Figure of King Charles I in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840
The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century © Royal Armouries 2013
James II from Charles Knight, London, 1842.
Charles II when Prince of Wales by William Dobson, 1644. Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013
Portrait of Lodewijk Huygens, ink drawing by Constantijn Huygens II, 6 November 1669 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Carved wooden head of Charles I by Grinling Gibbons. English, 1686-7 (XVII.2)
Carved wooden head of Charles II by Grinling Gibbons. English, 1685-6 (XVII.3)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.7)
Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.8)
Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) was England’s leading decorative woodcarver in the late 17th century. Born in Rotterdam, the son of an English merchant, he had arrived in England in 1667. His outstanding ability led him to be chosen to work for Charles II on the decoration of Windsor Castle in the 1670s and the Royal Hospital, Chelsea in the 1680s.
In February 1685 King James II came to the throne following the death of his brother, Charles II. James and the officers of the Board of Ordnance wasted little time in ordering George Frankline to commission a carved wooden horse and a figure with its wooden head representing Charles II. The intention was to update the display in the Horse Armoury in the Long Storehouse so that it would feature not only a figure of Charles I – James II’s father – but also one of James’s brother.
In June 1685, Frankline commissioned Grinling Gibbons, the pre-eminent carver of the time, and six months later Gibbons’ workshop supplied one wooden horse and a figure with a carved wooden head at a cost of £40:
‘19 December 1685
Received from Gibbon into his Majesty’s stores of Armoury within the Office of the Ordnance. The statue of wood hereafter mentioned being for mounting the Armour of the Late King Charles the Second in the Armoury per contract the 19th and warrant 20th June 1685.
Statue of wood whereon the Late King’s face is carved 1
Horse statue of wood carved 1
A carved wooden head of Charles II in the collection is believed to be that supplied by Gibbons. It is possible that the carved horse also survives in the collection too. Several authorities have suggested possible candidates but at present a conclusive identification cannot be proven.
So well received were these carvings that in January 1686 the Board of Ordnance ordered a wooden horse and a figure with the carved head of Charles I from Gibbons’ workshop:
’29 January 1686
Received into his Majesty’s stores of Armoury within the Office of the Ordnance from Grinling Gibbons the particulars hereafter mentioned being for mounting the armour of the late King Charles the 1st on horseback in the said Armoury per Contract 9 January 1686.
Statue of Wood whereon the said King’s face is carved 1
Horse Statue of Wood carved 1
A carved wooden head of Charles I in the collection is believed to be that supplied by Gibbons. It is possible that this carved horse may still survive in the collection.
Gibbons’ statues were painted by Valentine Bayley and added to the display but in 1688 the exhibition had to be dismantled as the Ordnance Long Storehouses were to be demolished. The carvings were temporarily stored in the White Tower but when Gibbons’ horses and figures of Charles I and II were installed in the new display in the New Store-house they were accompanied by a brand new set of carvings commissioned in 1688-89. Perhaps Gibbons’ horses and heads were so superior that they had put the older ones to shame?
However, the Board of Ordnance did not commission the seventeen further horses and heads from Gibbons – and spent only £20 per carving, half what Gibbons had charged. Instead they turned in 1688 to five less well-known carvers – William Emmett, William Morgan, John Nost I, Thomas Quellin(us) and Marmaduke Townson.