Royal Armouries

Marmaduke Townson and the Horse Armoury

Images

monochrome pencil and ink sketch of a line of armoured figures on horseback

The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century

  • monochrome pencil and ink sketch of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century

  • 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 Edward III

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

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry V

    Carved wooden head of Henry V. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.44)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VI

    Carved wooden head of Henry VI. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.43)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VII

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

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of James I

    Carved wooden head of James I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.47)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of William I

    Carved wooden head of William I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.777)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse against a stone wall

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.10)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.11)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.12)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.14)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.16)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1865-90 (XVII.17)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.18)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.30)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.7)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.8)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

Marmaduke Townson and the Horse Armoury

Description

In 1688 many craftsmen became involved in the development of a new, expanded and improved Line of Kings display. This was the result of the Office of Ordnance having to remove its existing Horse Armoury exhibition so that the Tower’s old Long Storehouses could be demolished and replaced by the Grand Storehouse. However, rather than having a room in the new Grand Storehouse when it was finished, the Horse Armoury’s new home would be the first floor of the New Store-house (now called the New Armouries). The centrepiece of the new display was to be a line of life-sized wooden horses, each bearing the armoured figure of a king. It was decided to buy a complete new set of carved horses and figures with kings’ faces, with the exception of the carvings made by Grinling Gibbons in 1685-86. To complete the task, the Board of Ordnance turned to a variety of artists and craftsmen, including Marmaduke Townson.

Gibbons had supplied a horse and figure of Charles II in 1685 and one of Charles I in 1686 at a price of £40 each. However, in 1688 the Board did not turn to Gibbons, the leading woodcarver in England, but instead issued contracts for varying numbers of wooden horses and figures with kings’ faces to Townson and four other craftsmen: Thomas Quellin(us), William Emmett, William Morgan and John Nost I. Between them these five carvers and sculptors made seventeen wooden horses and figures for the Line: several of the heads with faces survive and about half of the horses.

Marmaduke Townson was a woodcarver who supplied only two horses and royal figures for the Line. Given that only about half the seventeen horses and figures made in 1688-90 have survived at the Tower, it is possible that some examples of his work remain but cannot be identified.

Of the several craftsmen involved in making the horses and figures for the new Line of Kings, Townson is the one who stands out as being unrepresented by documented work elsewhere. Unlike Emmett, Morgan and Nost I, who worked on various Crown and other projects, sometimes in collaboration with each other and sometimes with Grinling Gibbons, Townson’s name appears conspicuous by its absence.

However, the Office of Ordnance records document Townson’s work as follows:

21 March 1689
Received into their Majesty’s stores of Armoury from Marmadik (sic) Townson, the statues of wood hereafter per warrant the 9th June 1688
Horse statues of wood carved 2
Statues of wood whereon faces are carved 2 att
£40-00s-00d’

Townson thus appears to have been the second carver to have been commissioned by the Office of Ordnance, following the warrant to William Morgan a week earlier. However, Townson seems to have been relatively slow in delivering the finished goods, perhaps accounting for his failure to get more work on the Horse Armoury project. At present, no other woodcarvings by Townson have been identified.

Documentary references to Townson also remain elusive and those which have been traced cast little light on his work as a carver. Documents dating from January 1684 and December 1686 concerning the letting of properties in the Grantham area of Lincolnshire refer to ‘Marmaduke Townson, of St Giles in the Fields, carver’ but it has not yet proved possible to trace him further by parish, tax or probate records.

Townson remains a mystery figure with no evidence yet found to connect him with the other carvers. Unlike the others, who had worked together, we are unable to explain why Townson was one of the first to be commissioned as a carver for the Line of Kings in 1688.

Related Objects

Grinling Gibbons and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Nicholas Alcock and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Emmett and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

John Nost I and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Thomas Quellin(us) and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Morgan and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

The Genesis of the Line of Kings, 1685-1692 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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