Royal Armouries

1702 - 1785

Expansion and Popularity

When the figure of William III was added to the display in 1702 it increased the ‘Line of Kings’ to fifteen. The wooden head of William was carved by Nicholas Alcock and uniquely some of the original furnishings for his horse survive. Further figures were later added representing George I (1750) and George II (1768).

The display continued to figure as an attraction to see in London guides such as Hatton’s New View of London: ‘The Horse Armoury … contains the figures of 15 of our Kings … curiously represented on Horseback in rich armour…’ . It makes clear that guides conducted visitors on tours of kings, from William III back in time to William the Conqueror, rather than giving an account of the history of arms and armour.

As surviving accounts of visitors’ impressions become more numerous, it is clear that individuals responded differently according to personal taste. In 1712 Samuel Molyneux, an administrator and astronomer, wrote of seeing at the Tower: ‘…another much more peaceable and harmless Armory, and indeed I think very near as Ornamental, this they call their horse Armory, … many of which they shew you formerly us’d by several of Our Kings, some of which are neatly inlay’d and some gilt’. At about the same time John Macky wrote ‘The HORSE ARMOURY is also very prettily disposed and much handsomer than that of the same kind in Brussels; though, I think, not quite so beautiful as that at Dresden, in Saxony…’.

By the middle of the 18th century guidebooks specifically to the Tower were being published, giving more detailed commentaries on the Horse Armoury, and introducing the phrase Line of Kings:

‘Here the spectator is entertained by a perfect representation of those illustrious Kings and Heroes of our own Nation, of whose gallant actions, he has heard and read so much; all of them equipped and sitting on Horse-back in the same bright and shining armour they were used to wear at the very Time those glorious Deeds were performed, which will be forever remembered to their Praise’.

A Tourist Attraction

Visitors to the Tower came from many parts of Britain, from mainland Europe and as far away as India and America. The high admission costs limited the number of visitors, however, and restricted them to the upper classes, unless they had a friend who could arrange free entry. In 1785 William Hutton, a successful businessman and enthusiastic local historian from Birmingham, recorded his poor opinions of the display: ‘In the horse armory … the royal regiment of kings, drawn up in battalia, and shown to strangers, fell short of expectation. They seemed bigger than life, which is an unpardonable error in the statuary’. His disappointment was greater because as a young man in 1749 he had wanted to see the Tower but ‘…my Derbyshire accent quickly brought the warders out of their lodge; who, on seeing the dust abound on my shoes wisely concluded that money could not abound in my pocket; and, with the voice of authority, ordered me back’.

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