Here be Dragons - Monday, 23 January 2012
The Royal Armouries today welcomed the arrival of the Chinese Year of the Dragon on Monday by highlighting many fine examples of the mythical beasts in its galleries at the White Tower, Tower of London.
The Year of the Dragon is the mightiest sign in the Chinese zodiac equivalent – representing power and might – and dragons are also well represented in British history, and not only through St George.
Perhaps the most impressive of the White Tower dragons is a new addition – created last year – that welcomes visitors to the Power House display on the top floor.
Standing 3m high, this fabulous “bejewelled” beast greets visitors with a dragon-like roar, as they pass by its far side. The dragon is formed from objects representing elements of all The Tower’s great institutions – from weapons of the Ordinance to coins from the Mint. Fake jewels are used to depict his eyes and chains representing the Prison make up his tail.
Other highlights include:
- A pair of Burmese dragons, fabulously moustached and sitting atop a bronze bell, dated in 1797 and presented in 1874 by the Constable of the Tower Field Marshal Sir William Gomm, previously Commander-in Chief of British forces in India from 1850 – 1855. These dragons are depicted in the basement – currently in the process of being re-displayed and due to open in April.
- Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour sports dragons on both the man’s and horse’s harness. Unfortunately both are being vanquished by St George – the one on the breast plate by George on foot; the other on the chest of the horse armour depicts England’s patron saint mounted on horseback.
- The first floor contains a veritable flight of dragons. Perhaps the most obvious – and certainly the oldest – are squeezed onto inlaid decorative plaques on the saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon. Those joining the order founded by King Sigismund of Hungary in 1408, were presented with a sword and saddle. Indeed this may be the saddle given to Henry V of Agincourt fame in 1416.
- Continuing the Royal association, the case opposite the Gothic dragons of the 15th century holds the tiny 17th century armour possibly associated with Charles I as a child. A spitting dragon crouches on top of the helmet, its tail curling down to the back of the neck. The helmet surface is scaled, and a fearsome monster frames the wearer’s face, with growling companions adorning the pauldrons or shoulder pieces. 18th century visitors were told that it had belonged to Richard, Duke of York – brother of the uncrowned Edward V persuaded into the Tower for security in 1485 and never seen alive again. By the 19th century, the armour was more accurately dated but attributed to Jeffrey Hudson, dwarf to the court of Charles I.
- Darting back in time, the World Treasures’ case contains a roaring dragon’s head. Made by the German armourer Kunz Lochner in about 1550, it was designed as part of a crupper fitting along the horse’s back, with the tail flowing from between its jaws. Today, the rest of the dragon rests in Poland.
- Amid the displays of the Great Collectors, another dragon lurks, clinging to the side of a German horse muzzle dated 1596. The fashion for such things was short-lived from the end of the 16th to the early 17th century, but they remain popular among collectors and this example was bequeathed to the museum by Dr Richard Williams in 1974.
Notes to editors
For more information and the latest news about the Royal Armouries:
- Royal Armouries is the national museum of arms and armour and has sites in Leeds, HM Tower of London, Fort Nelson and Louisville, Kentucky. It is the first British national museum to open a permanent presence in another country
- Admission to the museum is free. However, there may be a small charge for some special events.
- Open all year daily, 10am-5pm. Closed 24-25 December
- Information Line: 0113 220 1999
- Website: www.royalarmouries.org
- The Royal Armouries Museum should not be confused with Royal Armouries International plc, the private sector corporate hospitality business.