Greenwich armour was a style of armour which was associated with the royal armoury at Greenwich established by the Tudor monarch Henry VIII. Henry had the armoury established so that he no longer had to import high-quality armours of different styles from other regions such as Germany or Italy.
Consequently, he had the armoury populated with some of the best armours from Europe who went on to create a unique style of English armour which distinguished it from contemporary European armour. Henry VIII was the most famous purchasers of armours produced at this armoury, commissioning armours for different occasions such as tournaments, parades and court events.
The style of the armour produced at the Greenwich armoury underwent significant evolution through the Tudor era. The earliest distinctive style of Greenwich armour emerged during the reign of Henry VIII.
During this period, the Greenwich armour style mostly used elaborate decorations. Towards the reign of Elizabeth I, however, the Greenwich armour evolved to reflect a different contemporary style, such as a shape that most closely imitated the dressing of the period.
During Henry VIII’s reign, the most notable characteristic of Greenwich armours was their gilded and highly intricate outlook.
Henry had gathered a veritable team of top armourers from all over Europe and after having constructed top-quality armour, would have them etched with intricate decorations by some of the finest contemporary artists.
Hans Holbein, a notable artist of the period, was directly commissioned by Henry VIII to design the etchings for several of his armour suits.
The decorations of the Greenwich armours commissioned by Henry are particularly notable for their extravagance, reflecting the cultural Renaissance that was taking place in England at large.
During Elizabeth I’s long reign, the style of armour produced at the Greenwich armoury underwent many changes. A general characteristic of the Greenwich armour of this period is the close imitation of civilian dressing aesthetics in the construction of armour. A notable example of this was the curved cuirasses of the period which were meant to imitate contemporary styles of English doublet.
Another significant characteristic was the use of different shades to accentuate the design of the armour. The use of different colours came to be a mainstream form of armour decoration and a wide range of bold colours were used to adorn the armour.
Steel of different hues and colours also came to be extensively used in Greenwich armour during the Elizabethan period. The steel used in armour-making was blued, browned or russeted to give it different tints. The varying tints of the steel were then used in making armours of various designs and patterns.
The Greenwich armoury continued to produce armours for English gentlemen following the end of the Tudor era in 1605. However, the armour produced in the post-Tudor era was plainer in outlook. It was marked for the lack of any gilded decorations on the exterior or the use of bold colours. A blue-gray shade was rather used in most of the armours produced during this era.