Royal Armouries

Villiers: commander and assassin’s victim

Images

LOK Villiers

Engraving of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1628), London, Sept 1st, 1825, from the original of Jansen.

  • LOK Villiers

    Engraving of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (1628), London, Sept 1st, 1825, from the original of Jansen.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Charles 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 a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • 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)

Wheellock petronel

Object Provenance: German, about 1660
Object Number: XII.1200

Villiers: commander and assassin’s victim

Description

A representation of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham was added to the Line of Kings in the re-display of 1827.

Following his criticism of the display of historic arms and armour in the Tower of London in his 1824 publication A Critical Inquiry into Antient Armour, Dr Samuel Meyrick had been appointed to oversee this re-display. This included the Line of Kings which was a collection of figures of English Kings since William the Conqueror displayed in suits of armour and on horseback. This collection had first been developed in the mid seventeenth century and it displayed many kings in armour that was not suitable to their time period.

To address this problem Meyrick decided to remove some of the monarchs and add figures of nobles to the line instead. This was not popular with everyone and an article published in The London Magazine in 1827 described the authors and Tower of London warders’ ‘lamentations over despoiled greatness’.

Nevertheless, the re-display allowed a wider history of the English monarchs to be told and though this was not always explicit in the Tower of London guidebooks, the use of these nobles allowed a greater variety of armour to be displayed and the importance of monarchy to be underlined.

Villiers had been a favourite of James I and was also a favourite of Charles I after James’ death. The friendship between Villiers and Charles was not a popular one, as by the time of Charles’ succession Villiers was viewed with ‘suspicion and even hated among the king’s subjects’. Relations with Parliament were further exacerbated when Charles dissolved Parliament to avoid his friend being impeached.

In the Tower of London guidebook of 1827 Villiers is described as the ‘unfortunate favourite of Charles I’. This is due to Villiers untimely death in 1627 when he was assassinated in Plymouth by a professional soldier who had served him in Ré, France.

However, as well as representing a loyal courtier who had been assassinated, Villiers is also the first figure in the 1827 re-display of the Line of Kings to be holding a firearm. It is principally this feature that is emphasised in the guidebooks, which describe him ‘in the act of spanning a wheel-lock pistol’. By 1842 the description has developed and Villiers is described as in ‘A full suit of plate armour. In the left hand of this figure is placed wheel-lock petronel, and in its right the spanner, or instrument to wind up the spring’. The contrast between the plate armour and firearms would have been striking and positioning Villiers in the act of winding the wheel-lock was probably done to provoke thoughts and discussions on the technology of the early firearms.

The representation of George Villiers achieves what many of the other effigies aimed to do from the first Line of Kings display of the 1660s which was to celebrate monarchy and the sovereignty of monarchs. However, Villiers also emphasises the new role of the nineteenth century displays, described begrudgingly – or with tongue in-cheek – by The London Magazine as the ‘march of intellect’, the Tower displays were designed to translate the history of arms and armour and a progression of design and technology.

Wheellock petronel

Object Provenance: German, about 1660
Object Number: XII.1200

Related Objects

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

William the Conqueror in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

James I in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Charles I in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

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

Themes Menu

Line of Kings