Royal Armouries

Benjamin Silliman’s Visit to the Horse Armoury

Images

colour portrait of a man in a cravat in an oval frame

Portrait of Benjamin Silliman, by Nathaniel Rogers, about 1815 [1954.31.1] © The Yale University Art Gallery

  • colour portrait of a man in a cravat in an oval frame

    Portrait of Benjamin Silliman, by Nathaniel Rogers, about 1815 [1954.31.1] © The Yale University Art Gallery

  • Print of visitors looking at displays of armour

    ‘The Horse Armoury in the Tower’ by Thomas Rowlandson , engraving published 1 January 1800 by Rudolf Ackermann, 101 Strand © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure holding a wooden baton

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

  • 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 Charles I's gilt armour helmet

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

  • colour photo of the rear of Charles I's gilt armour helmet

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

  • watercolour of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    Horse Armoury, Tower of London by Rowlandson and Pugin, 1809

Benjamin Silliman’s Visit to the Horse Armoury

Description

Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) was an American scientist who went to see the Tower of London in 1805 while visiting Britain to further his studies in chemistry. He provides a detailed description of what he saw, including a lengthy account of the Horse Armoury at about the time it was illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson.

‘The horse armoury is still more interesting… In it is a great collection of ancient armour, such as worn during the reign of the Conqueror, and from his period onward, till the introduction of firearms made a total change in the art of war. The first thing that strikes one on entering the room is the line of English kings from the Conqueror down, all mounted on horseback, arranged in complete suits of armour, equipped with weapons of those times, and attended by a long line of common soldiers, armed and clad in the fashion of the days of knight errantry. These suits of armour are no models or modern imitations, but the very authentic armour of the dark ages, and, ascertained in many instances, to have belonged to particular distinguished individuals. For instance, the suit in which William, Prince of Orange, is arranged is the same suit which was worn by Edward the Black Prince, at the glorious battle of Cressy. Edward V has a crown suspended over his head. You will remember that he was proclaimed but never crowned. The horses are very well executed and the faces of the monarchs are no contemptible imitations of their portraits. There is the gigantic suit of John of Gaunt, seven feet high, with his sword and lance of correspondent proportions. It seems scarcely credible that such a suit of armour was ever worn, yet one can hardly suppose that it would have been made had there not been a man to wear it.

...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. One is thus enabled to form a very perfect idea of the appearance of European armies before the invention of gunpowder, and of the modern art of war which has resulted from it. In some instances the armour is so complete that it covers every inch of the person, even the feet, hands and face; the very boots are burnished steel and the whole man exhibits a brilliant surface of the same materials. It is easy to conceive that in a bright day an army must have made a very splendid appearance, for, not the riders only, but the horses too were clad in armour.

...The most splendid piece of armour is one presented by the city of London to Charles I when Prince of Wales. It is polished steel, inlaid with gold, formed into elegant figures. Indeed, the suits of most of the kings are more or less ornamented with gold, except that of the Conqueror which is plain. The armour of Edward VI is divided into compartments, in which are curiously represented portions of scripture history, commemorating battles and other memorable transactions’.

Related Objects

Greenwich Armour for Field and Tournament Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1590 | Object number: II.40

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

Dates from 1612 | Object number: II.91, VI.60, VI.119–20

Themes Menu

Line of Kings