Tobias Capwell: Armour and the Knight in Life and Afterlife

capwell knight norbury redone final

Altar tomb at Newbury Church © Cameron Newham

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The medieval knight was defined by his armour, which set him apart from other fighting men. However, the study of knightly armour poses a number of daunting challenges. It was practical, functional equipment, but also ‘body art’ of great expressive power. Armour must be contemplated on technical and aesthetic levels simultaneously, and indeed, these two aspects are fundamentally intertwined. Another very significant obstacle is the lack of surviving armour; what does exist is usually fragmentary or incomplete. We must therefore take a rigorously interdisciplinary approach, considering the subject from many different perspectives at once. We must look at the extant material evidence at the same time as we  delve into sources as diverse as illuminated manuscripts, funerary effigies, martial arts treatises, and even everyday objects like candlesticks, mirror-cases and water jugs. The expressive visual power of armour in life made it an essential image in art of all kinds, leaving us a vast and very complex trail of evidence to follow, and many meanings to ponder.


About the speaker: Dr Tobias Capwell is Curator of Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection in London, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and an internationally-acknowledged art historian and expert on Medieval and Renaissance weapons. Currently, he is completing his forthcoming book Armour of the English Knight 1450-1500 (2020). His other books include Henry Moore: The Helmet Heads (2019); Arms and Armour of the Medieval Joust (2018); Armour of the English Knight 1400-1450 (2015); The Noble Art of the Sword: Fashion and Fencing in Renaissance Europe 1520-1630 (2012) and Masterpieces of European Arms and Armour at the Wallace Collection (2011).

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For more medieval matters from Oxford, have a look at the website of the Oxford Medieval Studies TORCH Programme and the OMS blog