The Armada Service

London, England, AD 1581-1601

The service comprises a set of twenty-six parcel gilt (partly gilt) dishes, each engraved on the rim with the arms of Sir Christopher Harris (about 1553-1625) of Radford, Devon, and his wife, Mary Sydenham.

The aristocratic classes and wealthy gentry in Elizabethan England would have used serving dishes like this on formal occasions. The dishes held sauces and broths, but could also be used to keep food warm: the smaller dishes can be upturned and used as covers for the larger ones. Functional items of gold and silver of this date rarely survive, as they would be melted down for their monetary value or made into newer, more fashionable pieces. This important set is a unique survival of English dining silver.

The set is known as the 'Armada Service' because of a long tradition that it was made from New World silver captured from Spanish treasure ships. There is no proof for this theory. Sir Christopher Harris did, however, work for Sir Walter Raleigh in Devon and Cornwall as an Admiralty official during the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604), and acquired these dishes between 1581 and 1602. The dishes therefore represent the profits of his office. The later history of the set is unusual: it was discovered by farm labourers in 1827 and returned to the descendants of the Harris family, who claimed it had been deliberately hidden to avoid loss during the Civil War (1642-51).

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More information


D. Thornton, 'The Armada Service', British Museum Magazine: th-15 (Spring 1993)

D. Thornton and M. Cowell, 'The Armada Service: A set of Late Tudor dining silver', The Antiquaries Journal-6 (1996), pp. 153-180

D. Thornton, 'The Armada Service', Apollo-1 (January 1993), p. 49


Diameter: 121.000 mm (min.)
Diameter: 121.000 mm (min.)
Weight: 116.300 g (min.)
Weight: 116.300 g (min.)

Museum number

M&ME 1992,6-14,1-26


Purchased with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund


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