King Henry VIII’s Horned Helmet

Dec 9, 2021 0 comments

The Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds hold in their possession a peculiar helmet, believed to have belonged to the infamous English King Henry VIII. With spiraling horns, protruding eyes, a toothy grimace and a stubbly chin, it is one of the most grotesque helmets ever forged for a king. Indeed, because of its likeness to a court’s fool, for a long time historians debated who the intended wearer was.

The horned helmet (actually, it is an armet because it completely enclosed the head) formed part of a full suit of armor commissioned by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I and gifted to the young King Henry VIII following their alliance in the War of the League of Cambrai. The Holy Roman Empire had, until 1510, been on the French side. In 1509, Henry had married Catherine of Aragon, whose sister, Joanna of Castile, was married to Maximilian's son Philip.

The armor was crafted by the renowned Austrian armorer Konrad Seusenhofer. The engravings were carried out by an Augsburg goldsmith. The suit was completed in 1514, and delivered to Henry later that year. The suit was the second gift of armor made to Henry by Maximilian. The first had been a suit of tournament parade armor made in 1510 by Flemish armourer Guillem Margot. Maximilian had the gift embossed with devices of the House of Burgundy, which Maximilian had joined through his wife Mary of Burgundy, and the pomegranate device of Catherine.

The suit of armor was designed not for battle—it would have been impractical anyways with protruding horns—but to be worn at tournament parades as jest. Its design was inspired by intricate fabrics, which may have been worn alongside the armor. It is possible that the armor was designed to include interchangeable pieces to be swapped to suit different forms of tournament contests.

After Henry’s death, the entire suit was probably placed on display among other arms and armor belonging to him. While the rest of the armor disappeared, only the helmet survived. The extraordinary appearance of the helmet probably saved it from destruction and it remains one of the most enigmatic pieces in the collection to this day. Until recently, the Royal Armouries’ logo was inspired by the horned helmet.


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