Royal Armouries

James II in the Line of Kings

Images

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

  • monochrome photograph of a full length man's armour

    Cuirassier armour, English, London and Greenwich, 1610-25 (II.94)

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

    Harquebusier's armour. (II.108)

  • monochrome photo of a breastplate with a large shot away section across the middle

    Breastplate with firearm damage. (III.107)

  • monochrome lantern slide of an armoured figure on a horse

    Toiras breastplates displayed in the White Tower after 1882

  • colour photo of James II's breastplate, helmet, and gauntlet over a buffcoat

    Armour of King James II. English, London, 1686 (II.123)

  • monochrome photo of armoured figures on foot and horseback with large firearm

    The armour of James II in the New Horse Armoury. © Private collection 2013

  • 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 a line of mounted armoured figures

    ‘Interior of the Horse Armoury’, anon engraving, The Penny Magazine, 1836 © Royal Armouries 2013

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of an armoured figure on horseback

    James II from Charles Knight, London, 1842.

  • pen and ink sketch of a man in a fur hat

    Portrait of Lodewijk Huygens, ink drawing by Constantijn Huygens II, 6 November 1669 © Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

  • Engraving of James II.

    Engraving of James II.

King James II Harquebusier’s armour

Object Provenance: English, London, 1686
Object Number: II.123

James II in the Line of Kings

Description

The decision to include for the first time a figure of James II within the re-display of the Line of Kings in 1827 may have been a difficult one.

The re-display was co-ordinated by Dr Samuel Meyrick, who had been consulted after he had published a criticism of the numerous inaccuracies in the displays of historic armour in the Tower of London in his 1824 work A Critical Inquiry into Antient Armour. Meyrick had principally criticised the use of suits of armour for monarchs that were completely inappropriate for the period in which the monarch had lived.

The Tower Armouries collection included armour that had belonged to monarchs, including Henry VIII and Charles I, and these armours were often featured in the Line of Kings and celebrated in the Tower of London guidebooks. Meyrick’s re-display ousted many former royal figures, mainly replacing them with noblemen. The only new royal figure added by Meyrick in 1827 was that of James II – signalling the Line of Kings’ change of message. James II’s harquebusier armour was one of the genuine pieces of royal armour that remained in the Armouries collection, and consequently it would appear obvious to include this in the Line. However, James II was a monarch who had not fitted comfortably into the grand narrative on display. At long last the display of ‘good kings’ could accommodate James II, whose fine personal armour appears not previously to have been exhibited at the Tower.

Although a Catholic, James II had succeeded to the throne peacefully in 1685. Problems started when it was perceived that he was attempting to promote the Roman Catholic cause within Britain, replacing Protestants in positions of power by Catholics. In 1687 he issued the Declaration of Indulgences aiming for religious toleration, but the last straw came when his second wife, Mary of Modena, gave birth to a son in 1688, appearing to secure the Catholic Stuart succession.

When William of Orange, a Dutch Protestant and James II’s son-in-law, invaded at the end of 1688 he met little resistance and James fled abroad. In February 1689 Parliament declared James’ flight constituted an abdication and William and Mary (James’ daughter) were declared joint monarchs. By July 1690 it appeared William’s position and the Glorious Revolution had succeeded when he defeated James II’s forces at the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland.

In the nineteenth century James II was still not viewed favourably, seen as aiming for Popery and absolute power, this has been noted in the Oxford Dictionary for National Biography, where W. A. Speck has describes the nineteenth century view of James II as effectively ‘using the royal prerogative to undermine English liberties’. This left the question of whether to display him in the Line of Kings.

What resulted was one of the most dramatic displays in the Line of Kings. In the Tower of London guidebook for 1827 the figure of James II is described as appearing ‘to be stealing cautiously along, close to the wall’, his horse also facing the door. It would have almost looked like James was in the process of abdicating as visitors arrived to view the line. This was not subtle and was commented upon by the critical London Magazine which stated ‘The last figure on horseback is that of James II – and the manner in which the guidebook abuses him for the place into which they have chosen to put him in the Tower, is an exemplary lesson to fallen monarchs’. The display almost appeared to be a warning. It is not clear how long this dramatic display was kept. In the Tower of London guidebook for 1842 James II is still last in the line, but no emphasis is made on his actions.

In 1882-3 the Line of Kings was removed from the New Horse Armoury, which was soon to be demolished, and the equestrian figures were installed in the Council Chamber within the White Tower. In the 1903 guidebook the figure of James II is described in an enclosure and alongside other monarchs. The figure of James would have been completely reconsidered in April 1915 when his white horse was broken up having succumbed to worm and fungus.

It seems after his initial introduction to the Line in 1827 the emphasis of James II’s failures in life took a back seat to the narrative of the history of arms and armour. In the 1827 guidebook visitors are asked to note ‘the striking contrast which his appearance affords, when compared with the rest of the equestrian figures’, as there is a move towards wearing less steel plate in the face of the development of firearms. This is repeated in the 1842 guidebook which states ‘Altogether this suit presents a ludicrous contrast to the preceding’.

James II would not have been an obvious choice for inclusion within the Line of Kings during the 18th century when it represented good kingship. However, the existence of his own armour within the collection almost made his inclusion compulsory when the display was re-organised on a more scholarly basis to show the history of arms and armour.

James II is represented in the current Line of Kings display by his personal armour exhibited on an equestrian figure. As no wooden head of James II seems to have been carved, Meyrick appears in 1827 to have transferred Charles II’s head to James II’s figure. This has been repeated in the current exhibition.

King James II Harquebusier’s armour

Object Provenance: English, London, 1686
Object Number: II.123

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