Royal Armouries

London Interiors a Grand National Exhibition of … the Capital: ‘The Tower, Horse Armoury’

Images

coloured engraving of a long hall displaying arms and armour

The Great Horse Armoury, Tower of London, by Sir John Gilbert, engraved by Henry Melville, 1841-44

  • coloured engraving of a long hall displaying arms and armour

    The Great Horse Armoury, Tower of London, by Sir John Gilbert, engraved by Henry Melville, 1841-44

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Charles I in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Edward IV in the Horse Armoury, by Robert William Buss, about 1840

  • 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 an armoured figure on horseback

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

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Henry VII in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Henry VIII in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Henry VIII in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King James I in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King James II in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840.

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of Sir Horace Vere in the Horse Armoury, The Penny Magazine, 1840

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    Figure of King Henry 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

London Interiors a Grand National Exhibition of … the Capital: ‘The Tower, Horse Armoury’

Description

To accompany the engraving ‘The Great Horse Armoury’ by Melville after a drawing by Gilbert, an anonymous writer commented on the experience of visiting the ‘Line of Kings’ and bemoaned the necessity of being guided around by a Warder:

‘At the foot of the White Tower, on its south side, runs the long and low building – very considerably its junior – used as the Horse Armoury, and now one of the chief lions of the place; the living ones, which used to be foremost among the sights and wonders of the Tower, having been dismissed to the zoological gardens…
…however, there is still much to be seen – so much so, indeed, that to see it properly – not merely to glance at it cursorily as a collection, but to inspect, examine, and become acquainted with it in detail, would require repeated visits. This is apparent enough from our view of the horse Armoury, since it shows – as far as any single view of the place can show – what a number of interesting curiosities this museum of military antiquities contains. It is to be regretted, therefore, that it cannot, or is not permitted to be made use of as a museum, but that visitors must be accompanied by a Warder, who conducts them along, explaining to them his show, in approved showman style, instead of being left to go about as they please, looking at what they like and as long as they like, just as they do at the British Museum’.

The writer also expressed criticisms of the pseudo-Gothic design of the New Horse Armoury built in 1826-27 but admired the exhibition of armoured figures on horseback, finding a moral lesson as well as much of antiquarian appeal:

‘The Horse Armoury is a long, low, and not very wide room, with a sort of aisle on its south side, and with pillars and arches meant to pass for Gothic, but of the most Pecksniff Gothic physiognomy. The ceiling, however, is flat, consequently anything but Gothic in character: nevertheless it is ornamented characteristically enough, and withal, not a little ingeniously with devices and decorations, composed of pistols, spears and other weapons which now look innocent and harmless enough.
…it is to be found a more or less pleasant occupation to contemplate this long array of warrior-kings, – of England’s royal chivalry, here presented in their effigies, fully armed and accoutered, – than it would have been to encounter any of them propriá persona in the field. We still continue to make use of old armour, but it is after the same fashion as old china, merely as curiosities for idle display, or as studies for antiquaries, writers of historical romances, and painters. Whenever we enter this gallery of ancient military virtu, and look upon our Henries and Edwards, decked out in all the pomp of warfare, ought we not to rejoice in the peaceful character of our times, as contrasted with an age of turbulence, blood-shed, and feudal vengeance?’.

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Line of Kings