Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Arms, Armour and Coins

In the year 1983 workmen digging a trench for a water pipe within the grounds of Ewenny Priory encountered an unusual sight, barely half a metre down a mass of corroded iron greeted them; they sensibly stopped digging and informed staff at Cardiff Museum who sent a small team of archaeologists to excavate and recover this curiosity.  

It would appear that this mass of corroded iron was nothing less than a cache of arms and armour dating to the middle of the 17th Century; the time of the English Civil War, a civil war that involved not only England but Wales, Scotland and Ireland; a curious and exciting discovery.  Buried last and covering most of the objects beneath it was an iron breast plate; the mechanical digger used to dig the water pipe trench accidentally damaged part of the breast plate, damage however was fortunately minimal.  Buried beneath the breast plate was a back plate, a helmet complete with visor, three silver coins, two pistols and a mass of unidentified corroded iron.  The whole cache was partially sealed with a layer of clay.

All the iron items exhibited severe corrosion, the pistols in particular were corroded so badly that only the barrels remained.  Careful analysis revealed that the helmet and breast plate were decorated with vertical rows of bronze studs and that the breast plate had in fact failed its proofing test (this test involved the maker shooting the armour at close range to ensure that it could resist the force of a musket ball) and exhibited severe fracturing where the musket ball had hit it.  Also extant in the cache were the remains tessets, which were a type of leg armour and a powder flask.  The helmet, identified as possibly being a burgonet helmet of foreign design, was old and obsolete by the time of the English Civil War as it dates to the 16th Century.  The three silver coins were all shillings of Charles I which were thought to have been concealed within the fabric of the armour.

(The breast-plate and tassets from Ewenny would have looked something like this before corrosion)

How and why did this cache of arms and armour come to be buried at Ewenny and who buried it?  It is thought that this collection of arms and armour belonged to a pike-man, and given the presence of the pistols most probably an officer.  At a time where, until the formation of the New Model Army, there was no standard issue of equipment, it is not surprising to see such a motley collection of armour in one assemblage.  The person who buried the cache however must have been in pretty desperate need of armour if he was willing to place his trust in a breast-plate that had failed its proofing test, a testament perhaps to the great want of such equipment at the time.

Why would an infantry officer choose to bury these items at Ewenny?  Ewenny at the time was in the possession of prominent royalist support Sir Edward Carne who was involved in several royalist insurgencies, for example, Sir Edward in February 1646 laid siege to Cardiff; however, terms were met with Parliamentary commander Major General Laugharne and things were seemingly resolved amicably.

Sir Edward it seems was not satisfied and soon was at it again, this time joining a Monmouthshire force and marching once again on Cardiff; captured at the Heath he was dealt with more harshly this time being sent to London and there imprisoned and heavily fined.  In fact, after this particular escapade all notable Royalist supporting Glamorgan gentry were heavily fined based upon their incomes. 

(Ewenny House, near the site of discovery)

It is unlikely that this cache of arms and armour belonged to Sir Edward himself, but most likely belonged to one of his supporters, who in fear of being implicated, accosted, fined or perhaps even killed, decided to quite literally bury his past sometime in the post 1646 period, perhaps after the uprising lead by Sir Edward that very year.  It is highly likely that these items were buried with the intention of never being recovered; who exactly these arms, armour and coins belonged to we will probably never know.  

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