Why put Richard III (or anyone else) in white armour….?
from King René’s Tournament Book
The only thing I am concerned with here is what is actually meant by the term “white armour”. And I do not refer to the star trooper that is supposed to be Richard III. Plus, I am definitely not an armour buff, but just trying to fathom some of the finer points.
White armour was made of polished steel. There are numerous references to it, mostly with praise and admiration, as it was (supposedly) more precious and admirable than field armour, which was not polished.
Anne Wroe mentions it as follows (concerning Perkin Warbeck):-
Other things, too, were going on in Cork at the time. The confession mentions a Yorkist refugee, John Taylor, as one of the kidnappers loitering on the dockside. But Taylor was not there by chance. He was in charge of a small fleet, equipped and paid for by the King of France, which had been sent apparently to fetch a Yorkist prince, or an imitation of one. Taylor hoped thereby to foment a rebellion in favour of the Earl of Warwick, but the prince who had arrived was already, it seems, proclaiming himself as the Duke of York. Some debate may have followed about which name the young man was to take, if he was not truly the prince. But in the hold of one of Taylor’s ships lay a suit of precious white armour already made for him. In short, he was expected.
I have found other references too, including that Tudor, on arriving in Wales, would undoubtedly strike awe into everyone in his dazzling white armour. There are many more in a similar vein, but I will not overload you with them. Suffice it that if you wore white armour, the implication was that you were the bee’s knees.
Now I have been looking through a large book entitled Jousting in Medieval and Renaissance Iberia by Noel Fallows. On pages 80-81 it states:-
. . . As clarified by Amadis de Gaula, in medieval Castile white armour denoted a certain level of skill since it was typically worn by novice knights . . .
. . . “I told him I would take the horse, because it was very good, and the cuirass and the helmet; but that the other arms were to be white as is fitting for a novice knight.” . . .
. . . fought by two of the least skilled knights, who are pointedly described as wearing white armour. White, polished armour would still have been expensive and of high quality . . .
Aha, do I hear you cry? What is she waffling about? This book only refers to jousting, not to battle circumstances. And in Castile, not England and Wales. I agree, but these knights went all over Europe attending tournaments. Just think of the film A Knight’s Tale, starring Heath Ledger. And this is where my problem arises. What did white armour signify in the real world, i.e. not the glamour of the tournament? Did it suddenly become very desirable indeed to appear in highly polished steel? Or did it still indicate the novice? So, in a tournament, an experienced knight would never challenge, or accept a challenge from, a less skilled knight in white. But on the battlefield . . . ?
Perkin Warbeck would clearly have been a novice . . . and maybe the same could be said of Henry. He was no warrior, and I have never read of him appearing in a tournament on the continent, or anywhere else. I know, I know, he was under house arrest and therefore couldn’t, but the end result is the same, he had no experience. Then again, I cannot imagine he would draw attention to his lack of skill and experience by strutting around in white. He was too canny for that.
So, am I right to think that white armour indicated one thing in jousting, but quite another in real combat? And one thing in Castile, but quite another in England? I am sure someone out in WordPressland is going to tell me.