random tourists aren’t going to get a poleaxe in their head, but it’s really not very often that you see that kind of behaviour in a museum, of curators just opening cases and handing out objects to members of the public. So what is what is the story behind that? What makes you so amenable to that kind of thing?


TC:  Well, I guess first of all, it’s because of my own approach, being someone who has one foot in the world of academia and the other foot firmly in the world of the practitioner and of hands-on martial arts. I have an awareness of both. And I have an awareness that the two areas have a lot to offer each other and are kind of actually mutually dependent, whether they know it or not. You can’t understand a sword without having it in your hand, ultimately.


GW:  Oh, I so agree.


TC:  And therefore, by extension, you can’t really understand the martial art that that has developed for that particular weapon without, again, the connection with the weapon.  It is the weapon and its characteristics that define the way it can best be used, define the movement styles that are going to work best with that particular weapon or that weapon typology. So practitioners need hands-on real stuff. And similarly, people whose professional jobs are to care for these weapons and talk about them and write about them, even if they’re not practitioners themselves, they need to have a discourse with practitioners because, ultimately, this is not about the objects. Ultimately, this is about communion with the ancestors. And we all ultimately, I think, are driven by a desire to feel connected with our pasts and with our ancestors and with generations that come before and we want to have a kind of felt empathic connection with people who lived hundreds of years ago. And being a practitioner, helps you on that journey and practitioners have a role in evoking all of that for non-practitioners. and Jessica is a random member of the public.


GW:  No, she’s certainly not.


TC:  She’s an important teacher and a member of the of the HEMA community and going out there and doing a lot of good work. And they approached me in the proper way and I can’t just let anybody in the museum any old time. We need to look at schedules. We need to have the right amount of time. We need to have the right facilities set up to do it. They understood all of that and we set it up properly and we did it and we talked and I learnt something from her and she learnt something from me. And then what I learnt from her gets disseminated through my channels, and she goes off and disseminates through her channels. And it’s all very symbiotic, ideally.


GW:  Yeah, and you’re right, Jessica is not just a random member of the public, she’s also the first person I interviewed for this podcast. Episode one is with Jessica. I was actually up in London. The reason I saw this is because I knew Jessica was coming to London, so I came up. We spent the rest of the afternoon going out with her and her family, but the obvious place to meet was obviously at the Wallace. But also, to what you were saying about you have to pick up the sword to understand it. What I was researching Capoferro’s rapier system from his book Gran Simulacra, it was in late 2004 and 2005 through a mutual friend, I contacted David Edge and I said I was going to be in London and I’m researching the use of the rapier in this style. Would it be possible to actually handle one? And he was like, yeah, sure, just go through the catalogue and give me a list of what you want. And I thought, oh, really? So I went there with a friend and he got out the swords that I’d asked for, and I took some measurements and photographs. And then I took this early 17th century rapier, put it in my friend Alex’s hand, told him to point it at me, and then I took a rapier, I went to the other end of the room and approaching Alex, holding this sword, pointed at me. My body automatically went into exactly the guard position that Capoferro shows with the weight on the back foot and leaning back and your head is back because you want your face as far away from that point as possible. And my sword arm was extended because you want the sword between you and the nasty pointy thing. And it was just like, oh my God, yeah. It basically gave me what became the core heart and soul of my rapier interpretation. This this is why it is like this, because that point is damn scary and you can’t see it. Pointed at your face, it disappears and you don’t know how long the sword is.


TC:  And the blades of real ones can be much longer than the typical reproduction at that point.


GW: And they are heavy.


TC:  I think these days, the reproductions are much better, but for a long time, the reproductions that were out there were not terribly reminiscent of the real thing. And they’re heavy, big, thick, pieces of steel. I mean, for me, I never forget those times when I pick up a sword or a piece of armour that I think I know well from the books. And you pick this thing up and you go, that is not anything like what I expected. That is a whole lot different. And suddenly, your whole orientation and your understanding of the subject changes a little bit and that that can only happen with that physical contact. Then you’re on the right track. I think the last 10 years or so, there’s been a huge improvement in the resemblance of modern made weapons and armour to the real thing. And there’s also a much greater sense out there now of what swords should feel like and how armour should behave.


GW:  And I think a large part of that is museums being willing to let sword makers come and handle. The outstanding example of that would be the Oakeshott Institute, which literally exists to put swords into people’s hands. Like Arms and Armour, which is run by the same people as the Oakeshott Institute, they went round Europe in the late 90s or early 2000s and took latex castings of swords so that they could get the hilts exactly right. I can think of a time when your average museum would not allow latex castings to be made of their pieces by people who are intending to reproduce them.


TC:  That was an early stage in the process. If you look at where if you look at where we are now, we’ve arrived somewhere where there are legions of good swordsmiths who just know, they just know what a good sword is supposed to be. If you say to one of them, I want a 1250’s knightly sword, they just know what that is now. And that actually is a much, much more closely aligned with real practise in the 14th century or whatever. The craftsmen just has a gut sense of how these things are supposed to be made. We’ve started to get beyond slavishly copying an extant original and we’re now moving into the realm of armourers just know what the helmets have got to be, and they know how to work in this style. They know what the Augsberg style is or the Milanese style, and there’s less of a slavish sense of it’s got to be Wallace Collection A75, and now it’s just make me a nice Venetian sallet or whatever. And I like that. I like that now you’ve got all of these craftsmen who you don’t have to have those conversations. You don’t have to you don’t have to try and explain things to people and worry about hurting their feelings anymore. They just know what to make more and more.


GW:  Now, just circling back a little bit, I seemed to recall quite a while ago, for some reason I was watching TV, which I don’t actually do that often. And I was like, that’s Toby. And it was you sat on a horse in full armour at the reburial ceremony for Richard III. Not very many American arms and armour curators can say that they have actually been part of the official ceremonies for the burial of an English king. That’s a pretty unusual thing to be able to put on your CV. So, I do have to ask, how did that come about?


TC:  Well, that was one of the stranger days, certainly for me. Extraordinary day. It actually, I think, kind of grew out of my Ph.D. studies in a weird way because way back in about 2002 ish, I think 2001, 2002, I was happily ensconced in my Ph.D. research on effigies and things, and I got my first call at around that time from Philippa Langley, the lady who ultimately led the effort to organise and execute an archaeological exploration of that area. She for years had been running a project called Looking for Richard, and she was interested in the possibility that there might still be archaeological remains of the Greyfriars Church, where Richard III was buried and perhaps even some fragmentary evidence of his burial and his funerary monument. And she was working with a historian named John Ashdown Hill, and they were predicting the possibility that they might find a fragment of the tomb itself. And if they found a fragment of the tomb, how would they recognise it? What should they be looking for if they find broken up bits of alabaster or a bit of brass or something like that? So she contacted me because I’d given talks to the Richard III Society, and she knew that I was working on monuments and specifically on monuments of men in armour. So she contacted me about that. What was my best guess on what Richard III’s monument would have looked like? And if they find a bit of a foot, how are they going to know it’s his foot and not somebody else’s foot? And they had this they had this working idea that he would be an alabaster monument effigy of a man in Armour, kind of like the one at Wingfield that we have here in Suffolk of John de la Pole, the Duke of Suffolk, who has Richard III’s heir, actually, he was Richard III’s brother in law, and they had this idea of a big alabaster monument of a guy in armour. And I pointed out that effigies of kings are never in armour because the royal vestments, the formal clothes that are associated with the king are more important and more representative of identity than armour is. Armour is only found on the lower nobility and knights and things, but you would not expect it to be found on a monument to Richard III, even though famously went down in flames at Bosworth. And we think of him always as the warrior king and so forth. But that’s not how he would be represented on the monument. And I had a conversation with Philip about that, and it was very nice and off she went. And that was the end of it for a while. And then I had another phone call from her in early 2012 and she said, we’ve got all the money together. We’ve got a research crew, we’ve got survey crew, we’ve got the University of Leicester on board, archaeologists, everything. We’re actually going to dig on the site and would you like to come round and be there when we break ground? It’s going to be a lot of media attention. And actually, if you were there, you could help me kind of deflect some of that because it’s going to be busy and blah blah blah. And I said, all right, out of curiosity, I went along. I didn’t think they’d find anything. I really didn’t. I mean, as far as I knew the prevailing thinking was that the area had been destroyed in the 17th century and the whole area, excavated and thrown out, bones thrown in rivers and so forth. And so I didn’t think they’d find anything, but I went along to see what Philippa was up to. And I went and I talked to a few reporters and then watched, nothing much was going on and I got bored and I left and I went home. Because I had other Ph.D. stuff to do, and I just didn’t think anything was going to happen. And she called me up again later that day. We didn’t see you – we found him. And I said, found who? And she said we found Richard III himself. He’s right there where we started digging.


GW:  Oh, God, that’s lucky.


TC:  And it’s again, very improbable. And so much so that I found a hard time. I had a hard time swallowing it, and I started looking in newspapers and things trying to find other medieval excavations that had occurred recently. And maybe they’d found a bishop, a medieval bishop in Yorkshire with scoliosis, and that somebody was playing a big joke on us. After all, 2012 was the anniversary of the Piltdown man hoax. And I thought, there’s just something funny going on here, but there wasn’t. It really is him. And after all the study and everything, I was peripherally involved with contributing to the research and interpretation of the skeleton. And I presented some findings at the first University of Leicester conference. I wasn’t part of the core research team or anything, but I was sort of peripherally involved, as another person who was consulting. When all the research was done, it came time to start organising the reburial of the remains that Philippa called me and every time I get a call from Philippa now I’m like, oh boy, what’s going to what’s going to happen now? And she expressed this desire that he should have some kind of a guard, a mounted guard in the reburial. If it was a modern member of the royal family, the Household Cavalry would be out in force. And so what is the appropriate version of that for Richard III? She thought that he should have some knights of his own retinue there. So that’s what we did. Dominic Sewell of Historic Equitation and I did that and we had talked about having lots more, why don’t we have 12 knights on horseback or whatever? But then we thought, that’s blowing it too hard. We mustn’t upstage the remains themselves and the solemnity of a modern occasion and we have to strike the balance very carefully to retain the respect that it deserves and not turn it into a living history event or something. So we pulled it right back to just me and Dom and we rode with the mounted police and it went very well. It was a tense day. We rode in armour all the way from Bosworth Battlefield and got in the lorry at one point and drove a little bit of the way, but we only had one change of horses, so we had to take that into account. But it was still many hours on horseback, in armour, in the sun, and there were threats of possible attacks of the procession by anarchists and loonies. And it’s 80,000 people crammed into the centre of Leicester, mostly without security barriers or anything. And once we got into Leicester, it was what the American military would call a hazard rich environment. We were just concentrating on making sure it went without trouble and it went very smoothly in the end.


GW:  Well, it’s quite a thing to be a knight on horseback at the burial of an actual king. That’s serious living history cred right there.


GW:  OK, now I have a couple of questions that I tend to ask my guests. And one of them is if someone gave you a million quid or suitable large of money to improve public knowledge around arms and armour, how would you spend it?


TC:  Well, I’ve never been close to that kind of money personally before. It’s hard to know. There’s the research on the one hand. I mean, your first instinct is to spend it on research projects. I have learnt a huge amount from building the armours that I’ve built and starting a research project, building a new armour with the goal of finding out how does that style work? And why is it designed like that rather than this one? Why is an Italian armour different than a German one?


GW:  Do you make your own armour?


TC:  Well, no, I don’t make the plates. I’ve work with different plate armourers all over the world for years. But I do a lot of the other work, I make the mail, I work with textile and the leather. When you’re a user of full plate armour, there are a number of hands-on mechanics that you need to have to do it well. With the plate making, my knowledge of it advanced so much farther than my practical ability. I got to the point when I feel like I’d never really be able to make it as well as I’d want to make it. And you have to decide what you’re going to do with your time. And there are there are guys who are set up to do that with such extraordinary virtuoso skill now. It seemed a better use of my time again, someone who has to prioritise the use of the academic resources that I have as well. Why should I be hitting metal with a hammer when I’m one of the few people who can get into libraries and archives and get that stuff out there? When I’m never going to be as good as hitting the metal as lots of other people anyway. So I just had to be a bit tactical about what aspects of it I decided to do. But I’ve worked with a lot of different armourers. It’s my research, my design work. The armour user should have a lot of input into how these things get made and how they work and doing the research into how it should be worn. You might have the plates of an Italian harness of 1450, but those core plates can be worn in five different ways, which emphasise different practical attributes, mobility over protection. Then there are the aesthetic considerations that an Englishman likes to wear his armour differently than Italian. And how much weight are you willing to carry versus how much mobility do you require? Are you fighting on foot or on horseback? All that stuff. So I’ve learnt a lot through practical research projects like that. I’ve learnt a lot through my more traditional research. So if I had a million quid, my first thought is, OK, we need some big research projects here. We need some big questions that can only really be satisfactorily answered with lots of money. But then there’s no point in doing a research project if you don’t have really effective, viable plans for dissemination of that research and the long and the longer-term value of that research. I never can understand how anybody could hoard knowledge, who could do research and then find some weird, twisted fascination in keeping it to themselves. There are those people, I think.


GW:  There are. I know many people like that.


TC:  But you know, when I find something out that I think matters in some way, I got to get it out. I’ve been trying to get the English Knight stuff out for 15 years and it’s driving me crazy that it’s not out faster. But ultimately, things get their own rhythm in their own time frame and it’s not up to you anymore. But I would spend certainly twenty-five or thirty percent of that money on dissemination of whatever research we were doing. I guess that doesn’t tell you very much about what I would actually do. I guess it would be harnessed too to my own ambitions as a practitioner. As a jouster and mounted combat person, I’ve done most of what I set out to do. I’ve jousted in in heavy jousting armour of the early 16th century. We’ve done solid lances with steel spearheads.


GW:  How did that go?


TC:  I’ve done jousting without a tilt. I’ve done earlier stuff of different periods.


TC:  In harnessing the practical research and the academic and needing lots of money, the one undiscovered country for me is, I think, really the garniture systems of the 16th century. Where you have an armour or set of armours that comes with all these variety of different kinds of exchange pieces so the armour can be reconfigured in all these different ways for every type of tournament combat, every type of battlefield deployment. You’ve got special parade elements sometimes and the pinnacle of the kind of garniture technology and its relevance in practical terms to what was being done in tournaments really comes in the 1540s. And is led by armours in Augsberg, working for the Hapsburgs primarily. I would really want to go there. I want to really explore as a practitioner those garnitures. And how do they really work? What is that one weird gauntlet with the bifurcated hand for? And why is there this other gauntlet that’s got three plate fingers but one mail finger? And what’s that weird exchange visor for? OK, we think it’s for foot combat, but which weapon? And let’s recreate all the fighting styles for a renaissance courtly spectacle, with the real weapons and the real armours. And I want to know how long it takes to convert the armour for foot combat in the champ clos, for foot combat at the barriers. You got to take the lower half off and you’ve got to take the tonlet off. You’ve got to set the barrier up. What are we talking about? 15 minutes, half an hour? And what do those different combats do for the for the viewers? There are all kinds of other academic and wider historical questions that grow out of the practicalities of using the equipment. So if I said I want to use 25 percent, that’s two hundred and fifty thousand pounds, for dissemination, that gives us 750,000 quid to build some 1540s garnitures. Get the weapons together, we’ll probably need a few of these garnitures, right? Because you got to have people to play with. And setting up the field, travel, horses, seven hundred and fifty grand is going to go pretty quick.


GW:  That’s a brilliant answer, if I had the money, I would certainly give it to you, Toby. Now, obviously you’ve done an awful lot and you’ve been madly obsessed with arms and armour since you were little. And you have spent your entire life doing this. And as you said before, you’ve actually been in armour on horseback at the burial of an English king, which is way cool. But what is the best idea that you haven’t acted on?


TC:  I don’t know. I generally act on the ideas that I have. I do have a folder on my hard drive somewhere of ideas that never went anywhere and publications that never happened. But it’s not a very big file, really. I mean, when I have a big idea, I got to get it out there. And it’s what projects come along. I mean, sometimes it’s not about my ideas. Sometimes it’s about what the Wallace Collection tells me I need to do. Or I get invited to do an interesting project as part of somebody else’s publication or whatever. I’d like to get a kayak. I haven’t gotten a kayak yet, but I’d really like a kayak. That’s an idea I haven’t acted on.


GW:  All right, you want a kayak? OK, let’s go to Alton Water and rent kayaks Quite a lot of my guests, because I tend to interview the sort of people who tend to have done something and so a very common answer to that question is well, actually, if it’s a good idea I tend to have acted on it. So you’re in good company saying, well, I’m not really sure, that’s fine. We’ll go kayaking. But let us not kayak in armour. That would be foolish.


TC:  Yeah, I don’t think that was done very much. So we wouldn’t learn anything except why not to do it.


GW:  Well, thank you for joining me today, Toby. It’s been absolutely delightful talking to you.


TC:  It’s been my pleasure, Guy. Thanks again.