Thursday, November 02, 2006

R. Ewart Oakeshott

Last one for tonight.

R. E. Oakeshott was credited as the author and artist of a feature in Swift Annual 1963 (1962), 'The Stories of Arthur', co-illustrated with Robert Hodgson. It was actually a 2-page text feature with a 4-page colour section splitting the two pages. Hodgson illustrated the first and fourth page, leaving Oakeshott a centre-spread to produce a game entitled 'The Quest for the Holy Grail'. The game has squares where "You overcome the Knight at the Bridge. Take 2 extra turns" and "You Knights Who Say 'Ni!' reject your shrubbery. Miss a turn." That kind of thing.

Ronald Ewart Oakeshott was born on 25 May 1916 and, surprise, surprise, actually has an entry on Wikipedia which has some brief biographical details. Oakeshott was a widely recognised authority on Medieval swords, having first been introduced to sword collecting by his mother's brother, author Jeffrey Farnol. His father was also interested in history and these two passions stayed with Oakeshott his entire life. According to an interview, Oakeshott acquired his first sword in 1931 and, later, during World War II, Sotheby's "sold weapons for pennies, there were thousands of swords then. In the 1950s this continued and they were reasonable prices. I remember I spent all my money on them. I would save up for them." After years of buying, selling and trading, he reduced his collection to about 40 swords in later years.

The son of a civil servant, Oakeshott had attended Dulwich College Preparatory School (1923-28) and Dulwich College (1928-32) before attending the Central School of Art (1932-36) where he obtained his Art Teacher's Diploma.

He worked as a commercial artist at Carlton Studios, London (1936-38) before joining A. E. Johnson, the artists' agency. He served with the Navy during the Second World War until being invalided out and hospitalised. He rejoined A. E. Johnson in 1945, and became a director, eventually winding up the firm in 1960 after which he freelanced as a writer and illustrator and, occasionally, teaching and lecturing.

In 1948 he was one of the founding members of the Arms and Armour Society and held several positions with the Society over the yars, including President in 1951. He studied swords minutely, including the sword of Henry V at Westminster Abbey and viking swords held by the British Museum, publishing articles on his findings in The Antiquaries Journal and The Connoisseur. In 1951, he won the Reginald Taylor Prize for the best essay by the British Archaeological Association.

Apart from acting as a consultant to various museums and private collectors, Oakeshott also catalogued the collection of arms and armour at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. In 1964 he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

His books have become standards on their subject matter, some remaining in print for many years. He continued to write until his death, on 30 September 2002, at Ely, Cambridgeshire, aged 86. Oakeshott was married twice, having a son and daughter by his first wife. His second marriage was to novelist Sybil Marshall, best known as the author of The Fenland Chronicles.

An obituary in the Daily Telegraph (12 October 2002) described Oakeshott as "only a little of 5 ft tall and ... always smartly dressed. He was generous with his time and welcomed to his home in Cambridgeshire visiting enthusiasts and scholars from around the world. One recent visitor recalled with amazement being served a piece of quiche sliced with a Bronze Age daggar." His collection was bequeathed to The Oakshott Institute of Arms and Armour in Minneapolis as he had been unable to find a museum in Britain with the space to keep the collection on permanent display while at the same time honouring his request that the weapons should not just be seen but available to the public to be handled and used. Oakeshott also developed (following the work of Dr. Jan Peterson and others) a typology for medieval and early renaissance swords which is still used today.

The archaeology of Weapons. Arms and armour from pre-history to the age of chivalry, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1960.
A Knight and His Armour, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1961.
A Knight and His Horse, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1962.
Fighting Men. How men have fought through the ages, with Henry Treece; illus. Ewart Oakeshott. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1963.
A Knight and His Weapons, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1964.
The Sword in the Age of Chivalry, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1964.
A Knight and His Castle, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1965.
Adventures in Battle (series):
__1 Hastings. London, Ian Allan, 1966.
The Blindfold Game. 'The Day' at Jutland, illus. the author. Oxford, Pergamon, 1969.
A Knight in Battle, illus. the author. London, Lutterworth Press, 1971.
Arms and Armour, with additional illustrations by Donald Green. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1973.
Dark Age Warrior. Guildford, Lutterworth Press, 1974.
European Weapons and Armour. From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, illus. the author. Guildford, Lutterworth Press, 1980.
Records of the Medieval Sword. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press, 1998.
Sword in Hand. Arms & Armor Inc., 2001.

The Golden Age of Northumbria, by H. Ellis Davidson; illus. R. Ewart Oakeshott. London, Longmans, 1958.
The Vikings, by G. L. Proctor; illus. R. Ewart Oakeshott. London, Longman, 1959.
The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England, by Hilda Ellis Davidson; illus. Ewart Oakeshott. Oxford University Press, 1962; revised, Woodbridge Suffolk, Boydell Press, 1994.
The Romans, by Alfred Duggan; illus. Ewart Oakeshott. Leicester, Brockhampton Press, 1965.
Fenland Chronicle. Recollections of William Henry and Kate Mary Edwards, collected and edited by their daughter Sybil Marshall; illus. Ewart Oakeshott. Cambridge, University Press, 1967.
Sound of Battle, ed. Leonard Clark; illus. Ewart Oakeshott. Oxford, Pergamon, 1969.
Tales of King Robert the Bruce. Freely adapted from 'The Brus' of John Barbour (14th Century), by Tom Scott; illus. Ewart Oakeshott. Edinburgh, Reprographia, 1975.

Swords of the Viking Age. Catalogue of examples, compiled and described by Ian G. Peirce; introduced by Ewart Oakeshott. Woodbridge, Suffolk, Boydell Press, 2002.

1 comment:

  1. Margaret Baker26 Aug 2011, 19:06:00

    R. Ewart Oakeshott made himself a suit of armour which was sometimes used to publicise his children's books but mainly when he gave lectures to children who were ecstatic when a man in armour strode in. Librarians were sometimes astounded when he removed his trousers in their offices to reveal his leg armour.

    When I was on holiday near Turin I went to the museum to photograph a sword for him. I am a little peeved that my photo credit has been removed from the current edition of The Sword in the Age of Chivalry and that no one has corrected misreadings of an Old French quote.



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