Erik XIV's Suit of Armour
An insight into one of the Royal Armoury’s more exclusive artefacts
King Eric XIV rode into Stockholm in 1564 after a successful war against Denmark. The triumphal procession of soldiers, spoils of war and prisoners of war was lined with woven wallpaper, fireworks and crowds of people. And there was much else besides, both shooting and other things, which do not have to be repeated and described here now, as the historian Erik Jöransson Tegel would write later.
In the triumphal procession, the King rode an armoured horse, clad in a richly ornate armour. The armour was not intended primarily for combat, but was made to impress.
Several craftsmen had worked together to manufacture the armour. A cuirass maker in Arboga forged it. The decorations were produced in Antwerp. An artist drew the pattern and the goldsmith Eliseus Libaerts carved the reliefs, created patterns and inlaid gold ornaments.
You can take a closer look at the different parts here.
On the right-hand side of the visor, the hero Hercules is depicted with his club and lion-skin cloak. The visor is the lower part of the helmet that protects the jaw. There are different interpretations of what is depicted on the left-hand side of the visor. One theory is that what we see here is the goddess Juno breastfeeding Hercules. In Roman mythology, Jupiter had Hercules breastfeed from a sleeping Juno. When she woke up and pushed Hercules away, the Milky Way was formed by the milk that was spilled. The adult male could be the adult Hercules drinking from a drinking horn. That idea is contradicted by the fact that you do not drink from the narrow end of a drinking horn. Furthermore, the shape is unusual and resembles a shell rather than a horn.
Parts of the armour that protect the shoulder area of the body. Adorned here with the Vasa coat of arms, the Folkunga lion and winged heads of Medusa. The Folkunga lion is an upright lion wearing a crown, and has been part of the Swedish coat of arms since 1448. By featuring the Folkunga lion, Erik wanted to associate himself with former kings. The Vasakärven family coat of arms can be seen to the left of the lion on a shield, and on the right you can see, among other things, three crowns.
A woman is depicted in each of the oval cartouches. One woman is holding a lance and a Medusa shield, symbols of her being the goddess of war and wisdom, Minerva. The woman on the left, like the goddess Juno, is wearing a veil and carrying a sceptre, although her war attire does not match that of Juno. But the crowns that the women are wearing suggest that they are queens. One theory is that they are Amazon queens. According to Greek mythology, the Amazons were female warriors who lived in Asia Minor. They lived in a female society closed to men, and were feared warriors who cut off their right breasts so they could handle bows more easily.
The snake-like figure is a dolphin. On the actual knee cap itself there is an imaginative, rather scary face. This is a so-called mascaron. There are several mascarons adorning the armour. They have been popular decorations over many different eras.
In the oval cartouche on the spine lies a tormented Hercules, supported by his club and enveloped in flames. Hercules had dressed in a tunic poisoned by the blood of the centaur Nessus. The tunic stuck to his skin, causing terrible agony. Because of the pain, he had a bonfire erected on which he himself would be burned to death. But the fire only killed his human side, which resulted in him being welcomed into the kingdom of heaven as a god.
The elbow guards are adorned with Neptune’s trident and two fish-like creatures. Neptune was the god of the sea and Jupiter’s brother. The double moon-shaped faces at the top of the shoulder might represent a mask of Janus. The Roman god Janus controlled the gates of heavenly light and is depicted with two faces. One looks into the future, and the other looks back into the past. Janus was god of beginnings, transitions, passages, and endings.