Royal Armouries

Henry VIII in the Line of Kings

Images

colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

  • Silvered and engraved armour of Henry VIII

  • monochrome photo of a collar designed for torture

    Torture collar. (XV.4)

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's fully encasing armour holding a wooden pole

    Armour of King Henry VIII. (II.6)

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's armour with tonlet skirt holding a 2-handed sword

    Armour of King Henry VIII. (II.7)

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's full-length armour

    Armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • colour photo of a full-length armour with decorated banding

    Armour used for the figure of George II in the Line of Kings 1768 -1826. English, Greenwich, about 1560 (II.82)

  • monochrome engraving of an armour with a helmet with curly horns

    The figure of Will Somers engraved in 1794

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Charles I in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Henry VIII in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King James II in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's armour with decorated banding

    Armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • pen and ink sketch of a man in a fur hat

    Portrait of Lodewijk Huygens, ink drawing by Constantijn Huygens II, 6 November 1669 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • colour portrait of a man sitting at a desk holding a book

    Portrait of William Hutton by an unknown artist, about 1780 © Birmingham Museums Trust

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Edward III

    Carved wooden head of Edward III. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.41)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.40)

  • watercolour detail showing the figure of a king in armour on a horse

    Figure of William the Conqueror, detail from a watercolour of the Line of Kings. Early 19th century (I.69 )

Henry VIII in the Line of Kings

Description

Henry VIII has cast a long shadow over the Tower of London. Alongside the many prisoners and executions during his reign, the continual display of his armour since the seventeenth century has ensured his physical presence has been seen and felt by visitors over the centuries.

In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, foreign dignitaries would be shown around the Tower and the exhibition of royal armour was as much a show of strength and prestige as the collections of weapons. In 1652, three years after the execution of Charles I, an account of his visit written by Lodewijck Huygens, a Dutch civil servant, mentioned seeing two of Henry VIII’s armours, however he describes them as being ‘not very costly’. The Duke of Tuscany had a similar feeling when shown round the Tower in 1669, after the Restoration, dismissing Henry VIII’s arms as amongst a collection that was ‘neither very numerous nor very valuable’.

It seems that some foreign visitors could be hard to impress, but forty years later the German scholar Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach found the display of armour ‘remarkable’. Noting the full-sized wooden figures with ‘faces painted in colours from life’ he found Henry VIII’s armour of a ‘prodigious size’. Uffenbach was not the only visitor to be struck by Henry’s presence and pins had been stuck in the red velvet lining of the armour for visitors to take. These were not just souvenirs but charms to protect against impotency and barrenness.

By 1768 the Tower guidebook noted that the figure of Henry VIII was ‘in his own proper armour’ which denoted that amongst the Line of Kings this was one of the few armours that the Ordnance staff knew had belonged to a particular king. The guidebook also confirmed what Uffenbach insinuated that the armour used in the Line of King’s was Henry’s field and tournament armour made in 1540. This would have been an older and larger Henry, compared to the man for whom the Foot combat and Tonlet armours were made in 1520.

However, regardless of the size of his armour, Henry’s reputation was never far away. Visiting in 1785, William Hutton described him ‘as much a monster, as when he ordered the execution of the Earl of Surry, but not quite so mischievous’. By the turn of the nineteenth century the guidebooks played more on the merciless reputation of Henry VIII describing his reign as ‘stained with acts of cruelty, the divorce and murder of his wives, &c.’.

The re-display of armour in the early nineteenth century brought a more academic feel to the display and an increased knowledge of the collection. In 1827 the Morning Post celebrated the discovery by Dr Meyrick of an armour given to Henry as a present on his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Once again the display of Henry’s genuine armour was highlighted for the increasing numbers of visitors to appreciate. Though with the greater numbers the guidebooks seemed to take on an increasingly dramatic flair in their historical descriptions, declaring that during the reign of Henry VIII ‘never was the headsman’s office more recklessly called into requisition than during this reign of terror – the scaffold and the block reeked with blood!’.

The twentieth century saw a continuation of the celebration of Henry’s armour; a guidebook published in 1913 proudly presented Henry’s armours amongst the Line of Kings, and even more recently the Royal Armouries have curated exhibitions, including Dressed to Kill, focusing on Henry and his armour. It is unsurprising that such a formidable figure continues to make such an imposing impression and features prominently in the latest Line of Kings display.

Related Objects

The Silvered and Engraved Armour of Henry VIII Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1515 | Object number: II.5, VI.1–5

The 1540 Armour of King Henry VIII Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1540 | Object number: II.8, VI.13

Armour of King Henry VIII Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1539 | Object number: Formerly II.9

Will Somers’ Breastplate Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: III.157

Iron Collar Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1547 | Object number: xv.4

Henry VIII (reigned1509-47) Click on the title link above to find out more.

Clinton: Unassuming Success Click on the title link above to find out more.

Charles I in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Henry VII in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Lodewijk Huygens’ Visit to the Tower of London, 1652 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Foot combat armour of Henry VIII Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Hutton’s account of the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

James II in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

William the Conqueror in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Wooden Heads: an Introduction Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Schellinks at the Tower in 1661 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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