Royal Armouries

Hastings: the survivor of a coup

Images

colour photo of a full length armour with gold banded decoration

Armour of William Somerset, used for the figure of Huntingdon from 1827. (II.83)

  • colour photo of a full length armour with gold banded decoration

    Armour of William Somerset, used for the figure of Huntingdon from 1827. (II.83)

  • monochrome photo of the rear section of a horse armour

    Peytral of a horse armour. English or Flemish, about 1515 (VI.74, 82, 88-9)

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

    Armour of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. English, Greenwich, (II.81)

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Edward VI in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • 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 photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.30)

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure mounted on a life-size wooden horse

    The figure of the Earl of Huntingdon, photograph about 1870 © Private collection 2013

Field Armour

Object Provenance: English, Greenwich, about 1575
Object Number: II.83

Hastings: the survivor of a coup

Description

Francis Hastings, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon was added to the Line of Kings in 1827 during the re-display of the collection.

As a critical magazine, The London Magazine described it, the ‘march of intellect’ initiated a move towards more accurate displays of the historic collections within the Tower of London. Dr Samuel Meyrick was appointed as an expert in armour to re-display the collection, and in doing so took out many of the kings who had long been represented in armour not from the period of their reigns. He replaced them with figures of nobles from the sixteenth century, for which a large proportion of the armour in the collection was better suited.

This decision may appear to be an obvious progression for a display in the way we understand museums today, but the change was not popular with everyone. An article called ‘A Looking Glass for London’ in The London Magazine, published in 1829, mentions the warders’ ‘lamentations over despoiled greatness’ and the author appeared to sympathise ‘How there came to be fingers in the Tower which would take the armour off ‘kings’ and put it on to ‘lords and knights’, I cannot conceive.’ However, the new display allowed an opportunity to explore different stories of the history of the monarchs in British history.

Francis Hastings was placed in the Line between the figures of King Edward VI and Robert Dudley, and effectively represented the reigns between Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The Line of Kings had never included any female monarchs and so the nobles could be used to refer to these women’s stories.

Hastings had gained favour in Edward VI’s court, he was made Lieutenant-General over the army on an expedition to France, and upon his return in 1550 was made Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire and Rutland and sworn into the Privy Council. This rise was partly due to his alliance with the Duke of Northumberland, who became Protector in 1550, was further strengthened when Hastings’ eldest son married the Duke’s youngest daughter. This alliance led to Hastings supporting Northumberland’s attempt to put Lady Jane Grey on the throne after Edward VI’s death.

In the Line of Kings, Hastings was a symbol of the unsuccessful coup to install Lady Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary Tudor, as well as a respectable noble during Mary’s reign. Though Mary imprisoned Hastings, and his son, in the Tower after the attempted coup, their family connections ensured their stay was short. This was only made explicit in the 1842 Tower of London guidebook, where after the listing of Francis Hastings a short description of Mary’s prisoners in the Tower concluding ‘The fierce persecution in this reign needs no detail’.

Having said this, it appears in the second half of the nineteenth century the focus on the representation of Hastings was concentrated on the armour he wore. In 1827 the armour was described as gilt plate armour. By 1842 the armour had become more of a curiosity described as ‘a suit of plate armour richly gilt. The weight of the body armour is upwards of 100lbs of which the helmet weighs 14lbs’. Over the proceeding decades this description was elaborated on, rather than focusing on Mary’s reign. By 1868 the description for Hastings read ‘The weight of armour at this time became very great. Knights used to faint under the weight of their panoply, and when unhorsed could not rise’.

It appears that in an attempt to produce an accurate display reasons had to be found to place nobles within a line originally intended for kings. Though towards the second half of the nineteenth century the armour itself appeared to justify its inclusion.

Field Armour

Object Provenance: English, Greenwich, about 1575
Object Number: II.83

Related Objects

Wooden Horse - Black stallion-XVII.30 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.30

Horse Armour Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1510 | Object number: VI.74, 82, 88–9

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

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

Dudley: Queen Elizabeth’s first favourite Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings