Royal Armouries

1995 - 2013

‘The Line of Kings’ Revisited

Research into the history of the ‘Line of Kings’ using archives, historic photographs and surviving objects had revealed the unusual and fascinating story of a display at the Tower that had been attracting paying visitors since the seventeenth century. Following the establishment during the 1990s of two new Royal Armouries museums, one at Fort Nelson, Hampshire for the artillery collection and the other in a purpose-built headquarters at Leeds, it was possible for the Armouries displays at the Tower to focus on the history of that site in particular. The conditions were therefore right for a re-display of all the galleries of the White Tower, including one representing the Horse Armoury or ‘Line of Kings’, giving an impression of how it had once looked.

This posed several problems that Dr Geoffrey Parnell, Christopher Gravett and their colleagues grappled with. One difficulty was that not all the objects that had previously formed the display in the Horse Armoury could be identified in the collection. In addition, some of the most important pieces of the surviving arms and armour were now displayed at the new Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds. For these and other reasons it was therefore decided that ‘There is neither the space nor enough surviving horses to reconstruct the entire Line. Moreover, its composition changed during the centuries of display…The Line today [1998], therefore seeks to give a modern interpretation of this unusual exhibition’.

In addition, this re-interpretation of the ‘Line’ also faced a challenge because research into the history of arms and armour over the previous 200 years had revealed that in many cases previous assertions that the kings were shown wearing their actual armour were wildly incorrect. This would have made it very confusing for visitors if Elizabethan armour had once again been used on the figures of medieval kings. In the end, the mounted figures in armour were represented by only one figure, wearing a plain early 17th century Greenwich armour of the type known to have been used in the Line. However, research into the objects had added greatly to the picture established by Dr Alan Borg in the 1970s. The display has been seen by millions, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.

In 2011 the decision was taken to re-display the ‘Line’ once again. In preparation for this research was undertaken into both the key objects and the manuscript and printed accounts about them. For example, during 2012 the 17th century wooden horses and selected heads were examined using paint analysis. Some of the heads were submitted for tree ring analysis (dendrochronology) and the horses were examined internally using endoscopy and X-radiography. The War Office and Audit Office accounts at The National Archives were re-checked. The results showed that the carved horses and heads show interesting differences in materials, construction methods and paintwork. However, it has remained impossible so far to prove definite connections between particular horses or heads and individual carvers named in the 1680s accounts. In early 2013 new designs for the ‘Line of Kings’ were approved and the 1998 exhibition finally closed after Easter ready for installation of the latest version of this long-running attraction.

The Horse Armoury through time

Since its creation the Horse Armoury has occupied several locations within the Tower of London complex, explore the map to discover more.


Explore the Horse Armoury through time in a larger map