Royal Armouries

John Nost I and the Horse Armoury

Images

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)

  • 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)

  • monochrome photo of a carved wooden horse against a stone wall

    Carved wooden horse. 1972 (XVII.8)

  • monochrome photo of the rear view of a carved wooden horse

    Carved wooden horse. 1972 (XVII.8)

  • monochrome photo of the head of a carved wooden horse

    Carved wooden horse. 1972 (XVII.8)

  • 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 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 Edward III

    Carved wooden head of Edward III. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.41)

  • 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 Henry VI

    Carved wooden head of Henry VI. English, about 1688-91 (XVII.43)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of James I

    Carved wooden head of James I. English, about 1688-90 (XVII.47)

  • 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 the head of a wooden horse against a stone wall

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.10)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.11)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.12)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.14)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.16)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1865-90 (XVII.17)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. English, 1685-90 (XVII.18)

  • 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)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

    Head of a carved wooden horse from the Line of Kings. (XVII.7)

  • colour photo of the head of a wooden horse

John Nost I and the Horse Armoury

Description

In 1688 many craftsmen 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 John Nost I.

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 John Nost I and four others: William Emmett, William Morgan, 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. Although they cannot at present be definitely identified, it is almost certain that several of the surviving carvings were made by Nost and his workshop team.

John Nost I is well-known as a sculptor in metal and in marble but it is surprising that he was contracted to supply more wooden horses and figures for the new Line of Kings than any other craftsman except the woodcarver William Morgan. Office of Ordnance documents reveal that on 30 August 1688 a warrant was issued for the carving of six wooden horses and figures:

‘28 September 1688
Received into his Majesty’s stores of Armoury from John Nost the statues of wood hereafter mentioned per contract 30th August 1688
I horse statue of wood carved £20-00-00 ’

It is strange that this document is the only one to mention only a horse; all the others always refer specifically to both horses and figures with carved faces. It is unclear whether there is a good reason for this difference or that it was simply an error. However, this horse was only the second of the 1688-90 consignment to have been delivered. Like William Morgan, who had delivered a horse and figure on 16 August, Nost may have been required to submit one sample before completing the rest of his order. Unlike Morgan, however, Nost’s receipt does not mention his horse being ‘a pattern’.

It was some considerable time until Nost fulfilled his order:

‘31st March 1690
Received into their Majesty’s stores of Armoury within the Office of Ordnance from John Nost the particulars according to a warrant dated the 30th August 1688
Horse statues of wood carved 5
Statues of wood on each of which a face is carved 5
Sceptres or truncheons 5
5 att £20 a pce
£100-00-00 ’

This document is unique among those for the carvers and sculptors in mentioning the supply of sceptres or truncheons. These are known to have been included in the display, but it is unclear where they were obtained from. This second document relating to Nost’s commission fails to clarify whether he supplied in total six horses and figures, or six horses but only five figures with carved faces.

John Nost’s career is an interesting one which connects him very closely with several others involved in making horses and figures for the Horse Armoury at the Tower of London, notably Grinling Gibbons and Thomas Quellin. Nost is first recorded working in England in 1678 as one of the immigrant craftsmen employed by Charles II to decorate Windsor Castle. Nost is thought to have come from Malines (Mechelen) in Belgium but little is known of his life before his arrival in England. He was sculptor Arnold Quellin’s foreman and on his master’s death Nost married his widow, Frances, who had inherited the sculptor’s business.

They ran a highly successful business, supplying sculptures ranging from funerary monuments to garden decorations, until the death of John Nost I in August 1710. His cousin, John Nost II appears to have taken on the sculpture business, continuing it after the death of Frances in 1716. Nost II ran it with success until his own death in April 1729 when his widow took over before their son, John Nost III took it over.

Related Objects

William Emmett 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.

Nicholas Alcock 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.

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

Wooden Horse - Black stallion - XVII.8 Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: XVII.8

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

Themes Menu

Line of Kings

Want to know more?

People of the Tower -