The Royal Armouries Museum

While I was in Leeds, England a couple weeks ago, I had an opportunity to visit the Royal Armouries.  This museum is, in essence, an overflow museum of arms and armor, excuse me, armour, from the Tower of London.  I found it an interesting experience, though not necessarily for the all reasons that the curators had in mind.

Royal Armouries, Leeds, England

As might be expected from a country that once had an empire on which the sun never set, the museum has an extensive collection of weapons from all over the world, with the exception of South America, I suppose.  The jewel in the collection in the world’s only surviving set of Asian elephant armor, a Mughal item, dating from approximately 1600.  Actually, the set is missing the armor that would have protected the elephant’s right side, but that doesn’t in any way make it less impressive.


The cases at each side of the elephant contain reproductions of the various types of armor the elephant is wearing so you can touch it and really appreciate how it’s put together, which I found a nice touch.

A closeup of the actual elephant armor.

A real winner of a display, and it gives me new appreciation for the cover of Delbruck’s volume 1.  My understanding is that in the early months of World War II, infantry soldiers sometimes suffered what was called “tank panic” or “tank fright,” when faced with these armored behemoths.  Must not a similar phenomenon have occurred at least occasionally when meeting a war elephant?

Warfare in Antiquity: History of the Art of War, Volume 1

But I digress.

In the terms that the curators meant the museum, this was by far the highlight because, frankly, a few swords in a case go a long way for me, and I say that as a former fencer.  It is true that, as Stalin said, quantity has a quality all its own, but still…

No, the other really interesting part of the museum for me was the section devoted to personal protection.  Here was a varied collection of shotguns, hand guns, sword canes, switch blades, brass knuckles, etc.  Some of this was of purely historical interest, but a good bit of it was quite modern.  These modern artifacts were set in one of two distinct contexts: noble law enforcement and base criminality.  Large statistic-laden graphics on the wall invited visitors to consider whether the availability of weapons caused crime.  Meanwhile,  little placards adjacent to many of the actual weapons indicated either the licensing requirements for legal ownership or outlined the criminal penalties to which one was liable for illegal possession.  This was most definitely a government museum propagandizing the public.  (While I was in the UK there was a tragic mass shooting in Cumbria.  In the wake of this, the museum is probably pushing on an open door, politically speaking.)  As an interesting parallel to the suggested link between weapons and crime, one of the last parts of the museum asked visitors to consider the potential causes of war.  You guessed it, building armies was one of the five or six choices.

In any event, should you find yourselves in northern England, I would definitely recommend a visit.

Published in: on June 13, 2010 at 8:30 AM  Comments (2)  
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