Cooking School (Cook & Taste), Barcelona

Let me interrupt my on-going blog on Britain, just recently started, and jump ahead to share with you this cool cooking class we took – in Barcelona, Spain.  My, we do get around, eh?  Well, we’re here for several reasons – it’s warmer here, for one – but mostly we’re here because there are travel restrictions on how long you can stay in different parts of Europe, so we have to move around and play this silly traveling game.  A real pain for us long-term travelers.

While walking down a narrow twisting alley in the barrio (the Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, intentionally lost, we came upon a cooking school (Cook & Taste,  Opportunity!  The food in Barcelona is really, really good, but in addition we had fallen in love with an Andalusian dish in Malaga, Spain (post of 7/10/13, “Malaga, Costa del Sol”), called berenjenas con miel, or eggplant with honey, a version of which we had found here in Barcelona.  Could they show us how to make that dish?  Sure, next week.  And sure enough, next week it was offered, and here we are!  This is what we learned.  Disclaimer – things move fast when cooking, so many pictures are not in good focus.


In Granada, everybody was eating this tomato flatbread for breakfast in all the restaurants.  Eh?  We passed on it – I’ll have the apricot jam, please.  Here in Barcelona, flatbread with tomato pretty much comes automatically when one orders jamon (cured

Green olive and jamon iberica startersham) – and it goes really well together!  It’s also really simple to make!  Start with toasted bread, rub it lightly with garlic, cut a small tomato in half and rub one of the halves over the bread (a little garlic, a lot of tomato), drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, cut to a good size (in this case 4 slices) and you’re ready to chomp.  It’s great with appetizers. (shown above).


Crema Catalana recipeThis desert needs to be prepared ahead and refrigerated.  It’s like a creme brulee, but a softer custard with less egg, and I think a slightly thicker, well-carmelized sugar coating.  Obtain lemon peel – our chef, Davíd, prefers to cut a large slice rather than using a grater to get the peel, since the grated peel can find it’s way into the custard and make it grainy.  One needs to cut thin slices and remove any pith, which can be bitter, from the slices.  Davíd  also scored the inside of the

lemon peel a few times with his knife.  Bring the milk just to a simmer (small bubbles only), add the peel and cinnamon, and let steep at least 10 minutes to infuse the flavors.  The longer you let it infuse, the stronger the flavor.  Meantime, blend the egg yolks with

the corn starch and sugar in a bowl until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture becomes foamy and almost white.  Bring the milk mixture just to simmer again, and very slowly pour the mixture through a strainer into the egg mix, whisking to avoid cooking the egg; whisk all together.

Pour mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring vigorously all the time with a wooden spoon until the cream thickens and one can make a line on the back of the spoon, as shown.  Pour into traditional terracotta dishes before the cream cools down.  Shake and tap to level the cream.  Place in refrigerator to chill.

Just before serving, sprinkle with sugar to coat and caramelize with a blowtorch.  In order to avoid burning the sugar, you’ll probably need to do alternate torching with brief periods of cooling until you have the desired degree of carmelization.  Let the sugar harden for a

couple of minutes.  Add fruit for presentation, then have at it!

BERENJENAS CON MIEL y QUESO de CABRA  [Eggplant chips w/ honey & goat cheese)

RecipeCut eggplant crosswise into paper-thin rounds with mandolin.  Keep cuts circular (Davíd had to trim the eggplant to fit the slicer).  Soak the slices in milk to reduce their bitterness – around 10 minutes.  Fill a deep skillet halfway with oil (not extra virgin) and heat over moderate heat to 170° C.  Blot the


eggplant slices with a paper towel to remove the milk.  Dredge eggplant slices in the flour until thoroughly coated, lightly pressing if necessary to help the coating adhere, and gently shake to remove excess (the idea is to produce a very thin coating that will become crisp when fried). Drop the floured pieces into the 170° C oil.

Only do a few at a time (our pan dictated 4).  Submerge, separate and turn slices in the oil with a slotted spoon until they begin to brown (golden brown), 1-2 minutes (or longer).  Transfer the chips to paper towels to drain.  Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.  Repeat for remaining chips.  Cut cubes of goat cheese.

Berenjenas con mielPlace chips over cheese squares, drizzle with honey, and add toasted pine nuts and a presentation item (Davíd used viola flowers).  Fight for your share.  In Andalusia, the dish was a little different – no cheese, and they used a molasses-like cane sugar instead of honey.  Both are good!


As an added bonus, Davíd showed us how to fry artichokes using this same system.  First he removed the scales to get to the heart, then removed the stem and trimmed the base.  The top part of the artichoke, about half of it, is removed, the artichoke cut in half longitudinally, and the choke is cut out.  It is then placed in water with parsley to prevent

the browning reaction (I didn’t know parsley did that!).  When ready to fry, the artichokes are sliced very thin, dried on a paper towel, dredged in the flour like the berenjenas, and

fried.  They fry quickly!  Drain on a paper towel, sprinkle with sea salt, and they’re ready to go.  Thanks Davíd, they were great!

COCA DE SEPINACAS A LA CATALANA CON BACALAO CONFITADO                                 (Catalan style Spinach Flatbread with Confit Cod)

Cod on flatbread with spinachActually, before we started this recipe Davíd prepared a quick appetizer with the cod.  The cod came from a farmers’ market where chunks had been soaking in salt water for 3 days.  Davíd sliced off the remaining skin and cut 4 small pieces off the fish chunk.  He drizzled the pieces with (infused) olive oil (see below) and added a garnish of chive

sprouts and chopped pistachio nuts.  Ready to eat!  It was good, but next time I would add some sea salt.

For the flatbread, work all ingredients as a normal bread dough.  Let it rest until if rises for 1 hour.  Meanwhile, warm the oil in a saucepan, remove from heat, add the bouquet of spices (whatever you want), and let infuse for awhile.  When the dough is ready, roll it out, trim to a rectangle, and cut it to size.  Place the pieces on parchment on a tray, and brush with the infused oil.  Cover with parchment, put weight on the top (another baking tray), and bake until golden brown (180°C, 10 minutes).  Brush with infused oil again.

Cut the cod into pieces and put into infused oil that has just come to a simmer; remove from heat and let stand until cod looses transparency and becomes flaky.  Clean the

spinach under tap water and remove stems.  Let the raisins soak in Moscatell wine for 30 minutes.  Brown the pine nuts for 2 minutes in a nonstick frying pan with a few drops of olive oil.  Remove the pine nuts and add the infused raisins with their liquid; stir until thickened (this happens quickly) and pour back into their bowl.  Add more oil and saute the spinach briefly, adding a sprinkle of salt; do this in small batches, adding a little oil

each time.  Put some spinach on each piece of flatbread and arrange large flakes of the cod on top.  Add some of the raisin mixture and pine nuts.  Move to a plate and add more

raisins and pine nuts.  Davíd also added a dollop of reduced raspberry balsamic vinegar on the side.  It came from a bottle, and was a nice addition to the flavors.  I would have added a little sea salt.

PAELLA DE MARISCO (Seafood paella)

Seafood PaellaTo this list of ingredients we added some fava beans, a red bell pepper as well as the green, asparagus, some of the unsliced artichokes, and smoked paprika.  Prepare all the ingredients.  Dice the onion and garlic.  Cut some peppers into strips (for presentation) and dice the rest.  Wash the asparagus and remove their lower stem.  Grate the tomatoes

as shown.  Cook the fava beans, drain and let cool; remove the outer skin.

Soak the clams in salty water and then rinse.  Check that the clams and mussels are alive (if they are open, knock them on the table and discard if they stay open).  De-beard the mussels and clean their shells (we scraped them with a knife).  Clean the squid interior by scraping with a paper towel.  Cut the squid into squares, about 1.5 inches.  If desired, trim the whiskers off the prawns.

When everything is ready, heat the oil in a paella pan (until a drop of water sizzles) and saute the prawns briefly (count to 20, turn, count 20 again, remove).  Turn on the outer

propane ring.  For the paella you want even heat, and since you don’t want more than a layer or two of rice, you need a large skillet with a wide heat source (or two skillets …).  Add the squid to the pan, spread out the squares, and wait until the squid squares are “popping up”.  Add more oil to the side of the pan as needed.  Do not turn.  The longer you cook the squid the more tender it will be, so cooking it for something like 45 minutes

(overall) is good.  Brown only 1 side (you’re going to be adding water).  When the squares have popped up, stir and add the onion and the diced peppers and carmelize, constantly scraping the pan to deglaze.  Add some wine to continue the deglazing as the water evaporates.  90% of the taste is this “attacking the brown”.  When onions are browned, add the garlic and when it starts to brown, sprinkle with smoked paprika and add the grated

tomato on top of the paprika, mixing quickly so the paprika doesn’t burn.  Scrape and deglaze and let all the liquid from the tomatoes evaporate.  Add the asparagus, artichokes

and remaining pepper slices, stir, and cook for a few minutes.  Add the rice and stir well to coat, a minute or two.  Flatten the food to a layer, with no holes.  Add the saffron to the boiling stock, then add the stock slowly to the preparation.  Do not stir!  Rice can’t be touched beyond this point!

Increase the heat to medium-high and cook for +/- 8 minutes.  (Davíd used high heat for 5 minutes).  Then add the clams and mussels, pushing them slightly into the remaining liquid.  Taste the stock for seasoning – it must taste slightly salty (rice will absorb and dilute it).  Reduce heat to a minimum (say the notes) and cook for an additional +/- 10 minutes (Davíd says cook for a total of 15 minutes).  Davíd didn’t really time it so much as check it.  As the liquid went down, he turned the heat down.  It was done when there was

essentially no liquid at the bottom of the pan.  You want rice with some dryness.  Davíd also noted that after adding the clams and mussels one could take the pan to the oven at 180°C for 12 minutes (gets even heat!) rather than keeping it on the flame.  Right near the end, add the fava beans and arrange the prawns in a decorative pattern and allow them to heat up.  When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and cover with a cloth for 3 – 4

minutes to steam (the notes say only “stand for about 5 minutes before serving” [no mention of a cover]).  For Davíd, wanting rice with some dryness, if the rice is done and there is still some water, he doesn’t cover or he covers with a cloth to let the steam escape.

One could cover with aluminum foil to keep the rice wetter.

You’re ready to go!  It tasted every bit as good as it looks.

Well!  Hope you enjoyed this diversion from our travel blog.  The next post will be back in England, visiting the fabulous city of York.


Harewood mansion, near Leeds

Harewood is a monster of a mansion.  Built from 1759 – 1771, it is a masterpiece of

Georgian architecture.  The Earl Edwin Lascelles wanted nothing but the best and employed the finest craftsmen of the time: architect John Carr, interior designer Robert Adam, furniture maker Thomas Chippendale, and visionary landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.  That backyard, shown below?  No, not that simple patio garden in the foreground, silly, we mean Harewood backyardthe trees and lakes going off into the distance in all directions – that’s all Brown’s landscaping and tree planting, making it look manicured but natural, just so.  With regard to expenses: “Let us do everything properly and well ….”  The place defines filthy rich, with Renaissance masterpieces, exquisite family portraits by artists like Reynolds and Gainsborough, an enormous collection of Sèvres china – a lot of it previously owned by Kings Louis XV and XVI (and some ordered by Louis XVI but not delivered due to a decapitation problem), etc etc.

Today Harewood is one of England’s “Treasure Houses”, a consortium of 9 of the foremost stately homes in England still in private ownership that market and promote themselves as tourist venues.  The Lascelles – Earl and Countess of Harewood – still live there, but since the place is beyond huge, we’re sure they don’t miss the area accessible to the public – although even that area becomes available to them after hours and in the winter.  So let’s take a peek at the life of the English aristocratic rich ….

The "Old Library" - hard to get it all in one picture!We’re starting with the OMG ceilings, each room different, each designed by Robert Adam, with a rug designed to complement it.  Of course the wallpaper and rugs have been restored now to reflect what it would have been; the fireplaces are original and the ceilings have their original plaster work (though it has been repainted).  It’s impossible to really get an entire room in a photo and still see the incredible detail, as illustrated in the picture to the left, so we’ll just show some of the ceilings.  We think you’ll agree, they’re pretty incredible.  Of course you need to add the full-room floor rug with a pattern that’s riffing off the ceiling design to get the full effect.


Apparently if one has a lot of money, there’s nothing to do but collect expensive things, and then show them off (flaunt?); so there are a lot of collections on display, such as ladies fans (from the days before air-conditioning).  There were lots of fans (!), so we’ll just show a few that impressed us.

We’ll start our tour of Harewood with Edwin Lascelles’ bedroom.  The bed is from

Chippendale.  Ah, to avoid repeating “from Chippendale”, let us note that every piece of furniture in the house was designed and made by Chippendale!  The Chinese wallpaper, from the 1760’s, is spectacular.  It’s the original; out of favor in the early 1800’s, it was cut from the walls and stored away – for 200 years, and nearly perfectly preserved.  Hand-painted on fabric made from mulberry bark, it’s a continuous landscape of traditional Chinese rural life.

Lord Harewell's Sitting RoomNext is Lord Harewell’s Sitting Room.  Every room has a unique fireplace, and above that, usually a large mirror slightly tilted so that it reflects the fabulous ceiling.  This room has some line drawings of unclad females, but also has some pretty fabulous paintings – like J.M.W. Turner (1789) – who painted the Harewood mansion (!), Thomas Girtin (1801 – you probably don’t know him [we didn’t]; he outshone his friend Turner and played a key role in establishing watercolor as a reputable art form, but he died young), and two paintings by John Singer Sargent (1905, 1913).

The State Bedroom was reserved for visiting royalty or heads of state, such as the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia (1816) and the future Queen Victoria (1835) – ie., it was

used infrequently.  The bed and furniture are Chippendale, of course – and they’re spectacular.

Next is the Main Library, a Victorian room with imposing mahogany bookcases with brass inlay and marble chair rail.

Then the Yellow Drawing Room – not too shabby.  The porcelain throughout the house is astounding.

The Cinnamon Drawing RoomThe Cinnamon Drawing Room is enormously long and houses a lot of collected treasure.  Edwin Lascelles – and his son after him – had an eye for beautiful objects and a bank account to support expensive tastes.  Maybe you noticed the Chinese pottery in nearly every room shown so far – like the Ming vases in the Main Library above.  How about these next gems?  The first vase below (French, 1740-1760), has a Chinese celadon glaze, a dolphin body, a ram’s head below the spout, and serpent handles.

The other celadon-glazed vase is also French (1774-1795) and is thought to have come from the Palace of Versailles.  And the paintings?  We’re talking private collection here –

how about having on your wall a Bellini, or Filippino Lippi, or Titian, or El Greco, or Jusepe de Ribera?  Finally – for this room – the china.  How boring, you say?  Well, a short history lesson is needed!  When Louis XV moved the government and court to the Palace at Versailles, it became the center of society, art and fashion.  The King (and his mistresses Madames de Pompadour and du Barry) commissioned the greatest artists and craftsmen of the day; in particular, their patronage of Sèvres porcelain was key to that factory’s success.  After the fall of the Bastille, the new government confiscated and sold the art, and France’s finest made its way to the wealthiest families in Europe.  In England in the early 1800’s, French style and culture was the fashion, and Sèvres porcelain was one of the more prized Porcelain display roompossessions.  Here at Harewood, there is an entire hall of this porcelain in display cases, so many different place settings that one gets tired looking at it.  That’s in addition to a room where some of the best is displayed, and where looking is much less tiresome!  Here are some examples – and some from the table of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, delivered a year before their executions.  They are spectacular.

Just because I thought it was gorgeous, here are pictures of a cabinet from that room.

The State Dining RoomOK, we’re nearing the end of the display of conspicuous consumption.  Just a few more rooms to look at.  This is the State Dining Room.  It still has the original furniture, but everything else, including the stone fireplace, was remodeled in the 1840s.  Of course the dinnerware is still (yet more) Sèvres porcelain.  The portraits on the wall are the various Earls and Countesses of Harewood.  The fireplace (below), is pretty spectacular, with its head of Bacchus (god of food and wine).  The

Chippendale furniture is remarkable; the (urn-topped) pedestal conceals racks to keep plates warm; the urn itself is lead-lined, to be filled with ice to keep beverages cold.  That oval “cellaret” beneath the (superb) side-table?  That’s a lead-lined wine cooler for use during the meal.

The Music RoomFinally, the Music Room.  It’s pretty much unchanged since 1771.  The Chippendale inlay on the furniture (shown below) is amazing.  The vase, Sèvres of course, is from 1770.

I guess I have mixed reactions to this incredible extravagance on display.  Look simply at that Chippendale inlay above.  Every piece of furniture in the house is like that.  Really?  Every piece?  When is enough enough?  Is “Because I can” a sufficient justification for doing?  Primarily I am repulsed by the need to own 1,000 pieces of Sèvres porcelain dinnerware and the total output of the Chippendale factory for several years.  On the other hand, would these beautiful items be here for us to see if not for the extravagance of the rich?  Haven’t the arts almost always relied on rich supporters?  I remain ambivalently repulsed.

Then again, out of curiosity I queried the internet on how the Earl Edwin Lascelles made this incredible fortune that his heirs continue to enjoy to this day.  Funny, the Visitor Guides and brochures don’t say a word about that.  The Earl made his fortune in 3 areas: in “Customs positions” (I don’t know about the Earl, but historically being in charge of who pays how much in customs down there at the docks was a very rewarding profession); in money lending; and in the slave trade.  Yeah.  That unearthed info makes me see the lavish display of wealth (and aristocratic power) in an even less sympathetic light.  Methinks scruples and wealth frequently have an inverse relationship; the pillars of capitalism do not rest on a moral foundation.  I confess I have great admiration for Bill Gates, however he has decorated his house – he seems to be trying to do good.  For most of the 1% – couldn’t you get by on maybe just 500 pieces of Sèvres porcelain?

I offer a small apology regarding these ruminations over wealth.  Wealth does divide us.  I must say I’m content with my middle-class life.  Yet somewhere in my head there is a notion, right or wrong, that great wealth also comes with greater responsibilities; there is a greater chance for impact.  When the incredible wealth of a place like Harewood slaps you in the face with its extravagance, it’s hard not to see it as, sadly, simple narcissism and lost opportunity.

Next post – the incredible city of York (and no philosophical meanderings).

Leeds and the Royal Armory Museum

Royal Armory MuseumThe Royal Armory Museum was moved here from London.  It’s located away from downtown Leeds, across the river but still within walking distance.  It’s not small, as you can see.  Still, we thought we could view all the interesting stuff in an afternoon.  Boy was that wrong!  We spent another entire day, and did not see it all.  It contains a history of the world’s weapons and armor – almost always the real McCoys!  There are Roman artifacts, lots of medieval armor from throughout the world –  the UK, Japan, India … the only elephant armor in existence … jousting armor worn by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, ditto for Henry VIII, etc.

Let me give you the flavor of the place by showing you this incredible suit of armor, called the “Lion Armor”.  It’s Italian or French (the provenance is uncertain), from about 1550.  It’s highly decorated, with embossed lion heads at the shoulders, elbows, gauntlets and

knees.  One large lion head forms the top and back of the helmet.  The intricate decoration is applied gold.  Apparently the armor was not just ceremonial but was used in combat, as suggested by the sword cuts on the helmet’s left side.

Armor became not only protective gear in battle, requiring technical expertise in its manufacture, but also a fashion statement, requiring the skills of the best craftsmen in Europe.  National styles developed; for instance, the high point in style (‘Gothic’) came from Germany in the mid 1400’s, with ripple-like fluting imitating the darts and tucks of contemporary dress.  Many suits of armor were in color (eg, sky blue), but only traces of the original color remain after all these years.  A little different from the shiny metal armor we thought, eh?

The Armory had room after packed room!  The displays were arranged around countries and themes (Japan, jousting etc.) rather than chronologically.  I was interested in the temporal development of the weaponry and armor throughout the world, so I’ve tried to organize what we saw accordingly (but let’s be clear, this is only based on the Armory’s collection, and I am far from an historian).  Let me also be clear – this is a looooonnggg post, wading through changes in history that will not be very compelling to many; you may find it useful to just skim through the pictures and wait for the next post!

Picture of bronze-plate armor from a tomb in Greece, 1400BCI’ll start with Bronze-age armor.  The knowledge of how to make bronze disseminated slowly from the Middle East, where it originated.   It didn’t find its way to Britain and into armor and weapons until much later.  And since this is the UK Armory, very early weaponry and armor, such as this bronze armor from Greece (1400 BC), are presented only in pictures. These bronze plates would have been worn by a charioteer during an age when light chariots were the mainstay of armies.

Later, armies were primarily composed of infantry spearmen, with shields and helmets.  There was a lot of variation in the design of helmets and shields across Europe and Asia.

The bronze helmets pictured above are Danish, from 1000 BC.  Around 700 BC the elegant bronze “Corinthian” helmet appeared in Greece and became the most popular helmet type

for the next 300 years.  The Armory owns the Corinthian helmets shown above (650 BC) as well as the Italian bronze armor (400 – 300 Illustration of Alexander the Great's battle against India, 327 BCBC) that was used by infantry and calvary (above, right) – hence the reflections and fuzziness from photographing through glass cases.

Next we enter the time of Alexander the Great:  the infantry, which charged and fought in a deep phalanx, was armed with long spears wielded with two hands; the cavalry charged with lances rather than throwing javelins from a distance, and were all but invincible.

And then came the Romans!  Their armies morphed from infantry with spears to infantry with javelins, shields, and knives/short swords designed for thrusting in close quarters.

The Roman conquest of Britain proceeded gradually, from 43 -80 AD. The Celts and Picts of the far north, armed with long swords, relied more on the ferocity of their charge than on defensive armor; they frequently fought naked but painted to make them look more

ferocious.  The Roman cavalry was usually neither heavily armored nor very effective, used mostly to chase down defeated stragglers.  However, in response to notable defeats at the hands of cataphracts (armored heavy cavalry) in Asia Minor (picture below left), the Roman Empire in its later years adopted this style of warfare, in which armored rider and

horse led full-gallop charges to break through infantry formations (above right).  Note the emerging appearance of the armor of Medieval times.

With the fall of Rome came the Dark Ages, and for Britain that meant an influx of Saxons (Germany) and Vikings (Denmark, Norway, Sweden).  Castles were needed!  So were historians, but alas, they were not in vogue, simple survival being more important.  I can The "star helmet", named for the straps of the framework; Italy, 500 ADonly pull together bits and pieces from AD 400 to 1000.  The Saxons usually fought as a “shield wall”, dense lines of spearmen carrying large shields, supported by light infantry and limited cavalry (who dismounted for battle).  The raiding Vikings had shields, axe or sword, helmets and mail shirts.  The picture to the left is a “star helmet”, Italian, 500 AD, named for the radiating straps of the framework.  Introduced from Asia, it became a European standard for over those 600 years.  Other helmets from that 600-year-period are shown below.  The last helmet is in the Armory; it’s made of 4 iron plates covered with gilt copper, silver rivets, and originally had a silver band around the base.

I’m ignoring inter-Britain warfare between the clans of Scotland and the local kings of England, not to mention inter-clan warfare and inter-king warfare, and of course French skirmishes.  Oh boy were castles needed!  Then came the Normans, French descendants of Viking settlers in northern France.  The Norman army that conquered the weary forces of England in 1066 relied on armored cavalry charging with the lance, followed by swords for the second phase of close combat.  Soldiers wore mail armor, one-piece iron helmets, and carried kite-shaped shields.  This type of mounted knight dominated the battlefields of

Europe for the next 4 centuries, and it is from this period on that the Leeds Armory starts to show its true gems, no longer relying on pictures from elsewhere.  Interestingly, it includes armor from all the known world.  I should point out that taking photos was tough!  The lighting was often very dim, my autofocus would not work, and there were reflections from the glass cases.  You must forgive the following poor performance.

Mongolian helmet, 1200'sWe’ll start with a Mongolian helmet from the 1200’s, decorated in silver overlay of stylized Chinese lions and (Buddhist) priests.  This type of helmet was used from the 800’s to the 1300’s in Asia.  Notice that armor was art!  If you’re going to die in battle, look spiffy!  Or was it to make the ladies swoon?  For me, seeing this armor gave a new perspective on warfare and the times.

Armor worn by mounted samurai, about 1300 ADThe Far East was of course not a stranger to warfare; sadly, war seems to define humanity.  This armor would be worn by a mounted Japanese samurai from about 1300 AD.  Only a few of the originals survive – this is  a valuable exact copy of an original in Japan, incorporating some parts from that time.

We move now to the more plentiful displays from the 1400’s and later.  Let’s stay with non-England: the (real) armor below is from a Turkish heavy cavalryman from the late 1400’s.  Mail and armor for man and horse are standard; the cavalryman carried a bow, sword, and sometimes a lance, the usual armaments of all medieval Islamic armies.  The helmet on the right is also Turkish, decorated with calligraphy, in gold and silver.

Let’s not forget the weapons!  The really old swords, often recovered from graves and bogs, are usually pretty rusted and corroded.  This one is Chinese, from the Ming dynasty, about

1420, made for presentation to a Tibetan monastery (where it was kept in good shape).

The Mongol heavy cavalryman shown below wears lamellar armor, a standard from the

Composite bow and arrows 1200’s into the 1600’s, when it was replaced by mail and plate armor.  The Mongol’s principal weapon was the composite bow (shown on left), but many had lance and sword as well.

The late 1400’s (the time of King Richard III of Shakespeare fame) is a strength of this Armory – a time when knighthood flourished.  Knights were hired guns (on horseback) of lower nobility, who were paid with titles and land grants.  They formed the basis of most early medieval armies, along with the knights’ vassals (spearmen and cross-bow men) who were paid in land use (and pillage).  The earlier Norman mail evolved to plate armor, with impressive craftsmanship combining technical effectiveness and elegance.  National styles emerged in Europe, with Germany’s “Gothic” style (with ripple-like fluting reflecting current fashion) and Italy’s smooth rounded plates leading the way.  The armory has a significant collection from this time period.  Examples are shown below.

Bohemian soldier, late 1400'sThe ornate, sophisticated armor of the knights can be contrasted with that of their vassal soldiers, as illustrated by this Bohemian (now the Czech republic) spearman shown on the left.

Japanese laquered lamellar plate armor, mid 1500'sBy the mid 1500’s, Japanese armor had evolved significantly from the crude iron plate of the 1300’s that was shown earlier.  A sophisticated lamellar style of armor using iron plates that were lacquered black (picture on the right) emerged.  Although there are some obvious similarities, this Japanese armor makes quite a contrast with the full body armor of Europe!

Below are shown weapons from various countries, from about 1560.

Some other examples of armor from the mid 1500’s are shown below.

This suit of armor is believed to have been dark blue and gold.

During the 15th and 16th century  jousting reached a peak of popularity.  These were extreme and lavish sporting events bringing competitors from far and wide, organized to show royal or noble power.  Contestants, separated by a wall to prevent collisions, passed each other on the left side, so this side of their armor was more heavily reinforced.  The armor was heavy but only worn for short periods.  The jouster was locked in facing forward and the helmet was bolted to the breastplate to prevent the head from being forced back by a blow.  Like regular armor, there was a German style and an Italian style.  Examples are shown below.

The museum had quite a few exhibits from the 1600’s, many from other countries.  The armor of India was clearly behind the times; as shown in the pictures below, the armor resembles that shown for the Turkish cavalryman 200 years earlier.  The weaponry of the

Indian heavy cavalry, in addition to a cane shield, would have been diverse – combinations of the sword, composite bow, lance, mace, and saddle axe.  The helmet (below), from

the early 1600’s, was still in use when captured in 1799.  And the body armor, worn with shoulder straps, would make a Roman soldier cry.  What India did have, was a cavalry – shock troops – of elephants.  This is the only surviving elephant armor in a public collection, worldwide.

The armor of Japan and China were quite different in the 1600’s.  The Japanese armor of 1613, shown below,  has small lamellar plates covered in cloth.

The Chinese armor more closely resembles the clothes of the time and is similar to armor called “brigandine” in Europe.  It consists of a jacket of heavy fabric with separate sleeves, covered with embroidered silk and lined with numerous small tinned iron plates fastened by gilt rivets.  To this were added ornate shoulder guards and leg defenses.  This type of armor became the most common type in China during the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912).

I would be remiss if I did not speak of the Chinese influence on warfare – principally via inventions of the crossbow and, of course, gunpowder.  One of the great innovations in Repeating crossbow, China, 1800'smilitary technology was the crossbow, and in particular the cast bronze lock mechanism.  Excavated examples of early forms date from the Han period of Chinese rule (200 BC – 200 AD) (!!).  The crossbow continued to be an important weapon in China until the 1800’s.  Alas, I only took pictures of this intriguing weapon, the repeating crossbow from China, from a later date, the 1800’s.   The lever attached to the magazine top worked the crossbow by pump-action.

Gunpowder was a true revolution in warfare, but it took a while to become effective.   The recipe for gunpowder dates  back to 600 – 700 AD in China, although its adoption for military purposes came much later; 950 AD saw it being used in an exploding arrow and as a fire-lance, the immediate ancestor of the gun.  The fire-lance was a bamboo tube mounted on the end of a long pole and filled with gunpowder so that when ignited, it spat out flame.  Later versions added fragments of metal or porcelain or arrows.  The metal-barrelled cannon also came from China, cast in bronze about 1288 and in iron in 1338 AD.

Cannon were originally mounted on four-legged benches; wheeled carriages were introduced between 1300-1350 AD.  The “Silk gun”, above right, is bronze, bound with fiber and covered in silk.  Light and portable, these are often seen mounted on four-legged benches in Ming dynasty battle scenes.

Next we’ll look at examples of armor and weapons from Persia, India, China and Japan during the 1700’s.  Persian armor at this time still has simple hinged torso panels, 200 years after the development of fitted  suit armor in Europe!  The formidable-looking axe was designed to penetrate plate armor and mail.

Indian armor has changed considerably from what we saw in the 1600’s, as shown in the pictures below.

This type of armor was introduced to the Islamic world by the Mongols in the 1200’s.  The first picture above demonstrates the combination of quilted cotton fabric, mail and plate.  The remaining armors use multiple layers of cloth sewn tightly together and covered with a rich material, usually velvet, and decorated with patterns of small gilt nails, giving them the name “coat of a thousand nails”.  Large steel plates are set at strategic places.

By the late 1700’s Indian armor had changed again, reverting to a style much like that of the 1600’s (below).  By this time a large proportion of north Indian cavalry were armed with firearms such as matchlock muskets; perhaps the armor reverted in response?

In contrast, the armor of Japan and China changed little in the 1700’s.  In Japan, after the Tokugawa shoguns imposed peace in the early 1600’s, the military class was only expected to maintain readiness.  The armor shown below is from a middle-ranking samurai,

the armor based on the practical styles developed during the Japanese civil wars of the 1500’s.  Note the similarity with the armor of 1613 shown earlier.

Similarly, there is little change in China’s lamellar armor, shown below.  The first image shows armor for a cavalryman (1736-1795) consisting of a sleeveless vest of embroidered cotton lined with tinned iron plates, shoulder guards, a groin defense, and defense for the legs.  Note the visible overlapping iron plates on the leg recalling earlier lamellar armor.  The next image shows typical leather lamellar armor from western China, also from the 1700’s.  The rawhide is heavily lacquered.  Similar leather lamellae have been excavated in China from 500 AD (!), demonstrating the long period of use of this form of armor.  A surviving photograph shows this coat still in use in the early 1900’s!

Finally (finally!) we end this study of weaponry with the early 1800’s.  I find it amazing that this type of armor was still being used, although the examples in the Armory were from Persia and India.  The Persian armor is similar to that of the 1700’s, as shown below.

The armor of India seems even more regressive, although the weapons are incredibly ornate.

Pistol shield, India, mid 1800'sOne interesting weapon from India is this pistol shield from the mid 1800’s.  The 4 pistols built into this shield were discharged two at a time by means of two triggers – after the muzzle covers were manually lifted.   The accuracy was apparently poor, and best used with the shield touching or almost touching the opponent.


Wow!  This post was a lot of hard work, extracting the evolution of weapons and armor from what’s available in the Royal Armory.  If you are still reading this oh-so-long post, my hat is off to you!  I did find the toil to be nevertheless interesting – hope you did too.

Next post – and last from Leeds – the Harewood mansion, a masterpiece of Georgian architecture, but even more, a mind-boggling view of aristocratic extravagance.