Royal Armouries

John Newbery’s Historical Description and the Horse Armoury

Images

typed title page from a guidebook of the Tower of London

An Historical Description of the Tower of London and its Curiosities, printed for Newberry and Carnan, London, 1768

  • typed title page from a guidebook of the Tower of London

    An Historical Description of the Tower of London and its Curiosities, printed for Newberry and Carnan, London, 1768

  • monochrome photo of a breastplate with a large shot away section across the middle

    Breastplate with firearm damage. (III.107)

  • monochrome photo of a pair of prop pistols and embroidered holsters

    Dummy pistols and pistol holsters for the figure of William III in the Line of Kings. (XVI.1 - 4)

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure holding a wooden baton

    Greenwich armour for field and tournament. (II.40)

  • colour photo of Charles I's gilt full-length armour

    Gilt armour of King Charles I, made for Henry, Prince of Wales. Dutch, about 1612 (II.91)

  • colour photo of lacquer and gold helmet from a Japanese armour

    Detail of armour presented to King James I in 1613, Japanese, c 1570. xxvia.1

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's fully encasing armour holding a wooden pole

    Armour of King Henry VIII. (II.6)

  • colour photo of Henry VIII's full-length armour

    Armour of Henry VIII. English, Greenwich, 1540 (II.8)

  • monochrome engraving of an armour with a helmet with curly horns

    The figure of Will Somers engraved in 1794

  • monochrome diagrams of 12 helmets of different designs

    Illustration of helmets from Hewitt's 1845 catalogue

  • watercolour of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    Horse Armoury, Tower of London by Rowlandson and Pugin, 1809

  • colour photo of a giant armour and a boy's armour

    Overall view of the 'Giant' and boy's armours. (II.22 & II.126)

  • typed page from a guidebook of the Tower of London

    An Historical Description of the Tower of London and its Curiosities, printed for Newberry and Carnan, London, 1768

  • typed page from a guidebook of the Tower of London

    An Historical Description of the Tower of London and its Curiosities, printed for Newberry and Carnan, London, 1768

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Edward III

    Carved wooden head of Edward III. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.41)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.14)

  • colour photo of red brick 2 storey building with windows in roof

    The New Armouries, Tower of London, 2013

John Newbery’s Historical Description and the Horse Armoury

Description

John Newbery (1713-67) was a prolific publisher who produced the first comprehensive – though unofficial – guidebook to the Tower of London in 1753. This was entitled An Historical Description of the Tower of London and its Curiosities printed for J Newberry, St Paul’s Church-Yard, London. The book was so successful that it was reprinted, with minor amendments, many times, both by Newbery and by his successors after his death. Over twenty editions are known before 1800, including one in French. A pirated edition is also known – further evidence that the book was a commercial success.

The book provides a user’s view of what was to be seen on a tour of the Horse Armoury when it was housed on the first floor of the New Store-house (above the restaurant in the New Armouries, as it is called today).

Newbery, who is best remembered now as a pioneer of children’s publishing, employed David Henry (1710-92) as the writer of this guide to the Tower:

‘Giving an Account……..VIII Of the Horse-armoury; with curious Anecdotes relating to the Kings that sit here on Horseback in full Armour from William the Conqueror, to the late K. George……………….
Written chiefly to direct the Attention of Spectators to what is most curious in this Repository; and to enable them afterwards to relate what they have seen.’

‘The Horse Armoury is a little Eastward of the White Tower. It is a plain Brick Building rather convenient than elegant. Its Contents are likewise among the Curiosities commonly shewn at the Tower; and therefore will be distinctly described hereafter’.

The account of the Horse Armoury gives an excellent impression of how visitors were guided around the attraction by a Warder. Entering the first-floor room, the party was first guided along the displays on the back wall, before proceeding along the front of the ‘Line of Kings’. Here the Warder told stories about the monarchs, starting with the most recent and ending back near the doorway with William the Conqueror. The group thus would have made a full circuit of the room.

Although the room which the Horse Armoury occupied from about 1690 until 1826 is no longer open to visitors, it is possible to look up at the first floor windows of the New Armouries, facing the White Tower, and to imagine the display inside, as it was depicted in about 1800 by Thomas Rowlandson.

Many of the objects mentioned in 1753 are still in Royal Armouries collections. Some are still on display at the Tower, and others are shown at the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds and elsewhere. Many items, such as ‘John of Gaunt’s armour’ and the present from the ‘Great Mogul’ were incorrectly identified in the past and their real histories have since been researched.

‘Of the Horse Armory.
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. But not to anticipate the Reader’s curiosity. ——- In ascending the Staircase, just as you come to the Landing place, by raising your Eye inward you will see the Figure of a Grenadier in his Accoutrements, as if upon Duty, with his Piece rested upon his Arm, which at first Glance you will be apt to mistake for real life, … Having entered the room you first behold a vast Number of Iron Caps and Breastplates, most of which were in Use in the late War; … There are likewise to be seen here a great many Cuirasses taken from the French out of a Ship called the Holy-Ghost and marked Torras, perhaps the Admiral’s name.’

‘When you enter the Room the first Thing your Conducter presents to your Notice is,
1. The Figures of the Horse and Foot, on your left Hand, supposed to be drawn up in military order to attend the Kings on the other side of the House; these figures are as big as the life and have lately been new painted
2. Brandon’s lance
3. Complete suit of tilting armour … Likewise the tilting Lance, the rest for the tilting Launce, with the Grand Guard and the Slits before the Eye through which they take sight.
4. Henry VIII foot combat armour rough from the hammer
5. Little armour for Charles II as Prince of Wales … with a piece of armour for his Horse’s Head; the whole most curiously wrought and inlaid with silver.
6. Lord Courcy’s armour
7. Real Coats of Mail called Brigandine jackets
8. An Indian Suit of Armour sent as a present to Charles II from the Great Mogul
9. A neat little suit of armour in which is carved a figure representing Richard Duke of York
10. The Armour of John of Gaunt
11. The droll figure of Will Somers
12. Collar of Torments

We now come to the Line of Kings, which, to follow the order of your Conductors, we must reverse the order of their chronology and describe the last as first; as
1. George I: compleat suit of armour, with a truncheon in his hand on a white horse richly caparisoned having a fine Turkey bridle gilt with gold with a Globe, Crescent and Star; velvet Furniture laced with Gold, and Gold trappings
2. William III: ‘dressed in the suit of armour worn by the Black Prince at the battle of Cressy’ mounted on a sorrel horse, whose furniture is green Velvet embroidered with Silver and holds in his right hand a flaming-sword.
3. Charles II: dressed in the armour worn by the Champion of England at the Coronation of his present Majesty. He sits with a truncheon in his hand on a fine horse richly caparisoned with Crimson Velvet laced with Gold.
4. Charles I: In a rich suit of his own proper armour, Gilt with gold and curiously wrought (used at Marlborough’s funeral 1722)
5. James I: on horseback with a truncheon in his right hand, dressed in a compleat suit of figured armour.
6. Edward VI: He sits on horseback with a truncheon in his right hand
7. Henry VIII: in his own proper armour, being of polished steel, the Foliages whereof are gilt or inlaid with gold. In his right hand he bears a sword.
8. Henry VII: holds a sword in his hand and sits on horseback in a compleat suit of armour, finely wrought, and wash’d in silver.
9. Edward V: He was proclaimed King but never crowned, for which reason a Crown is hung over his Head. He is in a rich suit of armour finely decorated and holds in his right hand a launce
10. Edward IV: He is here distinguished by a Suit of bright Armour studded, and by holding in his right hand a drawn Sword.
11. Henry VI
12. Henry V
13. Henry IV
14. Edward III: in a venerable grey Beard and in a suit of plain bright armour, with two Crowns on his Sword, alluding to the two kingdoms, France and England
15. Edward I: in a very curious suit of gilt armour, with this peculiarity, that the shoes thereof are of mail. He is represented with a Battle-Ax in his hand perhaps for his campaigns against the Turks and Infidels
16. William the Conqueror: in a Suit of plain Armour
Over the Door as you go out of this Armoury is a Target on which are engraved by a Masterly Hand the figures, as it should seem, of Fortune, Fortitude and Justice and round the Room the Walls are everywhere lined with various old uncommon Pieces of Armour such as Targets, Caps, Horses Heads, Breast Plates and many other sorts for which the very Names are wanting’.

Related Objects

Gebhard Wendeborn’s visit to the Tower in the 1780s Click on the title link above to find out more.

Greenwich Armour for Field and Tournament Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1590 | Object number: II.40

Field Armour, the 'Giant' Armour Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1540 | Object number: II.22

Gilt armour of King Charles I, made for Henry Prince of Wales Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1612 | Object number: II.91, VI.60, VI.119–20

The 1540 Armour of King Henry VIII Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1540 | Object number: II.8, VI.13

James I Japanese Gift Armour (domaru) A gift to King James I of England, VI of Scotland.

Dates from 1570 | Object number: XXVIA.1

Will Somers’ Breastplate Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: III.157

Edward III in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Foot combat armour of Henry VIII Click on the title link above to find out more.

‘Jacky Curious’ explores the Tower Armouries Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings