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Collection featuring Henry VIII's armour goes on show at Leeds Castle, near Maidstone

By Nick Lillitos

King Henry VIII, described as one of Britain’s most egotistical monarchs, will be returning to Leeds Castle in a celebration of medieval life and combat.

He’ll be there in spirit as what is described as an “exceptional” collection of his armour goes on show this week, to be followed by a medieval festival.

The king transformed Leeds Castle in 1519 as a residence for his first of six wives, Catherine of Aragon, before constructing the Maiden’s Tower in 1544 to house the Queen’s Maids – one of whom was future wife Anne Boleyn.

Henry often visited, lavishing the equivalent of millions in today’s money on refurbishments and the banqueting hall. And when it came to the bedroom, 10 men had to test everything was just right in the set-up of the royal bed.

Soon after Henry came to the throne in 1509 he established a royal armour workshop in Greenwich and a selection of battle dress pieces will be on display.

The exhibition, on loan from the Royal Armouries, also reveals the techniques used in constructing them.

The Horned Helmet, on show at Leeds Castle
The Horned Helmet, on show at Leeds Castle

Two iconic pieces take centre stage – the Horned Helmet, commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I as a gift for the young king, and the Tonlet armour, which Henry wore at the famed meeting with King Francis I of France at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520.

The Tonlet is the large metal skirt part of the outfit and offered essential protection for the upper legs.

Henry VIII armour on display at Leeds Castle
Henry VIII armour on display at Leeds Castle

Henry was accompanied by 500 horsemen and 3,000 foot soldiers and the French king had a similar number.

The event nearly bankrupted the treasuries of France and England – and within two years both countries were at war.

A castle spokesman said: “This is the opening of the most significant exhibition ever held at Leeds Castle.”

The Tonlet Armour and Horned Helmet will be on display inside the castle until Sunday, September 21.

Henry VIII and the Royal Armour Workshops of Greenwich will be on display in the exhibition centre from until Sunday, November 2.

* The armoury exhibition will feature specialist tours around the artefacts and around the castle itself.

But during August the highlight will be a medieval festival, which runs from Saturday August 23, until Sunday August 31, recreating life in the middle ages with different activities each day.

These include a childrens’ day on August 26, from 11am to 4.30pm, talks on arms in the Tudor period on the 27th and talks by women on the 28th.

A grand tournament takes place during Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31, with jousting and an ‘arming of the knights’ display. Historian and TV personality Sir David Starkey will open the jousting on the Saturday, at a time yet to be confirmed.

For details visit themedievalfestival.leeds-castle.com

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