The Royal Armouries Museum – Leeds

The Royal Armouries Museum – Leeds

True confession: my husband and I met through participation in a medieval reenactment group.  He even has his own suit of armor! So when I was planning our vacation in the Yorkshire area of England, the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds was a must-see.

Royal Armouries Museum Leeds Entry
It is an impressive building – five floors in all. The museum has two sides: tournament (armor and weapons for sport) and war (armor and weapons on the battlefield).

The symbol for the museum, which you will see on many signs and banners as you approach the building, appears to be a ram. But once inside, you learn that it is actually a remarkably odd 16th century piece known as “The Horned Helmet.”

Horned helmet at Royal Armouries Museum Leeds
Emperor Maximilian I’s armorer made the helmet in the 16th century. The Emperor presented it as a gift to King Henry VIII. Apparently there was a suit of armor that went with it. It the helmet is all that remains. I can only imagine what the suit must have looked like!

Horned Helmet at Royal Armouries Museum Leeds
Yikes.

One of the most striking displays that I saw when we first arrived was a diorama of the Battle of Pavia (1525).  The historical significance of this battle escaped me – either I had never heard of it, or I had long since forgotten. Regardless, I found it fascinating that one side was mounted on horseback, fighting with swords, whereas the other side was on foot and armed with guns. Guess which side won!

royal armouries museum leeds battle of pavia diorama

It may seem strange to say it, but there were some really beautiful arms and armor there. I thought the black armor was especially striking (and intimidating).

Black Armor Royal Armouries Museum Leeds
Some armor was handsomely engraved with beautiful, intricate designs.

Engraved Breastplate armor at Royal Armouries Museum Leeds
It was sobering to see these two suits of armor, made for boys aged 8 and 10.

Armor for two boys at Royal Armouries Museum Leeds
There was also “The Lion Armour,” from the mid-16th century. It is damascene armor, with inlays of gold and a dozen embossed lion’s heads.

Lion Armor Damascene Royal Armouries Museum Leeds

lion armor damascene royal armouries museum leeds
Unfortunately, the helmet was not there when we visited.  From what I saw of it on the brief film they were showing, though, it is a beauty! It looks as though a lion is roaring at its wearer’s foe.

We also saw a special exhibit on gold items from a Staffordshire hoard. Saxon men decorated their weapons with gold, and often garnet stones as well.

Staffordshire hoard garnet gold royal armouries museum leeds
The collection is so vast, the stairwells even displayed weapons and armor:

stairwell royal armouries museum leeds
The museum covers a time period from the early Middle Ages up through the present. Several areas were temporarily closed when we were there; we did not get to tour the Asian section or the modern warfare section, nor did we get to try the Crossbow Firing Range.  However, there was still a lot to see and enjoy.  I highly recommend this as a stop for history buffs and, in particular, military history enthusiasts.

The Royal Armouries Museum is at Armouries Drive, Leeds, LS10 1LT. Open daily 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.   Admission is free.

Intrigued?  Here are some books I recommend to learn more:

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