When nobles travelled in the Middle Ages, their linen and other valuables were packed in large chests carried on men’s shoulders or on the backs of horses. When Henry the VIII moved from Hampton Court to Whitehall, carts were hired to bring his travelling bags and on their arrival in London a special house was set apart to contain them. Smaller travelling chests at that time were known as ‘trussing coffers’, and for these ‘cuir bouilli’, or boiled ox-hide, was a favourite covering to protect them from rain and damp. The leather, first prepared in oil and spirit, was sometimes incised with a pattern and then painted or gilded. When Queen Elizabeth I moved from one palace to another she was accompanied by 400 to 600 carts laden with chests of this description.
The Victoria and Albert Museum in London holds a fine example of a travelling trunk covered with gilt and stamped leather bearing the Tudor Royal Coat of Arms and cypher E.R., precursor of initials as a decorative element and as a trademark signature. The front panel opens to show the interior, still with its original silk lining. The drawer-fronts are decorated with Tudor Roses within a floral band. Originally the entire outside of the chest was covered with leather, making it waterproof. ‘ER’ probably relates to King Edward VI (1537-1553) because the style of the Arms, the gold tooled ornament and the use of a lozenge within a rectangle resembles bookbinding dating from the reigns of Edward VI and Queen Mary (1516-1558). By the XVIth century the interior of expensive travelling trunks for small objects and documents were fitted with many drawers and trays. Some had a hidden drop front to stealthily provide access to its contents. Others had elaborate key-hole escutcheons as well as locks and iron bands under the base of the coffer, providing extra security for its many travelling secrets.