Royal Armouries

Laurence Sterne: the Horse Armoury and Tristram Shandy

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

  • watercolour of a line of armoured figures on horseback

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

  • 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 )

Laurence Sterne: the Horse Armoury and Tristram Shandy

Description

As a well-known London visitor attraction, the Tower of London and its Horse Armoury became sufficiently familiar that it could be used figuratively in 18th-century novels. One such example is in The Life & Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.

Many accounts in both guidebooks and visitors’ descriptions refer to the massed displays of armour which adorned the walls, columns and beams of the room in the New Store-house. Sterne therefore alludes to the quantity and range of military stores in the Horse and Foot armouries of the Tower – and Venice – as a means of indicating that nowhere could have provided a better mantelet [mobile screen or shield] than that belonging to Tristram’s Uncle Toby:

‘Now, through all the lumber-rooms of military furniture, including both of horse and foot, from the great arsenal of Venice to the Tower of London (exclusive) if Mrs Wadman had been rummaging for seven years together, with Bridget to help her, she could not have found any blind or mantelet so fit for her purpose as that which the expediency of my Uncle Toby’s affairs had fixed up ready for her hands’.

The allusion implies that many readers of the novel would have been familiar enough with the nature of the Horse Armoury – at second hand, even if they had not visited it themselves – to appreciate Sterne’s reference.

Related Objects

Ned Ward’s Humorous Account of the Tower as a Visitor Attraction Click on the title link above to find out more.

Samuel Richardson describes a young woman’s first visit to the Tower of London Click on the title link above to find out more.

Jonathan Swift on a visit to the Tower, Bedlam and a Puppet Show Click on the title link above to find out more.

Themes Menu

Line of Kings