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RS helps unveil the secrets of Henry V’s sword at Westminster Abbey

05 October 2021

RS Components (RS), has assisted a team of scientific investigators from The Wallace Collection in London, in carrying out tests on Henry V’s sword at his tomb in Westminster Abbey.

The mission was in association with the Collections team at Westminster Abbey – by courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster – for which RS loaned a specific hardness testing product to help the investigators ascertain whether the sword was a ceremonial piece or a real fighting sword.
A non-invasive, non-destructive means of analysing the sword’s metal was required, to ascertain the integrity of the blade and hilt. This was to provide results to be published in a book about King Henry V’s achievements, which will be released to coincide with the impending occasion of the 600th anniversary of his death in October 1422, and subsequent funeral at the Abbey in November 1422. 

A two-person ‘Arms-&-Armour’ scientific team from the Wallace Collection – supervised by a curator from the Abbey – carried out hand-held hardness tests on the sword in situ in the East Triforium of Westminster Abbey. They used the latest and most technologically advanced hardness tester, loaned by RS. 
Michael Lea, Global Category Manager RS Components, explained: “Of the large range of durometers and hardness testers RS stocks, for this application, it became apparent that the standard units which work by impacting the test surface would not be suitable for an item of historical importance.

“The Ultrasonic Hardness tester HO 2K (RS136-3473) produced by Sauter was the perfect device for this application, as it uses ultrasonic sound waves to measure the hardness. This negates any chance of damage to the item being tested. The measuring range was also ideal for measuring the hardness of steel.”

David Edge from the Wallace Collection said: “Prior to this testing, nothing had been known about the composition or quality of the sword’s metal. Although long associated with the tomb of Henry V in Westminster Abbey, even the sword’s history was uncertain. In form and style, it corresponds to a later date than 1422, the year of Henry V’s funeral, so it could even have been the funerary sword of Henry VII (d. 1509) instead. 
“While other techniques had been ruled out, non-invasive hardness-testing using an ultrasonic testing unit was the right approach, but our own instrument was very old and failed at the time we needed it. The equipment supplied by RS was an excellent replacement, and was able to shed light on the weapon’s metallurgy and quality. The tests proved that the sword was not a ceremonial piece at all but was indeed a fighting sword, with evidence of multiple sharpenings during use,” he added.
Louise Huxtable, UK Inventory liaison specialist at RS Components, said: “When we were approached by The Wallace Collection, which had discovered that we stocked a piece of testing equipment that could assist them in this research, we were happy to help and excited to be involved. 

“Whether or not the sword was ever wielded by Henry VII will probably never be known, but if so, it would be appropriate that his sword was evaluated using equipment supplied by RS, a firm based only forty miles from the site of his victory over Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. We are delighted to have played a part in helping to shed light on a little-known piece of our national history.”
Dr Susan Jenkins, Curator at Westminster Abbey, concluded. ”The Dean and Chapter of Westminster is grateful to RS Components for helping us to determine the composition of this important royal sword.  Without the generosity of RS Components in loaning us this piece of equipment, we would never have been able to say anything about the sword’s composition.”
The sword is currently on display in the Abbey’s new Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which opened to the public in 2018. A full account of the Funeral Achievements of Henry V (The Arms and Armour of Death: the Funeral Achievements of Henry V at Westminster Abbey) will be published in 2022 by Boydell Press with the Royal Armouries, to mark the 600th anniversary of the King’s funeral.

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