Samuel Rush Meyrick

Samuel Rush Meyrick was born 16 August 1783 to John and Hannah. His father had been an officer in the Honourable Artillery Company and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. Samuel inherited from his father his love of military ceremonial, archery and collecting antiquities including arms and armour. His father’s collecting interests were quite influential on Samuel’s career. Samuel Rush Meyrick is considered to be the founding father of the systematic study of arms and armour.

Samuel was educated at Queens College at Oxford. He graduated with a BA in 1804, with a MA/Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) in 1810 and finally with a Doctor in Civil Law (DCL) in 1811. Samuel practiced as an advocate in ecclesiastical and admiralty courts. This job was similar to that of a barrister or counsel, advocates also received income from their probate work and marriage licenses.

In 1803 Samuel eloped to Wales with Mary Parry, much to his parents disapproval. They considered Mary to be a social nobody and there was a bit of a scandal in Mary’s family history. Mary’s father had been found guilty of manslaughter, and was not wealthy. Samuel’s father had great hopes for Samuel’s future, including marriage into the aristocracy. Samuel was cut out of his father’s will, and he provided Samuel with a small allowance. His father’s estate was left to Samuel’s children when he died in 1805. Samuel and Mary would have only one son, Llewellyn.

Samuel was elected Fellow to the Society of Antiquities in 1810. During this same year he published History and Antiquities of the County of Cardigan. This book proved valuable for describing archaeological features, which have disappeared. The book contains a number of etchings from Samuel’s original drawings.

Samuel’s interest in armour had taken a backseat during his years of research in Wales. But was reawakened with his collaboration with Captain Charles Hamilton Smith. In 1815 Charles and Samuel produced Costume of the original inhabitants of the British Islands from the earliest periods to the 6th century; to which is added that of the Gothic Nations on the Western Coast of the Baltic, the Ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons and Anglo-Danes. Smith provided the illustrations and Samuel provided historical descriptions.

Samuel’s son Llewellyn had inherited the items from John Meyrick’s estate that Hannah did not want. Samuel also acquired many additional objects for him. In 1815, when Llewellyn was 11 a catalogue of his collection was written in an exercise book. The collection included items from the islands around the Pacific, spears, bows and arrows, shields and tattooing instruments, and a number of scimitars and daggers from the Orient. Other armour included three iron helmets, a barbed dagger, swords, various spurs and bits of 17th century armour and a suit of armour of the time of James I. The majority of these items provided the foundation for the Meyrick Collection.

In 1818 Samuel’s wife Mary died, and this was followed by some major acquisitions. Domenic Colnaghi was the son of Paul Colnaghi (publishers of Charles Hamilton Smith’s works on uniforms and costumes) and Samuel knew them both quite well. Domenic set off around Europe to purchase art and antiquities as bargain prices were to be had after Napoleon’s fall. Domenic came back loaded with arms and armour and he asked Samuel to make a catalogue of his collection. Following this the Colnaghis experienced financial difficulties and needed to raise money by selling off their armour collection and Samuel was only too willing to buy. His purchase of the Colnaghi collection now put the Meyrick collection into a different league.

Before Meyrick started his systematic study of the chronological development of arms and armour, there were few published works on the subject. 1824 saw the completion of his great work, the 3 volume A critical enquiry into antient armour as it existed in Europe, but particularly in England, from the Norman conquest to the reign of King Charles II, with a glossary of military terms of the middle ages. The book was illustrated in colour with Samuel’s paintings and was beautifully gilded. The book solidified his reputation as an authority in the study of arms and armour. With the publication of this book Samuel hoped to rectify some historical inaccuracies that found their way to the displays of armour in the Tower of London and other collections.

Samuel wrote to the Duke of Wellington in November 1821 concerning the state of the armour in the Tower of London, commenting on the lighting and the size of the rooms where the armour was displayed. He also proposed some changes to the Line of Kings. He also suggested a gothic style building when the new Horse Armoury was built against the White Tower, and the building work was completed in 1826. After his many suggestions and offers of gratuitous assistance, he was consulted by The Tower of London to arrange the national collection of arms and amour in 1826. He managed to revise the Line of Kings into chronological sequence, but the rearrangement had not gone as well as he had hoped. Samuel wanted to go on record that he had nothing to do with the Spanish Armoury or the Queen Elizabeth display. His objections to the display of the Spanish Armoury paid off as it was eventually reorganised and renamed the Asiatic Armoury.

Sir Walter Scott suggested that Samuel make drawings of all the best pieces in his collection. These were engraved by Joseph Skelton and Samuel wrote the descriptions, originally entitled Engraved Illustrations of antient Arms and Armour, from the collection of Llewellyn Meyrick Esq. LL.B. and F.S.A. This work was published in parts from 1826, but is usually dated 1830. The work was not written in a chronological scheme, but it was organised by different categories of arms and armour.

Samuel’s home, Goodrich Court was built between 1828 and 1831. The mansion was to house the Meyrick collection of arms and armour. He fell in love with Goodrich Castle in the early 1820’s, and he wanted to restore it as a medieval setting for his collection. After failing to buy Goodrich Castle he built Goodrich Court nearby. The site of Goodrich Court was desirable because it was within an overnight coach journey from London which allowed friends and students of arms and armour easy access to the collection. The armoury at Goodrich was designed to house the most spectacular part of the Meyrick Collection. It was an enormous room with natural lighting coming from great overhead skylights and a round window on the east wall

In 1828 at King George IV’s request he rearranged the collection of armour at Windsor Castle. The rearrangement of the armour at Windsor was not meant to be chronological or instructive, but decorative. Although the work at Windsor was rewarding it was a distraction from Samuel’s interest in the construction of his mansion at Goodrich. Samuel was knighted in 1832 for his work at Windsor Castle and the Tower of London. Also in this year his mother, Hannah Meyrick died without a will. Her estate was passed on to her only son, Samuel. At long last there were more funds available to add to the famous Meyrick collection. One of these acquisitions was the dress of a mounted rajah brought from India.

In 1834 he served as high sheriff of Herfordshire. His year in office will be remembered by the resurrection of the custom of javelin men accompanying the Sheriff, who escorted the judges. Meyrick designed the costumes himself in the style of the time of Henry VIII. During this same year Francis Douce bequeathed him part of his museum, this mainly consisted of ivories and carvings in ivory. Meyrick furnished a catalogue of this collection to Gentleman’s Magazine in 1836.

In 1837 Samuel’s main concern was the health of his son, Llewellyn. His son had health problems since the early 1820’s. Llewellyn died in February 1837 at the early age of 32. Llewellyn left no will, which meant that Samuel inherited Llewellyn’s estate. Samuel in turn would leave his estate to a distant cousin, Augustus Meyrick.

In his later years Samuel’s interest returned to his ‘welshness’ and in January 1838 Samuel set off for a tour around South Wales. In 1839 Samuel was to be the editor of a collection of the genealogies of Welsh and Marches families made by Lewys Dwnn. Samuel hoped to make Dwnn’s works as interesting as possible by using historical footnotes and commentaries on the genealogies. His last important work was his edition of Heraldic Visitations of Wales and Part of the Marches between the years 1586 and 1613 under the authority of Clarencieux and Norroy by Lewys Dwnn was finally published in 1846.

Samuel Rush Meyrick died in April 1848. Augustus Meyrick inherited his estate and in 1869 he wanted to sell Goodrich Court and the collection was exhibited at the new South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). At the end of three years Augustus offered it to the government but the government declined. The best pieces were sold and the less important pieces were given to the British Museum. Some buyers bequeathed their pieces to the British Museum. Many pieces were bought by Frederic Spitzer, a French dealer and in turn were purchased by Richard Wallace, the founder of the Wallace Collection. Many Meyrick items can be seen at Hertford House where there is a Meyrick research archive.

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