Royal Armouries

Nicholas Alcock and the Horse Armoury

Images

colour photo of a carved wooden head of William III

Carved wooden head of William III probably by Nicholas Alcock. English, 1702 (XVII.45)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of William III

    Carved wooden head of William III probably by Nicholas Alcock. English, 1702 (XVII.45)

  • monochrome photo of a three-quarter length armour on a stand

    Harquebusier's armour. (II.108)

  • monochrome line drawing of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    James II from Charles Knight, London, 1842.

  • 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)

Nicholas Alcock and the Horse Armoury

Description

Between 1688 and 1690 many craftsmen had been involved in the development of a new, expanded and improved Line of Kings display. From about 1692 the Horse Armoury was re-established on the first floor of the New Store-house (now called the New Armouries). The centrepiece of the new display was a line of life-sized wooden horses, each bearing the armoured figure of a king.

The role of this exhibition may have been partly as a visitor attraction, making money from visitors by an admission charge for a guided tour of the display and partly as a statement of propaganda. This latter element functioned on at least two levels: for foreign visitors the Tower displays were an expression of England’s national power, while for English visitors they gave a perspective on good kingship at a time when William and Mary had recently ousted King James II.

It was in 1702, following the death of King William III on 8 March, that Nicholas Alcock was called upon to make a small but significant contribution to the development of the Line of Kings.

Alcock was a woodcarver who had worked with two of the craftsmen who supplied carved horses and figures for the Line between 1685 and 1690. Alcock had assisted Grinling Gibbons and William Emmett at Kensington Palace (then called Nottingham House) in the years immediately following William and Mary’s accession in 1689. Alcock’s work included such decorative woodwork as:

‘1690
King’s Bedchamber
Cornish
Picture frame over chimney
Picture frames over two doors
King’s Dressing Room
Cornish
Picture frame
Queen’s Dressing Room
Cornish
Articks and lace
Picture frame
Presence Chamber
Cornish
King’s Inner Closet
Picture Frame
King’s Outer Closet
Picture Frame
King’s Inner Bedchamber
Picture Frame’

Alcock continued to provide decorative work at Kensington, with Gibbons and Emmett, until 1693. He was obviously a highly skilled woodcarver but little of his work now survives there.

After William III’s death, the Board of Ordnance quickly issued an order for an equestrian figure of the late king to be added to the existing Line, which had finished with a figure of Charles II. As there must have been wooden horses and figures to spare from those ordered between 1688 and 1690, only a head with William III’s face carved on it was needed, plus the horse furniture, some of which has survived .

The entry in the accounts reads:

‘Alcock
To him the sum of Two pounds for a face carved in wood for an armour to be set up in the stores of the Armoury to represent the late King William the third by order of the board dated 6th May 1702
Allowance £2
30 April 1703’

This is supported by an entry for payment to

‘William Nicholas
To him as Storekeeper of the armoury for the charge of setting up an armour in the stores to represent the late King William of Ever Glorious Memory pursuant to an Order dated 20th of May 1702
£21-18s-6d’

William III’s carved ‘face’ has been identified as the wooden head XVII.45. It has been recognised as bearing a close resemblance to contemporary paintings of the King.

King William’s figure remained in the display, joined by figures of George I and George II in 1750 and 1768, until the Line of Kings was dismantled in 1826 and replaced by Dr Samuel Meyrick’s more academically correct display in the New Horse Armoury from 1827. William III was omitted from Meyrick’s display and his carved head was probably assigned to one of the noblemen who were featured in the new exhibition.

Related Objects

William III in the Line of Kings 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.

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

Marmaduke Townson 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.

Harquebusier’s Armour Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1630 | Object number: II.108

William III (reigned 1689 -1702) Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1702 | Object number: XVII.45

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

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Line of Kings

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