Royal Armouries

1689 - 1702

A Fresh Start

During 1689, as William III and Mary II were crowned joint monarchs, wooden horses and figures ordered the previous summer were delivered to the Tower by the carvers’ workshops of Emmett, Morgan, Nost, Quellin and Townson. All was ready to open a new display, but not in the recently-built Grand Storehouse. The location for the ‘Line of Kings’ was the first floor of the New Store-house (today called the New Armouries).

The exhibition deliberately focused on the monarchy, consisting of fourteen kings in a line from William the Conqueror to Charles II. This was almost certainly not by chance: kingship was a key issue, as James II had abandoned the throne and been replaced by his daughter Mary and son-in-law William. This time there were no princes or noblemen in the display as there were previously. In order to achieve this ‘Line of Kings’ the exhibition’s organisers had to deliberately ignore the known facts about certain armours, such as that of the Earl of Leicester, and assign them to a king instead.

The earliest known account of the new display is an extraordinary one, following the earthquake which shook London on 8 September 1692. In a letter of 24 September George Follett wrote of the tremors at the Tower ‘…there above stairs all the heroes and their horses are set forth in armour. Suffering such a shock it was great prowess in them to stand their ground…’.

A Growing Reputation

As its fame began to spread, the Horse Armoury display began to be featured in guidebooks for visitors to London. In 1693 Francois Colsoni wrote (in translation from the original French):

‘…Then you will be led to the upper area where you will be shown many Kings on Horseback and the Armour of both the Cavalry and Infantry which are kept there in good condition: you must also each give two sous on exit’. Each visitor paid admission fees and was conducted around by a guide, either as a member of a small group or, at extra cost, individually.

By 1699 the Horse Armoury featured in one of Ned Ward’s monthly humorous accounts of London life:

‘As we gently mov’d along and viewed the princely scarecrows, he told us to whom each suit of armour did belong originally, adding some memorandums out of history to every empty iron-side; some true, some false, supplying that with invention which he wanted in memory. …I could not forbear reflecting on some appearances before me, till I fancy’d myself sunk into Death’s subterranean territories where the just and the wicked, by the impartial Skeleton, are equally respected.

From thence we pass’d by several princes’ armour, of which nothing was deliver’d but a bare name, till we had completed our round and came again to the door. This being the conclusion of this warlike opera, we paid our money and made our exit,…’.

William III died on 3 March 1702 and an armoured figure of this warrior king on horseback was quickly added to the Line.

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