Royal Armouries

William the Conqueror in the Line of Kings

Images

watercolour detail showing the figure of a king in armour on a horse

Figure of William the Conqueror, detail from a watercolour of the Line of Kings. Early 19th century (I.69 )

  • watercolour detail showing the figure of a king in armour on a horse

    Figure of William the Conqueror, detail from a watercolour of the Line of Kings. Early 19th century (I.69 )

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure holding a wooden baton

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

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of Sir Horace Vere in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome line drawing of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • colour portrait of a man sitting at a desk holding a book

    Portrait of William Hutton by an unknown artist, about 1780 © Birmingham Museums Trust

  • monochrome engraving of a man in a long wig holding a map

    Portrait of Albert Jouvin de Rochefort. About 1680 © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry V

    Carved wooden head of Henry V. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.44)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of William I

    Carved wooden head of William I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.777)

  • colour photo of a firearm with wheellock and inlaid decoration

    Wheellock petronel. German, about 1660 (XII.1200)

William the Conqueror in the Line of Kings

Description

The ties between the Tower of London and William the Conqueror may seem obvious to us, as it is widely known that the Tower was a Norman building project. However, for centuries it was believed that the Tower had Roman origins, predating the Norman invasion.

William was still deemed the principal King to start, or finish, the Line of Kings when it was established at the Tower. Through the early visitor accounts it is difficult to gauge the public’s reaction to an armoured figure representing William I, and there appear to be distinct discrepancies regarding whether visitors believed they were looking at the genuine armour of William I or not.

A Swedish visitor in 1788, Anna Johanna Grill, detailed her belief that the armour was a genuine Norman example. And a London guide from 1807 repeated this myth while suggesting this was just a tall story created by the Beefeater tour guides but believed by visitors to be fact. The armour used for William was a bright plain steel armour. After more than 150 years, this inaccuracy was finally corrected in 1827 by Dr Meyrick’s intervention, when he ‘ousted’ figures in armour representing William the Conqueror, Edward III, John of Gaunt and Henry V.

Further tall stories surrounded the other objects attributed to William I. It appears that the first display of the Line of Kings gave William a ‘Great sword’ and a large musket, ‘which is of such length and thickness that it is as much as a man can do to carry it on his shoulders’. The musket actually dated from the seventeenth century.

One of the Royal Armouries most famous objects, the horned helmet, was in the early displays in the Horse Armoury, reputed to have belonged to William the Conqueror’s jester. Interestingly this helmet was later attributed to Henry VIII’s jester, Will Somers. This helmet has been the subject of a lot of interest over the years, and after extensive research we now know it was made by Konrad Seusenhofer as part of a court armour for Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, who presented it to Henry VIII. Today it is displayed at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, of which it is a symbol.

William the Conqueror is represented in the present Line of Kings display by what is believed to be the wooden head from his figure, as well as the armour he wore until 1826.

Related Objects

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

Dates from 1590 | Object number: II.40

William the Conqueror (reigned 1066 – 1087) Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1688 | Object number: XVII.777

Lee: Queen Elizabeth I’s Champion Click on the title link above to find out more.

Vere: forgotten outside the Tower? Click on the title link above to find out more.

Villiers: commander and assassin’s victim Click on the title link above to find out more.

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

Henry V in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Henry VIII in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Jouvin de Rochefort’s View of the Tower Armouries Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Hutton’s account of the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Schellinks at the Tower in 1661 Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Combe and the Microcosm of London William Combe and the Microcosm of London

Themes Menu

Line of Kings