Currently wooden horses and armour dominate Royal Armouries’ life at the Tower with the opening of the new exhibition celebrating the Line of Kings – our oldest on-site display and the longest-running visitor attraction in the world.
One hundred years ago, the Tower Curator Charles ffoulkes (who unusually spelled his surname without an initial capital letter) was similarly engaged as he turned his attention to one of the iconic pieces in the Royal Armouries collection and its mount.
Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour for man and horse (II.5 & VI 1-5) was believed to be a wedding gift from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian to the young king and his first bride, Catherine of Aragon. Today the armour is dated to about 1515 and attributed to Henry’s Greenwich workshops. It retains a touch of romance, with the couple’s initials decorating the skirt of the rider’s armour and background heraldry incorporating their personal and family badges.
The rearing horse that had carried this armour throughout the 19th into the early 20th century had fallen victim to the ongoing fight against woodworm raging in the White Tower. The gallant steed is shown displayed in the New Horse Armoury – a crenellated Gothic addition to the south face of the White Tower built in the 1820s to accommodate the revamped 17th century Line of Kings – in Frank M Good’s stereoscopic card.
In 1882 the New Horse Armoury was emptied prior to demolition. Henry and his horse found themselves relocated to the White Tower top floor west, balanced precariously on the exposed beams crossing the mid 19th century light wells.
The Tower Diary (I.188) notes “a new horse of papier maché made by M.Felix Joubert of Chelsea” arriving in the Tower on May 6, 1913. Monsieur Joubert was more famed as a cabinet maker, and during the Great War produced a trench knife, but his new horse proved popular, if rather unrealistic, in its arrested stance, and its relatives appeared in supporting roles at Windsor Castle and the Wallace Collection.
It was hoisted up to the top floor of the White Tower as this contemporary photograph shows.
In October, 1914, the original deal horse “formerly used for the engraved suit” and “marked 1824, Graher and Wooton carpenters” was “cut by order”. This was another historic link severed, as 1824 was the time that Sir Samuel Meyrick was re-organising the Line of Kings display in a more scholarly fashion and buying in new horses.
In 2009, Joubert’s horse was itself retired, returning to Leeds, and Henry found himself astride a flocked 21st century horse commissioned from David Hayes as part of the Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill exhibition celebrating the quincentenary of Henry’s accession (1509). You are invited to trot along to view the pair and their companions on the White Tower entrance floor.
Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries.