Royal Armouries

1685 - 1688

A Monument to Monarchy?

James II came to the throne following the death of his brother Charles II in February 1685, and at his hastily arranged coronation on 23 April the new king broke with the tradition of making a procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. However, the Tower featured in James’s plans in several other ways.

The officers of the Board of Ordnance wasted no time in ordering George Frankline to commission a carved wooden horse and a figure with its wooden head representing Charles II . The intention was to update the Horse Armoury so that the display featured not only the figure of Charles I – James II’s father – but also his brother. However, adding Charles II was to cause some unforeseen difficulties.

During June 1685, Frankline contacted Grinling Gibbons, one of the leading woodcarvers in England. Six months later Gibbons’ workshop had supplied the wooden horse and figure at a cost of £40. At eight times the cost of the horse made by Thomas Cass in 1669, it seems likely that Gibbons’ carvings outshone the existing ones. In 1686 the Board placed another order with Gibbons’ workshop – this time for a horse and figure of Charles I.

A Change of Plans

The upgraded display featured eleven mounted figures by early 1688 but the decision to replace the Old Ordnance Storehouse with a new Grand Storehouse marked the end of this phase of the Horse Armoury. Thomas Cass removed the wooden horses into storage in the White Tower, but while the old storerooms were being demolished and work on the new Storehouse started there seems to have been a new plan. The Board of Ordnance started commissioning new carved horses and figures, this time at £20 a piece, from five workshops : William Emmett; William Morgan; John Nost; Thomas Quellin and Marmaduke Townson.

The plan was clearly for an expanded and improved Horse Armoury in a new location. Although the surviving documents do not explain this, there was an even more significant change that was made at this moment. Whereas the display previously featured not only kings but also noblemen and warriors, the carved faces of the new figures were made to produce a ‘Line of Kings’ exclusively.

The Glorious Revolution

However, although the contracts were issued in the summer of 1688 and the first carvings started arriving by the autumn, King James II’s reign was to be over before the year ended. On 5 November Prince William of Orange, James II’s nephew and son-in-law, landed with his invasion force at Torbay – invited by leading Protestant politicians who feared James II’s pro-Catholic policies.

On 23 December James II fled abroad, effectively abdicating in favour of his daughter and son-in-law, who were soon crowned Queen Mary II and King William III. Meanwhile, the Horse Armoury remained closed to visitors. To compensate George Frankline, who profited from the admission fees that visitors paid, the Board of Ordnance agreed to pay him the considerable sum of £70 per year. These payments continued until 1692 when a brand new and improved exhibition was open for business.

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