Rivet patterns on 17th century pike armour

This is the long threatened Pike Armour rivet pattern post. It originally appeared in the International Routier in 2006 as part of a resurgence that saw a number of us get pike armour under the Exact Militia Programme. It sort of fell out of research I’d done for my own armour and resulted in most of us getting armour of particularly high quality and accuracy and the group having an appropriate mix of the flasher corslets and munitions quality matching the respective incomes of our individual presentations.

I’ve expanded this version and for the first time, it’s being presented in colour so you can see just how rusty some armour is allowed to get in some collections. As I’m not having to think of all the dead trees, I’ve added as many examples as I could to give some sort of indication of the relative proportions of each pattern. There’s new ones from Edinburgh and an outlier from the Auckland War Memorial Museum in New Zealand as well.

The other advantage with on-line delivery is that I can show the entire armour rather than just the tassets so you can get a better impression of the art of the whole ensemble. The armours are still grouped by the pattern of rivets on the tassets, in some cases the rivet pattern and embossing pattern belong in different groups. As usual, click on the picture to enarmourate for a closer view.

The original my armour is based on is at the end, you’ll have to read the rest of the post first.


In the interests of reviving the Exact Militia Programme, we’ve done a survey of all pike armour that we were able to photograph while in Blighty. Unfortunately, a large number of pieces that we saw were in collections that wouldn’t allow photography, either under some Royal prerogative or because of uncertainty of ownership of copyright under EU rules. The worst offender for this was Windsor Castle — they had thousands of the damn things all through the State Rooms and wouldn’t allow a single photo. Holyrood House and Scone Palace come a close equal second.

Pike armour is a particular sub-type of footman’s armour, in use mainly during the first half of the seventeenth century. To be honest, this post applies to the London Trained Bands and the Gentlemen of the Artillery Garden between 1635 and 1646. There were two primary styles in use in England, English, with larger flaring tassets, and Dutch, slightly more restrained in style and generally imported by returning troops during the thirty-years war. Armour was a required item for pikemen in the trained bands. With the bands in London drawing from the rising middle class, it was seen by the militia as an opportunity to display wealth, much like adding blue or pink cold-cathode lighting under the modern hot hatch. Unfortunately, most curators have the idea that flash equipment means an officer when during this period in particular, flash just meant flash. It turns up on all the museum placards next to any armour that looks a bit up-market. There was a particular style of buff-coat that demolishes this called Trained Band buff, where the heavy leather sleeves are replaced by the most expensive soft fabrics, further decorated with silver wire braid and laid silver and gold embroidery. Then they put their armour over the top. And that’s just the men.

The armour now seems to be in one of two conditions: either worn so thin by constant cleaning (in Castles and Royal Houses) the folds are breaking or; pitted by a heavy layer of rust (generally in museums and galleries). The russetting isn’t necessarily a problem, the armour may have been delivered that way. In an order in 1629 we have:

The prices of the parts and of the whole corslet or footman’s armour russetted, VIZ.:

£
s.
d.
The brest
0
5
6
The Backe
0
4
6
The tassets
0
5
0
The combed head piece, lyned
0
4
9
A gorget lyned
0
2
6

The total of the footman’s armour
1
2
0

If the breast, back, and tassets be lyned with red leather the price will be £1 4s. 0d.

Godwin, Rev GN,  The civil war in Hampshire (1642-45) and the story of Basing House, 1904, p37

 Prices for horseman’s armours are also specified in a russetted finish. There were other options, the Queen placed an order in 1588 for

To Rich. West, of London, for x vvhight [white, i.e. bright steel] corseletts at xliiij [shillings] a-peyce. To Thos. Hurst, of London, armourer, for vii blacke corseletts at xlvj. a-peyce.

Norfolk Archaeology vol. i. p. 11

Russetting is a controlled rusting treatment, usually involving an acid like vinegar or urine that results in a stable oxide layer that resists further oxidising. Bluing (called black in the 17th century) is a treatment that oxidises the iron in the presence of heat, also resulting in a stable oxide layer. For the budding chemists at home, russetting is iron (2) oxide (FeO) and bluing is iron (3) oxide (Fe2O3). Bluing is the more stable finish. White armour (polished) is a massive great pain in the bum because you have to keep it polished and waxed, or it quickly turns russetted. Having servants would probably incline a Trained Bandsman more to white armour.

Even allowing for the higher likelihood of the flasher pieces being saved because of their artistic value as wall decorations, there are a bloody lot of highly decorated pieces about. None of the armours we photographed that were devoid of decoration and all had at least a small triangle of three rivets on the bottom of the tassets. All tassets that we were able to see from the back had no washers or backing on the rivets, but were purely decorative and are really a vestige from when the leg armour was built from separate lames with three straps providing articulation and support. The fine lines you see near folds in the metal that appear to be painstakingly put in decoration are actually just marks left by the machine that put the folds in.

The categories are based solely on the arrangement of the rivets on the tassets, any embossing has been ignored. They are sorted by shape, followed by the order we saw them.

Triangles/Wedges

Dover Pike Armour

Dover Museum, on loan from the Royal Armouries, Leeds. Tassets permanently attached to breastplate.Waist and shoulder straps in buff leather, polished iron rivets.

York Castle Museum Pike Armour

York Castle Museum Pike Armour

York Castle Museum. Mounted on the wall half-way down the northern stairs. Undated. All rivets iron, leather grey-black (possibly chrome tanned), brass buckle. Interior russeted, exterior rusty. See also the York Castle Museum example below filed under diamonds. That very bottom row of rivets holds the leather lining in place, in this example it isn’t used as part of the design, in the lower picture it is.

Pike Armour - interior

Upskirt photo of the left tasset of the above armour, showing the rivets on the inside. The square washers correspond with the rivets to attach the mounting.

Leeds Armouries Pike Armour

Royal Armouries, Leeds. Pikeman’s Armour. Dutch about 1630-40. It is of superior quality with pairs of engraved lines and brass fittings and rivets. IL. 117

Leeds Armouries Pike Armour

Royal Armouries, Leeds. Pikeman’s Armour. Unprovenanced and undated

Pikeman’s Armour. Royal Armouries, Leeds.

Royal Armouries, Leeds. Pikeman’s Armour 1620-30. Decorated with embossed chevrons and brass rivets this very high quality armour is one of a series probably made in the Royal Armouries at Greenwich. Brass and russetted iron. Royal Armouries II 271.

Pikeman's Armour, Warrick Castle, Great Hall

Warwick Castle Great Hall. Pikeman’s Armour. Unprovenanced and undated, Iron rivets

Armour for a Pikeman, English, Tower Armouries

Royal Armouries, Tower of London White Tower. Armour for a Pikeman, English, about 1635. This decorated pikeman’s armour was probably made by a London armourer, as other similar armours bear maker’s marks of the Armourer’s Company of London. Blue/black finish,  II.189

Armour for a Pikeman, seventeenth century, Tower Armoury, Spanish Armoury

Royal Armouries, Tower of London Spanish Armoury. Armour for a Pikeman, 17th Century munitions quality armour. Tassets permanently attached, all iron.

Pikeman's Armour, Edinburgh Castle Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle, Great Hall. Pikeman’s armour, munitions quality, undated, unprovenanced. Polished finish, steel rivets. Tassets permanently fixed to the breastplate.

Pikeman's Armour, Edinburgh Castle Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle, Great Hall. Pikeman’s armour, munitions quality, undated, unprovenanced. Black painted finish, steel rivets. Tassets permanently fixed to the breastplate.

Pikeman's Armour, Edinburgh Castle Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle, Great Hall. Pikeman’s armour, munitions quality, undated, unprovenanced. Polished finish, steel rivets. Tassets permanently fixed to the breastplate.

Pikeman's Armour, Victoria and Albert Museum
Victoria & Albert Museum, London. This armour for a pikeman, which protected only the body, was known as a corslet. It consists of a breastplate and tassets (defences for the thigh) and was worn with a helmet, known as a pikeman’s pot, with a broad rim. 1620-1640 M.526 to B-1927

Pikeman's Armour, Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum Pike Armour, munitions quality, England, 17th Century.
Pikemen were foot soldiers armed with pike, and sword whose armour was limited to a helmet and cuirass to ensure maximum mobility. This cuirass comprising breast and back plates has hinged overlapping tassets to protect the legs and groin. Pikemen were the last infantry to wear body armour.

Diamonds

York Castle Museum Pike Armour

York Castle Museum English pikeman’s armour made about 1620 and used at the battle of Marston Moor in 1646. Belt brown leather (vegetable tanned?) obviously not original, brass buckle. Iron rivets in small diamond pattern on bottom of tassets. See how the last row or rivets aligns with the decorative arrangement? If you prefer, you can mentally move this up under triangles. I won’t mind.

York Castle Museum Pike Armour

York Castle Museum. English pikeman’s armour and helmet. Undated. Blue/black finish, possibly not original. Rivets iron. Black leather belt, brass buckle. The hooks are attached to the tasset hinge rather than to the breastplate.

Leeds Armouries Pike Armour

Royal Armouries, Leeds. Pikeman’s Armour. Unprovenanced Iron rivets

Pike Armour - interior

Upskirt shot of the same armour, note the lack of washers on any rivets.

Leeds Armouries Pike Armour

Royal Armouries, Leeds. Pikeman’s Armour. Dutch, about 1640. All rivets and fittings are steel. The waist belt is buff. The hooks are attached to the upper part of the tasset hinge rather than to the breastplate. As with the York Castle Museum example above, the bottom row of rivets forms part of the pattern.

Armour for a Pikeman, seventeenth century, Tower Armoury, Spanish Armoury
Royal Armouries, Tower of London Spanish Armoury. Armour for a Pikeman, 17th Century munitions quality armour. Tassets permanently attached, all iron.
This one has been moved from the triangles section in the original article because the bottom row of rivets is also part of the pattern.

Pikeman's Armour, Edinburgh Castle Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle, Great Hall. Pikeman’s armour, munitions quality, undated, unprovenanced. Black finish, brass rivets. If you want to claim these are inverted triangles instead, I won’t argue.

Pikeman's Armour, Edinburgh Castle Great Hall

Edinburgh Castle, Great Hall. Pikeman’s armour, munitions quality, undated, unprovenanced. Polished finish, steel rivets. Tassets permanently fixed to the breastplate.

Circles

York Castle Museum Pike Armour

York Castle Museum. Undated. Iron rivets in a circle pattern. The hooks are attached to the tasset hinge rather than to the breastplate. Brown leather belt, brass buckle.

Pikeman’s Armour. Nottingham Castle Museum.

Nottingham Castle Museum Pikeman’s Armour. Unprovenanced and undated, the leather lining of the tasset can be clearly seen by sneaking around the side of the cabinet. Iron rivets

Interior of left tasset, English pike armour

Side photo of the left tassett showing the leather lining. The method of attachment can be inferred from the remains.

Pikeman's Armour, Warrick Castle, Great Hall

Warwick Castle Great Hall. Pikeman’s Armour. Unprovenanced and undated, Iron rivets

Pikeman's Armour, Warrick Castle, Great Hall

Warwick Castle Great Hall. Pikeman’s Armour. Unprovenanced and undated. The rivets on the breastplate are brass; those on the tassets are iron. The triangles are in the embossing only, not a pattern made with the rivets.

Pikeman's Armour, Warrick Castle, Gatehouse

Warwick Castle Gatehouse. Armour for a Pikeman. English, probably Greenwich, circa 1630. All iron, some pitting. A01
Pike Armour, Royal Armouries, Tower of London

Royal Armouries, Tower of London Armour for a Pikeman. Unprovenanced and undated.
The armour is painted with a black paint or lacquer, with ridges and rivets picked out in mid-fine ground gold paint. The paint has worn off the high points.

Pike Armour, Royal Armouries, Tower of London

Back of the left tasset, the brass rivets just show through the black paint.

We saw similarly treated pikeman’s armour at Hampton Court but weren’t able to take photos.

Armour for a Pikeman, seventeenth century, Tower Armoury, Spanish Armoury

Royal Armouries, Tower of London Spanish Armoury. Armour for a Pikeman. 17th Century munitions quality armour. Russetted finish may not be original.

Armour for a Pikeman, seventeenth century, Tower Armoury, Spanish Armoury

Royal Armouries, Tower of London Spanish Armoury. Armour for a Pikeman. 17th Century munitions quality armour. Polished iron.

Armour for a Pikeman, seventeenth century, Tower Armoury, Spanish Armoury

Royal Armouries, Tower of London Spanish Armoury. Armour for a Pikeman. 17th Century munitions quality armour. Brass rivets.

Letters/Shapes

Pikeman's Armour, Earl of Pembroke's Armoury 1620-30

Royal Armouries, Leeds. Pikeman’s Armour. English, probably London 1620-30. The armour was made for use by troops of the Earls of Pembroke whose initials decorate the tassets. Iron rivets and fittings throughout. From the Armoury of the Earls of Pembroke at Wilton House.

Leeds Armouries Pike Armour

Here’s a closer look at the riveting work.

Pikeman's Armour, Warrick Castle, Gatehouse

Warwick Castle Gatehouse. Armour for a Pikeman. Arbitrarily placed here rather than under circles to pad out this section. Undated and no explanation given for why the tassets appear to come from different armours, but it does suggest a standard spacing for the attachment points. It may be a case of the logistical problems “A True Patriot” talked about in the 1628 work, A New Invention of Shooting Fire-Shafts in Longbows.

“The help is, on a march to put them into carts, where either much time must be spent (too precious) to pack them up in order; or they must (as they commonly are) be thrown together on heaps, that when they are taken off again upon occasion, they are so bruised, broken, and confusedly disjointed, that men which put them on seem restrained in irons than harnessed with an armour of defence.”

The right tasset unusually overlaps the left. This may be a left-handed pikeman as per Achesone’s The Military Garden or may just be a botch by an uncaring curator.

Pikeman's Armour, Warrick Castle, Gatehouse

Interior of the right tasset showing the embossing – see, it did belong in this section.

Armour for a Pikeman, seventeenth century, Tower Armoury, Spanish Armoury

Royal Armouries, Tower of London Armour for a Pikeman – Unprovenanced and undated. Royal Armouries II 118. Out of frame is the third diamond, making this (matched pair) similar to the one in Warwick Castle above. The right tasset unusually, overlaps the left. This may be a quirk of the display, but it seems odd that the similar armour at Warwick Castle was also presented this way. Iron throughout.

Pike Armour, 2005
Here’s my reproduction, based on the same suit but with brass rivets so I can show off. A conformist preacher in the catchment area of the Green band in London would expect to be on a stipend of £100 or more per year. I’ve since lined it with fine red leather, in the manner of William Neade’s woodcuts. Neon lights will probably be next. Of course, the black fabric in my suit is probably more expensive than the armour.

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