Royal Armouries


A Powerful Attraction: the Tower and its Visitors

On 22 April 1661 Charles II left the Tower of London to make the traditional coronation procession to Westminster before being crowned king in the Abbey the following day. He was the last monarch to travel from the Tower through the streets of London as part of a lavish parade watched by thousands of his people.

The Tower of London had ceased to be used as a royal palace but still remained an important fortress and state prison, as well as home to government departments such as the Armouries, Ordnance, and Mint. However, over the next twenty five years the Tower also increasingly developed as one of London’s must-see visitor attractions for those who could afford to pay for admission. The Tower’s principal attractions for visitors were the Royal Menagerie, Crown Jewels, and Tower Armouries.

Visitor’s Accounts

During the 1660s Samuel Pepys, who lived and worked nearby at the Navy Board, was a frequent Tower visitor on both business and pleasure, probably benefitting from free admission through his contacts. In 1666 General Patrick Gordon, who was visiting London, recorded in his diary that he spent ‘…in wages one pound thirteen shillings’, a very large sum at the time. Both saw the Tower Armouries, which were also visited by foreign visitors who could make comparisons with what they had seen abroad.

On 23 April 1669 Cosmo III Grand Duke of Tuscany recorded: ‘The tower also contains the armoury, in which various sorts of arms are preserved, but they are neither very numerous nor very valuable; among these are some of Henry VIII; of the Duke of Lancaster and of the Earl of Suffolk’.

On 26 May 1670 John Evelyn met Monsieur Evelin [Yvelin], a French physician to Henriette-Anne [Charles II’s sister], ‘…at the Tower, where he was seeing the magazines and other curiosities, having never before been in England…’.

French mapmaker and traveller Albert Jouvin de Rochefort wrote of his visit in 1672 ‘Our conductor showed us … some (armour) which had been worn by the different kings of England during their wars; they were all gilded and engraved in the utmost perfection. We saw the armour of William the Conqueror, with his great sword…’. While Ralph Thoresby from Leeds entered in his diary for 22 January 1678 ‘Afternoon at the Tower to see the crown, armoury, &c.’.

The Horse Armoury

Throughout Charles II’s reign the Horse Armoury, as it was called by 1675, seems to have been an important part of the Tower displays of arms and armour. However, it appears to have undergone only minor improvements, such as the carving of a new wooden horse by carpenter Thomas Cass in 1669 and repainting of the horses in 1682-3 by Valentine Bayley. Inventories were taken, listing the ten equestrian figures until it seems that some changes started to be made in 1681 when one wooden horse and two suits of armour were sent to Windsor Castle . However, much greater changes to the Horse Armoury rapidly followed the death of King Charles II on 6 February 1685 and the succession of his brother as James II.

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