Royal Armouries

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827

Images

monochrome newspaper illustration of long hall displaying arms and armour

'The Armoury in the Tower of London', anon engraving, Illustrated Times, 1857 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of long hall displaying arms and armour

    'The Armoury in the Tower of London', anon engraving, Illustrated Times, 1857 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome photo of a display of armour including a helmet under a glass dome

    Burgonet in bottom LH corner in the New Horse Armoury. About 1870 (IV.154)

  • monochrome photo of a breastplate with a large shot away section across the middle

    Breastplate with firearm damage. (III.107)

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure holding a wooden baton

    Greenwich armour for field and tournament. (II.40)

  • colour photo of a boy's full length armour with a wooden head

    Boy's armour. (II.126)

  • colour photo of a boy's armoured figure with decorated banded edges

    Armour of King Charles I as a boy. Dutch, about 1616 (II.90)

  • colour photo of Charles I's gilt full-length armour

    Gilt armour of King Charles I, made for Henry, Prince of Wales. Dutch, about 1612 (II.91)

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

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

  • monochrome engraving of a man holding a quill, leaning on a breastplate

    Portrait of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick

  • 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)

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

    Armour of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. English, Greenwich, (II.81)

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

    The figure of Will Somers engraved in 1794

  • monochrome engraving of a man with sash and medals

    Engraving of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington and Master General of the Ordnance from 'The Tower and its Armouries' by J Hewitt. 1841 (I.378)

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Edward IV in the Horse Armoury, by Robert William Buss, about 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Edward VI in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

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

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King James 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.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of Sir Horace Vere in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • 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 line drawing of people visiting a line of mounted armours

    The Tower Horse Armoury, Tower of London excerpts,'Old and New London', 1878

  • 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 VII

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

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of William III

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

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

    Figure of Edward V, with a crown suspended above his head, in the Line of Kings from the 'Horse Armoury' by Rowlandson and Pugin. 1809 (I.345b)

  • 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 )

  • colour photo of a firearm with wheellock and inlaid decoration

    Wheellock petronel. German, about 1660 (XII.1200)

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure mounted on a life-size wooden horse

    The figure of Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, photograph about 1870 © Private collection 2013

  • colour photo of a full length armour with gold banded decoration

    Armour of William Somerset, used for the figure of Huntingdon from 1827. (II.83)

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827

Description

Samuel Meyrick’s involvement with the Tower Armouries has normally been seen as beginning in 1826. However, in 1821 Meyrick, the foremost authority of the day on arms and armour, wrote a long letter to the Duke of Wellington in which he made a series of observations about the current state of the ancient armour at the Tower. Meyrick asserted that the ancient armour on display at the Tower was ‘so notorious as to be the subject of ridicule’. Yet many early nineteenth-century visitors were still clearly impressed by what they saw. Only sixteen years earlier, in 1805, the American university professor, Benjamin Silliman commented that ‘This collection of ancient armour is very interesting, and although it was extremely gratifying to my curiosity, I felt it to be still more important as illustrating history.’ Yet it was precisely these mistaken impressions that had prompted Meyrick to advocate the improvement of the collection for ‘the purposes of the Government, the historian and the artist, and to afford the public an instructive and pleasing gratification in contemplating the skill and ingenuity of remote periods.’

At the time of his 1821 proposals Meyrick was already corresponding with Ordnance officials. In A Critical Inquiry into Antient Armour, published in 1824, he could not resist referring to his 1821 report. The Board, however, would not be pushed into supporting Meyrick’s cause. It was not until the summer of 1826 that his offer to rearrange the arms and armour in the Tower was formally accepted. On 23 June the Principal Storekeeper, Mark Singleton, wrote to Wellington advising him that following the completion of the new building the rearrangement could begin, and that Meyrick should be appointed to undertake the arrangement because there ‘is not any person in the Department, nor probably out of it, so well qualified, by extensive antiquarian research and long acquaintance with the subject of Ancient Armour, to superintend this arrangement as Dr Meyrick.’

Meyrick had certainly considered the nature and formation of the current line at some length. When writing his ‘Critical Inquiry’ of 1824 he attributed the formation of the line in 1660 to the desire to promote the restored monarchy. Moreover, he clearly favoured the end of Charles II’s reign as the moment when the monarchy actively developed the Line as a piece of political propaganda.

Meyrick certainly liked to think that he had been approached by Wellington to undertake this commission. In March 1827 he informed the Society of Antiquaries that the Master-General and Board had been pleased to ‘confide to my direction’ the rearrangement. Nevertheless, contemporary documents suggest that the Principal Storekeeper’s Department had already begun taking steps internally to improve the collection. In March 1825 Robert Porrett, Clerk to the Principal Storekeeper had reported on the ‘state of progressive deterioration’ of the collections and had been discussing conservation measures with George Lovell, the Superintendant of the Small Armoury Department. It was only after internal discussions that Meyrick’s expertise was then sought.

Whatever the circumstances that led to Meyrick’s appointment his rearrangement of 1826-7 marked a new turning point in the development of the Horse Armoury and the equestrian displays. Meyrick wrote with pride in March 1827 of the improvements he had made. The newly displayed line caused considerable comment in newspapers and learned publications. In early 1829 The London Magazine carried a satirical report which regretted the creation of a more historically accurate line. Meyrick of course defended his arrangement of the collections and also took pains to distance himself from the existing arrangement of the Spanish Armoury, the nature of the New Horse Armoury (the building of which was supervised by Mr Wright of the clerk of the works), and the state of the displays as they existed in 1829, commenting that ‘on a recent visit to the new armoury, I was sorry to observe that, for want of the timely aid of a bit of wire behind, the riders are all falling forward.’ Nevertheless, with the completion of Meyrick’s rearrangement of the New Horse Armoury the displays remained largely untouched until the further reorganisation begun by James Robertson Planché in the early months of 1869.

Related Objects

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Dates from 1539 | Object number: Formerly II.9

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Gilt armour of King Charles I, made for Henry Prince of Wales Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Edward IV in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Wentworth: sacrificed loyal subject Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Henry Stuart, Prince of Wales 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.

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Lion armour A 16th century armour embossed with lions heads. It is the finest decorated armour in the Royal Armouries collection.

Dates from 1550 | Object number: II.89

J. R. Planché’s Scientific Arrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1855-69 J. R. Planché’s Scientific Arrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1855-69

The Reverend John Skinner’s Visit to the Tower 24 May 1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

The Strange Affair of Elizabeth Cooper and the Lion Armour, 1821-22 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings