Royal Armouries

William Hutton’s account of the Horse Armoury

Images

colour portrait of a man sitting at a desk holding a book

Portrait of William Hutton by an unknown artist, about 1780 © Birmingham Museums Trust

  • colour portrait of a man sitting at a desk holding a book

    Portrait of William Hutton by an unknown artist, about 1780 © Birmingham Museums Trust

  • monochrome photo of a child's size breastplate

    Breastplate associated with Will Somers. (III.157)

  • monochrome engraving of an armour with a helmet with curly horns

    The figure of Will Somers engraved in 1794

  • 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 line drawing of a line of armoured figures on horseback

    The Horse Armoury, by an unknown artist, early 19th century © Royal Armouries 2013

  • colour photo of a giant armour and a boy's armour

    Overall view of the 'Giant' and boy's armours. (II.22 & II.126)

  • colour photo of a carved wooden head of Henry VIII

    Carved wooden head of Henry VIII. English, about 1689-91 (XVII.1)

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

    Figure of Edward V, with a crown suspended above his head, in the Line of Kings from the 'Horse Armoury' by Rowlandson and Pugin. 1809 (I.345b)

  • 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 )

William Hutton’s account of the Horse Armoury

Description

William Hutton (1723-1815) was a bookseller, local historian and poet. His description of visiting the Tower of London in the 1780s is preceded by an account of being turned away as a young man:

‘We now enter the regions of antiquity … Here are sights to gratify all, except him who has no power to depart. A magazine of terror, of riches, of destruction. I longed for a sight of this important place in 1749 when I visited London but knew not how to obtain it. … my Derbyshire accent quickly brought the warders out of their lodge; who, on seeing the dust abound on my shoes, wisely concluded that money could not abound in my pocket; and. with the voice of authority, ordered me back.’

Hutton then records his impressions of gaining admittance to the Tower and its armouries on a much later occasion, when he was wealthier and of more respectable appearance:

‘In this horse armoury is a small suit of armour belonging to this Richard. … They shew us John-o-Gaunt’s sword and lance of an enormous size; and his suit of armour seven feet high, never worn by him or any other. It is not so much the armour of John-o-Gaunt, as of ostentation.
In the horse armory …..The royal regiment of kings, drawn up in battalia, and shewn to strangers, fell short of expectation. They seemed bigger than life, which is an unpardonable error in the statuary. An exact likeness of any one, is preferable to a random troop. The line consists of seventeen, and begins with William the Conqueror, after whom there is a chasm of seven kings, to Edward I. Fourteen are wanting. Some of this line are amiable characters. All animosity has subsided among them. Here Henry the Sixth, and Edward IV, mortal enemies in their day, sit quietly together. Edward the Fifth, of all others, demands our pity. Henry the Eighth seems as much a monster, as when he ordered the execution of the Earl of Surrey, but not quite so mischievous.
The horses are said to have cost forty pounds each.
We are told that king William wears the very armour worn by Edward the Black Prince, when he won the battle of Cressey; consequently, the brave Edward must have been of a smallish size, not more than five feet six; whereas his brother John a Gaunt was about six feet. The reason of this difference may perhaps be physically solved. Edward the Third, their father, was a man, at the birth of John a Gaunt, but he was only a boy, at the birth of the Black Prince.
The idle story and ridiculous figure of William Summers, is a disparagement to the place: why does not the lieutenant extinguish both in flames?”What should be great, they turn to farce”’.

Hutton brings his interest in and knowledge of history to bear and provides a critique of the display which was almost 100 years old at the time. It took another thirty years before such criticisms eventually led to the Line of Kings being re-displayed.

Related Objects

Will Somers’ Breastplate Click on the title link above to find out more.

Object number: III.157

Field Armour, the 'Giant' Armour Click on the title link above to find out more.

Dates from 1540 | Object number: II.22

Edward IV in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Edward V in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Henry VI in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

Henry VIII in the Line of Kings 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.

Edward I in the Line of Kings Click on the title link above to find out more.

The Hanoverian Line of Kings 1714-1820 Click on the title link above to find out more.

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Line of Kings