Samurai armour at Snowshill Manor
This Japanese samurai armour at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire was designed to be highly distinctive and powerfully intimidating. With its scale-like metal plates, ‘horned’ helmet and complete face mask, it was devised to instil fear into enemy forces while providing excellent protection for the wearer.
This armour is part of a collection of some 39 suits of samurai armour acquired by Charles Wade, who gave his collection and home of Snowshill Manor to the National Trust in 1951.
Armour for peace time
This fine samurai armour was made in about 1830 in the Japanese province of Kaga, which was an important centre of armour production with its own styles and characteristic features. It was made in an era of enforced peace, when lords were required to spend half their time at the shogun’s (military dictator) court and put on impressive displays.
During this peaceful period the arts of lacquer, metalwork, and textiles reached extraordinary levels of artistic creativity, as demonstrated on this piece. These rich parade armours had no need to be practical as there was virtually no fighting at this time.
A brilliant show
The armour was made in Kaga province which was ruled by the wealth Maeda family. Up to 3,000 people were involved in the Maeda lord’s march to the shogun’s court. More than a thousand samurai, plus servants, would accompany him in procession. Colourful clothing was made specifically for these events and there was a competition to put on as brilliant a show as possible.
Characteric Kaga design
The body armour shows several very characteristic Kaga features; many of the plates, which make up sections of the armour, have their outer edges cut in an undulating outline with small V-shaped notches between. On the front of the armour is an applied decoration in embossed iron splashed with a silver alloy of a dragon curling around in a circle.
The armour bears the signature of mastre armourer, Kashu ju Munenao.
The sleeves and handguards are embossed with a variety of creatures including a snail, butterfly, crickets and dragonflies. At the top of the sleeve, the upper plate is joined in two places with butterfly shaped hinges – again a typical Kaga feature.
The armour was purchased by Charles Wade in Wymondham, Norfolk. The collection also includes some 39 suits of samurai armour (not all complete) and numerous weapons. The collection contains not only rich parade armours but also those intended for serious use by lower ranking members of the Samurai class.
Wade purchased Snowshill Manor in 1919 to house his growing collection which he continued to amass guided by his personal criteria of colour, design and craftsmanship.