In full panoply

I am quite touchy about my vocabulary. Possibly that’s because I haven’t got much else to preen myself on. So it is with reluctance that I admit, I had to look panoply up. I had a vague feeling that it meant a vast and rather splendid array of things, which it does. What I didn’t appreciate was that panoply also refers to a full suit of armour.

I have only ever seen one suit of armour, in the flesh – if armour can be said to have flesh – as opposed to on TV, and that was Henry VIII’s armour at Leeds Castle. It was impossible to imagine that this metal object before your eyes actually once contained the living and breathing body of Britain’s most famous or infamous king.

A couple of things flashed through my mind when I saw it. The first – you’ve guessed it – was how on earth did he do number twos in a get-up like that? But presumably he took care to number two before he put it on. And the second was, how short he was. You tend to think of kings, especially loud scary kings, as huge great beasts, but this armour was almost as broad as it was high. He must have been, well, Fred Flintstone-shaped. I wonder whether he would have impressed the ladies quite so much if he hadn’t had been really rich, with the power to chop off their heads on a whim? At least he didn’t comb his hair over the bald patch.

It seems he liked Leeds Castle, and often visited it with his first wife Catherine of Aragon. He added an upper floor and decorated fireplaces with the royal arms and Spanish motifs, since Catherine was Spanish. He visited in 1520 with a huge retinue of 5,000 people (5,000!) and spent the night at the castle before going on to France for a ceremonial meeting with Francis I of France. This meeting later became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold because of the magnificence of all the tents. To impress the French (never easily impressed by anything British) he took with him venison from the Leeds estate, and butter from its dairies.

Well, all that from looking up a word!



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