Golden Fleece
on 16th Century


Stephen Herold

When the order of the Golden Fleece was established a set of collars was made for all original knights and issued to them with the requirement of return upon their death. At first the only authorized manner of wearing the order was to wear the collar at all times. It was a century later, under Charles V, that the daily wearing of the fleece alone was authorized, and this was the beginning of the bijou. The collars were of gold, and the holders of the order were knights subject to military service. Having a soft and valuable gold collar banging on steel armor would soon destroy the collar, so various expedients were made.

The exceptional collection in the Real Armería of the Spanish Patrimonio Nacional in Madrid holds an unequalled set of armor examples from Maximillian I, Philip I, Charles V and Philip II. These sets are of the highest quality and show the accepted style as worn by the sovereign of the order himself. This article is based on that collection.

Large bronze-gilt collars and fleeces were made for daily wearing and use with armor; a later version of one such can be seen in the 18th century Hispanic Fleece of the standing ram type from our insignia page (shown at upper left). Surviving paintings indicate that the collar, too, was sometimes worn with armor. An example is the tapestry in the Patrimonio Nacional showing Charles V reviewing his army on its way to the seige of Tunis (shown at right). As with the famous painting by Titian of Charles V on horseback in armor wearing a fleece, it shows the collar worn over armor. Admittedly this was only a formal display parade where one might wear one’s best, but it seems based on fact as the two artists responsible for the tapestry drawings accompanied the expedition. Another example is the painting of a young Philip II by Anthonis Mor, also shown at the right. Here Philip wears only the fleece on a red ribbon as authorized by his father, but over armor. We also might comment that both these paintings, even idealized as they might be, clearly show the mis-shaped jaw that afflicted the family for generations (discussed on our Habsburg jaw page).

Our first armor example is a set of Philip I, the Fair, made c. 1500 by an Italian armorer working at the Burgundian court, likely Martin Rondelle (Inv. A II). It has a collar of the Golden Fleece etched on the breastplate, although the bottom part of the fleece is covered by the lower half of the sbreastplate. The collar elements are highly stylized, and the etcher may never have seen a real example. The Fleece is of the narrow, hanging sheepskin-like type that alternated with the standing ram type in the early period of the Golden Fleece. Traces of gilding remain, but this set of armor seems to have been worn and used in battle or jousts, and it has the marks and dings of great age.

When we move on to Charles V (Charles I of Spain) we have contemporary armor from throughout his reign. The first is a set likely dating to 1518 and the festivities surrounding the arrival of Charles to Spain, but before his election as Emperor (Inv. A 37). It is attributed to Kolman Helmschmid of Augsburg, a famous armorer who was in Imperial favor. The armor has a fleece etched at the top of the breast plate that is very similar to the one in the next example, but it is too covered by the decorated targe shown at the right to be easily seen. The targe is decorated with a diaper pattern and Burgundian firesteels as used on the fleece collar and later bijou. Perhaps the most imteresting part in this richly decorated suit of armor is the top of the horses chanfron where two ram horns of the Golden Fleece itself are attached (shown below) as if the horse had horns itself. This is remiscent of the ancient world where totem animals and especially horns were worn on armor. This is the only example I know of where the sovereign of the Golden Fleece actually rode a (stylized) fleece in addition to wearing one.

The next example of armor of Charles V is from only a few years later around 1525 (Inv. A 19). It, too, has an etched hanging sheepskin fleece shown draped over a simple chain. This set is also attributed to Kolman Helmschmid of Augsburg and is known as the “KD armor” after the large, gilt “KD” on the left shoulder plate. From its cramped location the etched fleece may a later addition, especially as, unlike the earlier armor of Charles, the decorations contain no elements of the Fleece or Burgundian symbols. The entire suit of armor is shown in the illustration at the top of this page.

The Real Armerķa also has two more armor sets of Charles V without fleeces ( Inv. A 149 and A 93), the first horse armor, the horses bard coming from Maximillian I, and the second tonlet armor for the foot tourney.

This then brings us to one of the finest armorial fleeces of all, the steel and gold parade helmet of Charles V (Inv. D1). The helmet (shown at right) has gilded hair curls and an elaborate gilt beard. The curls are described in the old Spanish register as “like those on the Golden Fleece” and show how closely the fleece and Charles were connected. At the bottom is a chased and engraved collar of the standing ram style (shown in detail below). Interestingly, the collar is only found on the front half of the neckpiece, with an arabesque design on the back half. This is original in the design as the edging border is the same on both pieces.

It is dated to 1553 and was made by Filippo Fegroli of Milan. Filippo and his brother Francesco were leading masters of the all’antica style of armor using ancient motifs and figures. Their employment by Charles V shows how immersed Charles was in the sprit of the Renaissance and its Classical roots, despite his conservative nature and his life in reactionary Spain. This helmet is connected with a magnificent parade shield (Inv. D 2) in steel and gold that bears no fleece, but does have the Burgundian firesteel and ragged staff elements on its edge (shown below at bottom), as well as Charles’ personal badges of the imperial double eagle and pillars of Hercules.

The crossed ragged staff of Burgundy and the firesteel on the edge of Charles’ parade shield.

Finally we come to the parade armor of Philip II (Inv. A 239-242) where Classical motifs continue, even as we approach the Baroque, but the imagry is now more closely related to the Habsburgs and their family iconography. The chased, engraved and gilt collar is shown at the left, and it is worthy collar in any era. What is most interesting is that it is repeated, in differing completeness, on each of the five pieces of the neck so that it shows no matter how the armor articulates. The armor was made by Desiderius Helmschmid of Augsburg, and the gilding was by Jörg Sigman of the same city. It is dated to 1549-50 and 1552, a time when Philip was still crown prince. His arms on the horse chanfron shown below, still show the differentiating bar of a son that he will keep until his father’s death at the end of the decade.

In this set the horse armor also has a fine fleece on the top of the chanfron where we find another collar that surrounds Philip‘s coat of arms, a style we will see ever after with Imperial arms (shown at left).

From this time onward the etching of orders as well decoration on armor is general until formal armor goes out of fashion in the middle of the 18th century. Thus we see that the difficulty of collars banging to pieces on armor was quickly solved by application of the usual decorative techniques of etching and chasing.

For corrections or additions please contact Stephen Herold.

Copyright © 2004 by La Confrérie Amicale.

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