Royal Armouries

Lee: Queen Elizabeth I’s Champion

Images

colour portrait of a bearded man with ruff and plumed hat

Portrait of Sir Henry Lee. Late 16th century (I.379)

  • colour portrait of a bearded man with ruff and plumed hat

    Portrait of Sir Henry Lee. Late 16th century (I.379)

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure holding a wooden baton

    Greenwich armour for field and tournament. (II.40)

  • colour photo of a full-length armour decorated with engraving

    Armour of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. English, Greenwich, (II.81)

  • monochrome newspaper illustration of a line of mounted armoured figures

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

  • colour photo of a decorated horse muzzle

    Horse muzzle. German, probably Augsburg, 1572 (VI.199)

  • watercolour detail showing the figure of a king in armour on a horse

    Figure of William the Conqueror, detail from a watercolour of the Line of Kings. Early 19th century (I.69 )

  • monochrome photo of an armoured figure mounted on a life-size wooden horse

    The figure of Sir Henry Lee, photograph about 1870 © Private collection 2013

  • colour portrait of a bearded man with ruff and plumed hat

    Portrait of Sir Henry Lee. Late 16th century (I.379)

  • colour photo of a side view of an armour helmet decorated with gold

    Helmet from armour of the real Sir Henry Lee. English, Greenwich, about 1580 IV.43)

  • monochrome illustration of a man in armour with plumed helmet

    Armour of Sir Henry Lee in the Tower, from The Tower and its Armouries by J Hewitt, 1841

Painting

Object Provenance: Late 16th century, Anglo-Flemish
Object Number: I.379

Lee: Queen Elizabeth I’s Champion

Description

In 1827 the Line of Kings display at the Tower of London had a shake up. An expert in armour, Dr Samuel Meyrick re-displayed the collection of historic armour and representations of kings of England for a more historically accurate display. The armour displayed before 1826 on the figure of William the Conqueror was assigned to a figure of Sir Henry Lee from 1827.

Partly due to the abundance of sixteenth-century armours within the collection and the lack of earlier armour a number of sixteenth-century nobles were added to the Line. This was particularly useful to help represent monarchs who had never been in the line, most likely due to their gender, markedly Elizabeth I.

Sir Henry Lee may not be as famous as some of Queen Elizabeth I’s other favourites, most notably Robert Dudley or Robert Devereux, however his representation within the Line of Kings was at least as appropriate as either of these other favourites also displayed. Sir Henry had been the Queen’s Champion in the 1580s and he arranged her famous Accession Day jousts. More poignantly, he had also been the Master of the Armouries, based at the Tower of London, during her reign.

In the 1827 Tower of London guidebook, Sir Henry’s role as Master of the Armouries is celebrated. In addition, the greater chronological accuracy of the new displays was underlined by showing mistakes by others. It seems Sir Henry had come back into public consciousness in 1826, probably through his appearance in Sir Walter Scott’s historic novel Woodstock or The Cavalier. However, the book was set during the English Civil War in the 1650s, which according to the guidebook showed ‘defiance to all chronology’.

By the 1842 Tower of London guidebook this comment about the book had been removed, probably as the book was no longer topical and now unfamiliar to visitors. In this entry, Sir Henry’s role in Elizabeth’s court was again celebrated, however it concluded with the uninspiring comment ‘The suit in which he is represented has nothing to distinguish it from others already noticed’. This immediately gives the impression that the representation of Sir Henry was not worth pondering over and was not very significant.

Needless to say in the twentieth century the desire to have a representation of Sir Henry Lee appeared to dwindle. Although the armour was kept on display, it received only a casual remark in brackets in the Tower of London guidebook for 1903 stating the figure was ‘formerly called Sir Henry Lee’. It appears Sir Henry Lee’s time amongst the Kings in the Line was over.

Painting

Object Provenance: Late 16th century, Anglo-Flemish
Object Number: I.379

Related Objects

Greenwich Armour for Field and Tournament Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1590 | Object number: II.40

Horse Muzzle Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1572 | Object number: VI.199

Samuel Meyrick and the Rearrangement of the Horse Armoury, about 1824-1827 Click on the title link above to find out more.

William the Conqueror in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dudley: Queen Elizabeth’s first favourite Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings