Royal Armouries

William Emmett and the Horse Armoury

Images

watercolour of a line of armoured figures on horseback

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

  • watercolour of a line of armoured figures on horseback

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

  • monochrome photo of a three-quarter length armour on a stand

    Harquebusier's armour. (II.108)

  • 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 an armoured figure on horseback

    James II from Charles Knight, London, 1842.

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.8)

William Emmett and the Horse Armoury

Description

In 1688 William Emmett was one of the many craftsmen who became involved in the development of a new, expanded and improved Line of Kings display. The centrepiece of this new exhibition was to be a line of life-sized wooden horses, each bearing the armoured figure of a king. It was decided to buy a complete new set of carved horses and figures with kings’ faces, with the exception of the carvings made by Grinling Gibbons in 1685-86. To complete the task, the Board of Ordnance turned to a variety of artists and craftsmen, including the woodcarver William Emmett . It is thought that Emmett was born in about 1640, received his freedom as a member of the Joiners Company in 1660, and died in the mid 1690s.

Grinling Gibbons had supplied a horse and figure of Charles II in 1685 and one of Charles I in 1686 at a price of £40 each. However, in 1688 the Board did not turn to Gibbons, the leading woodcarver in England, but instead issued contracts for varying numbers of wooden horses and figures with kings’ faces to Emmett and four others: William Morgan, John Nost I, Thomas Quellin and Marmaduke Townson. Between them, these five carvers and sculptors made seventeen wooden horses and figures for the Line: several of the heads with faces survive and about half of the horses.

William Emmett was a leading woodcarver of the time but he supplied only one horse and figure for the Line. His limited involvement in the project is rather surprising as he was not only a carver who worked on several high-profile commissions in London but also because he had excellent contacts with Crown building projects through family members who were employed extensively as master bricklayers. In addition, Emmett’s uncle, Henry Philips, held the appointment of Master Carver and Sculptor in Wood to the Crown from 1661 until his death in 1693. During the last several years of this appointment Phillips seems to have allowed Emmett to discharge the duties for him. Only on Philips’ death was Grinling Gibbons given this appointment.

Emmett’s previous collaborations with other carvers had included working with Grinling Gibbons and William Morgan at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea , and with Gibbons at Whitehall Palace , as well as at St Mary Abchurch and other city churches . Emmett’s involvement in the supply of a carved horse and figure for the upgrading of the Horse Armoury is recorded as follows:

’27 March 1689
Received into their Majesty’s stores of Armoury within the Office of Ordnance from William Emott the statues hereafter mentioned being for a patterne per warrant the 4th August 1688:
Statue of a horse carved in wood – one
Statue in wood whereon a face is carved – one
at £20-00s-00d’

It is possible that the long period that elapsed between the warrant and delivery of the finished goods meant that Emmett missed out on the chance of extra work to other carvers like William Morgan. The reference to the carving ‘being for a patterne’ may possibly indicate that other orders might have followed its acceptance. Similar wording occurs in the documentation for William Morgan’s carvings.

Woodcarvers like Emmett and Morgan would have operated workshops with teams of labourers and craftsmen and at any one time they may have had several different jobs taking place. Decisions to prioritise one job at the expense of another would have been taken if the benefits of one contract outweighed another. This may explain why Emmett’s contribution to the Line of Kings was so limited, while Morgan’s was substantial. Emmett was clearly not out of favour with the Crown as from 1690 he was one of the carvers who provided decoration for Hampton Court and Kensington Palace.

It is very unlikely that the horse or carved head made by William Emmett will be identified. Other documented carvings by Emmett are very different in their type. Given the fact that about half the horses made for the Horse Armoury at the Tower of London in 1688-90 have not survived, it is as likely as not that his horse has been destroyed. Although some of the extant horses have been constructed differently to all the others, this may not be evidence that they were the products of other workshops. It may instead be a consequence of other factors, including the pattern of losses over the centuries.

Related Objects

Nicholas Alcock and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

John Nost I and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Thomas Quellin(us) and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Grinling Gibbons and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Marmaduke Townson and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

William Morgan and the Horse Armoury Click on the title link above to find out more.

Harquebusier’s Armour Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1630 | Object number: II.108

The Genesis of the Line of Kings, 1685-1692 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings

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