Medieval Quilted Helmet

Quilted helmet from England, 16th century ? Quilted helmet from England, 16th century ? © Trustees of the British Museum, acc. no. 1871,1208.1.

In medieval Europe, a special type of helmet was made from plates of iron sewn between layers of linen. In the British Museum, London, there is an example of such a helmet (acc. no. 1871,1208.1). The helmet is 21.5 cm high.

It consists of a series of small, square plates of iron, each with a hole in the middle. The plates were sewn in rows between two or more layers of thick linen cloth. The next step in making the helmet was to fix the iron plates in place, using a complex system of stitches to create a star-shaped pattern (a form of quilting). 

This particular example comes from Davington Priory and was bequeathed by its owner, Thomas Willement (1786-1871) to the British Museum in 1871. The priory lies on the north Kent coast of England, near the town of Faversham. It was founded in 1153 as a Benedictine nunnery. It ceased to be active in 1535 and was sold to Sir Thomas Cheney in 1536. He was a Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. It is possible that the helmet originally belonged to him or one of his retinue, or it may have belonged to the collection built up by Thomas Willement.

Willement was a well-known stain glass window maker, who became the armorial painter to King George IV (r: 1829-1830) and 'Artist in Stained Glass' to Queen Victoria (r: 1837-1901). He made armorial glass for the St George's Chapel, Windsor, as well as restoring some of the medieval windows. He was a follower of the nineteenth century Gothic Revival.

The priory remained in private ownership until 1931, when it was bought by the Church of England. Since then it has returned to private ownership. The current owner is the musician, Bob Geldof.

British Museum online catalogue (retrieved 20 June 2016).


Last modified on Wednesday, 15 March 2017 11:12