State gifts are pretty strange

The giving of gifts between heads of state is one of those crazy things. Sometimes you get some local curios, sometimes you get an island or two. I don’t think they do the island thing any more, but what do I know? 

If you’re getting a state gift from Japan, there’s a nonzero chance you’re going to get a nice suit of armour. There is (or was) a pretty cool one in the V&A which was someone’s gift to Queen Victoria. I’m not quite sure what they expected her to do with it, but I don’t think you’re supposed to do anything with a state gift? 

When I was at the Tower of London with my wife’s family, I saw this suit, which has quite an interesting backstory: 

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Now, this isn’t a very good photo, but you can find a nicer one here, together with some history. This armour was given to King James I in 1613, I believe to mark a trade agreement between Britain and Japan. However, it was already pretty old. The shogun at the time, Tokugawa Hidetada, had inherited it. It was actually a souvenir from the battle of Nagashino in 1575, and it had once belonged to Takeda Katsuyori, son of the legendary Takeda Shingen. It got reworked a bit by Tokugawa Ieyasu’s armourer and was then sent off as a prestige gift. 

Now, that’s interesting enough on its own: already decades old, this armour had a pretty long path from being made for the Takeda clan to being picked up by the victorious Tokugawa before being sent all the hell the way off to England. 

What’s even weirder is that apparently, by the 1660s, this thing was on display in the Tower as “a gift from the Grand Mogul.” Obviously, there’d been a lot of upheavals in the British government during that time, but it’s fascinating that they had completely forgotten what it was or where it was from. I wonder if they just looked at it and went “er … India?”

I wonder who was the person who looked at this thing in whatever cupboard it was eventually stashed in and went “haaaaang on…”. 

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State gifts are pretty strange

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