Royal Armouries

Creating a Display: from the English Civil War to the Restoration of the House of Stuart

Images

colour photo of James II's breastplate, helmet, and gauntlet over a buffcoat

Armour of King James II. English, London, 1686 (II.123)

  • colour photo of James II's breastplate, helmet, and gauntlet over a buffcoat

    Armour of King James II. English, London, 1686 (II.123)

  • 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 James II in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • 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

Creating a Display: from the English Civil War to the Restoration of the House of Stuart

Description

Accounts of what visitors saw at the Tower have been recorded in increasing numbers since the late 15th century. These earliest individuals however were primarily foreign royalty, aristocracy and visiting dignitaries who were brought to see not only the stores of artillery and weaponry but also such wonders as the royal menagerie.

The beginnings of a consciously designed equestrian display emerge from the ashes of the English Civil War. As early 17th century inventories demonstrate a significant number of royal and aristocratic armours were kept at the Palace of Greenwich in the Green Gallery on horses of an unknown description or form. This could be interpreted as evidence that they were on display and shown to visiting guests although the evidence remains unclear. Nevertheless, in about 1644, during the early stages of the Civil War, some of the gilt armours of Charles I were moved from Greenwich to the Tower. That other armour was subsequently moved is confirmed by an inventory of the Armoury taken in 1650 by the Parliamentary Surveyor of the Ordnance, George Payler. Moreover, the account by the Dutch gentleman and diplomat, Lodewijck Huygens, indicates that some of those suits were apparently mounted and were being shown to visitors during the Commonwealth period.

The restoration of the Stuart monarchy seemed to result in a new attitude towards mounting and displaying some of these armours. In 1661 another Dutch visitor, the artist William Schellinks, reported seeing a display of armours behind a railing in the old Long Storehouse, next to the Chapel. Possibly created in anticipation of the visit by the newly-restored Charles II in August 1660 this line contained both royal and aristocratic figures. At this stage it could perhaps best be described as a line of celebrities. Nevertheless, the presence of the rail in front of the figures suggests a deliberate decision to create a display.

Between 1661 and the early 1680s there is little evidence to indicate any movement or rearrangement of equestrian figures. It would seem that the Board of Ordnance was content to maintain the upkeep and appearance of the figures rather than make any fundamental changes in the composition. In 1669, for example, the Master Carpenter Thomas Cass was paid £5 for carving a wooden horse, presumably replacing like for like; while in 1670 Thomas Bayley was paid 5s for repainting the existing horses. The relatively modest sums might suggest that the quality of horses was not regarded as particularly important at this moment in time. In 1682 the horses were again repainted, this time by Valentine Bayley. This does appear to be the earliest evidence that mentions the colour of the horses: William the Conqueror, pied colour; Edward IV, pied colour; Edward III, dapple grey; Henry V, grey; Henry VII, chestnut; Charles Brandon, chestnut; Henry VIII, white; Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, black; Charles I, dun. However, shortly after the refurbishment work was completed the existing horses and their mounted armours were dismantled and placed into storage while the New Armouries building was erected.

The decision to review and redesign the equestrian display is perhaps best interpreted within the context of the unsettled political, social, and religious climate of the 1680s. Charles II was certainly at his most authoritarian during this period and was keen to promote the image and authority of the restored monarchy, particularly in the face of the perceived threat by religious extremists, both Protestant and Catholic. The rebuilding work undertaken at the Tower and elsewhere in London was therefore quite likely part of a wider programme to promote the prestige of the monarchy. Unfortunately Charles II died on 2 February 1685. Quite what the plans of the King and his ministers were can only remain a matter of conjecture. The new king, James II, Charles II’s younger brother, however, seemed to have very firm ideas on what the line should be and during his reign the composition of the display entered a completely new phase of development.

Related Objects

Charles I 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.

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

Charles II in the Line of Kings 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.

Themes Menu

Line of Kings