Royal Armouries

1785 - 1826

Popularity and Criticism

The figure of George II, added as the seventeenth equestrian figure in the Line of Kings’ in 1768, was the last ever made for the display. The need for an exhibition illustrating the benefits of warrior kings had perhaps disappeared during the reign of George III. However, the Horse Armoury remained one of the great attractions for visitors to London. In 1786 Sophie von La Roche recorded in her diary seeing the royal figures on horseback, concluding ‘It is a fine sight, and looks very much more warlike than the modern uniform’.

Similarly Anna Johanna Grill wrote in the journal of her visit ‘...the horse armoury is where the armour of all the English kings and their horses’ battle armour is kept, from William I to the last king’s. To make the exhibition more elegant, the suits of armour are mounted on wood, of which the men’s and horses’ heads are beautifully fashioned’. At this time the study of the history of arms and armour was developing a better understanding of the changing techniques and styles over the centuries. The antiquarian Francis Grose published a pioneering study which illustrated many objects from the Tower Armouries. He also noted ‘...many of the figures of our kings, shewn in the Tower of London, are the work of some of the best sculptors of the time in which they were set up’. However, the historical research served to highlight that the ‘Line’ was more fantasy and propaganda than fact.

The earliest known images of the Horse Armoury show the display at about this time. Although the architecture of the room in the New Store-house is heavily distorted, they give an idea of the row of royal figures along the centre of the room, with groups of visitors led around behind the horses first and then shown the kings from George II to William the Conqueror. Thomas Rowlandson’s views also show the mass displays of armour on the walls and ceiling, as well as a Yeoman Warder guiding a party of visitors. Rudolph Ackermann published an aquatint of the display by Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin in 1809 with William Combe’s description of the royal figures as ‘...large as life and some of them appear in the suits which those sovereigns actually wore. This room presents a very striking spectacle’.

By the 1820s opinions about the display were becoming increasingly divided. John Whitcomb Bayley wrote that the royal figures ‘...are in fine armor, on horseback and have altogether a grand and most imposing effect’. However, Polish visitor Krystyn Lach-Szyrma was unimpressed, recording ‘...there is little art in them and they look like horrible monsters, blank and in poor taste, not worth looking at unless by children or the rabble’. However, the harshest critic was Britain’s leading authority on the history of armour, Dr Samuel Rush Meyrick, who complained about the displays at the Tower ‘Notwithstanding the sneers of interested individuals the Tower contains some very fine and unique specimens… I cannot help lamenting that, in this enlightened age, persons visiting curiosities intrinsically valuable, as these certainly are, should continue to be deceived by such false representations’.

The Horse Armoury through time

Since its creation the Horse Armoury has occupied several locations within the Tower of London complex, explore the map to discover more.


Explore the Horse Armoury through time in a larger map