Royal Armouries

The Strange Affair of Elizabeth Cooper and the Lion Armour, 1821-22

Images

monochrome engraving of a man with sash and medals

Engraving of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington and Master General of the Ordnance from 'The Tower and its Armouries' by J Hewitt. 1841 (I.378)

  • monochrome engraving of a man with sash and medals

    Engraving of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington and Master General of the Ordnance from 'The Tower and its Armouries' by J Hewitt. 1841 (I.378)

  • colour photo of a full-length armour with decorated banding

    Armour used for the figure of George II in the Line of Kings 1768 -1826. English, Greenwich, about 1560 (II.82)

  • 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 King Charles II in armour

    Charles II when Prince of Wales by William Dobson, 1644. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

  • colour photo of an armour decorated with lions' heads

    The Lion armour, displayed on the wooden figure of 'Edward VI' in the Line of Kings

The Strange Affair of Elizabeth Cooper and the Lion Armour, 1821-22

Description

Since Samuel Rush Meyrick’s rearrangement of 1826 there has been a tendency to ignore the Board of Ordnance’s management and supervision of its own collections. Nor has there been any acknowledgement of any expertise amongst existing Board of Ordnance staff until the arrival of John Hewitt at the Tower in 1840. Such an impression is sadly reinforced by the curious episode surrounding the claim by Mrs Elizabeth Cooper in 1821 to the armour on the figure of Charles II displayed in the New Armoury. In fact it is quite possible that this incident reinforced an existing bias against relying on the Board’s own staff and assisted the eventual appointment of Samuel Meyrick.

The affair first came to light when Mrs Cooper claimed that the armour had originally belonged to her husband, John Cooper, and his father, James Cooper, both armourers at the Tower. It was her husband’s father who had first lent the suit in 1768 to the Board for display within the New Armoury as part of the line of historic equestrian figures. The original suit of armour on the horse of Charles II had been moved to that of George II. The suit supplied by James Cooper had then been placed on the horse of Charles II. Mrs Cooper stated that she had been offered 100 guineas (which equates to £105 at that time). This seems to have been made by the Board for she also said that if the Board did not wish to buy it she was assured she could obtain £120 for it immediately.

Mrs Cooper claimed that after the coronation of George III the King’s Hereditary Champion, John Dymoke had refused to return the original armour of Charles II. An investigation was ordered in May 1821. As a result of that Robert Porrett, Chief Clerk to the Principal Storekeeper admitted that the suit had not been listed in the department’s records. Mrs Cooper further claimed that some of the longest serving staff would also recollect that it had belonged to her husband. One of these, James Slatter, confirmed in writing to the Board that the suit in question had been borrowed from James Cooper because there were no other available suits in store. The papers were submitted to the duke of Wellington in his capacity as Master General of the Ordnance. However, in March 1822 he put paid to any notion of returning the armour. Although the Board of Ordnance could not prove absolute ownership he declared that it could not be returned without clear proof on her part that she did. The evidence provided by her was never accepted. The armour, whatever its original ownership, remained part of the Tower collections thereafter.

Related Objects

Lion armour A 16th century armour embossed with lions heads. It is the finest decorated armour in the Royal Armouries collection.

Dates from 1550 | Object number: II.89

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Charles II in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

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