Agincourt 600: Triumph of the longbow?

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London.To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Thom Richardson of the Royal Armouries, writes about the iconic longbows of the battle.

© His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

The battle of Agincourt from the Brut Chronicle (Chronicle of St Albans), English, late 15th century. © His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

The accounts of the privy wardrobe, the fourteenth century organisation which ran the armoury at the Tower of London and the earliest ancestor of the present-day Royal Armouries, give incredible detail about the manufacture, storage and issue of armour and weapons, especially longbows and arrows, throughout the first half of the Hundred Years War. Unfortunately the records run out after 1410, so the details about what went over to Harfleur with Henry V for the Agincourt campaign don’t survive. But we have a pretty good idea of all the processes from what went on before.

On the whole, each archer in an English army was issued for each campaign with a bow, between two and five bowstrings and two ‘sheaves’ of arrows (each of twenty-four arrows tied up with hemp cord, which they reused to tie the arrows round their waists for battle, no quivers).

An example of an 'arrow bag' as used at the battle in 1415.

An example of an ‘arrow bag’ as used at the battle in 1415.

Ordinary arrows were of poplar, fletched with goose feathers and fitted with a single type of low-barbed head. The best bows were painted, and supplied with ash arrows with steel heads, fletched with peacock feathers.

Though hardly any medieval longbows survive either, we now have an amazing group of them from the Mary Rose, which have revolutionised our understanding of the weapon in the last twenty years. We now think they ranged in draw weight between 65–160 lb, with an average about 110 lb, double what we thought a generation ago.

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Bow, from the wreck of the Mary Rose sunk in 1545, English, mid-16th century.

Odd that this change in understanding should have taken so long, as we have had two of the Mary Rose bows, excavated from the bottom of the Solent by John Deane and William Edwards using their newly invented diving apparatus in 1840, on display at the Tower ever since.

Anyway, the ‘new’ high-powered bows have been reconstructed, experimented with, and enabled the rediscovery of a medieval style of shooting ‘in the bow’ which had been lost through centuries of target archery with much lighter longbows. One of these experimental archaeologists, Mark Stretton, who is one of the best exponents of this rediscovered style of shooting, undertook a fascinating experiment with a bow, some arrows and a radio-controlled lawnmower, which showed that a skilled medieval archer could shoot just three aimed arrows into a charging French knight (or lawnmower). See below a clip of Mark shooting a 140lb self yew bow made by Pip Bickerstaffe.

Filmed at the shooting at Malestroit Medieval Festival 2011, by bowyer (longbow-maker) Ian Cootes (40bowyr).

While the bows have ‘become’ more powerful than we used to think, the ‘arrowstorm’ beloved of English archery enthusiasts has diminished. We used to talk about resupply of arrows as if it was a natural and simple process, but the privy wardrobe accounts show otherwise. Each archer had two sheaves of arrows to last a campaign, and would probably go into battle with just one of them. So all the statistics of how many arrows an archer can shoot in a minute are very much put into perspective by realising that such an arrowstorm could last just three minutes, then the arrows were gone. Once we are aware of that, we can see it happening in the sources: at Poitiers in 1356 the English archers ran out, and tried to recover spent arrows. At Towton in 1461 the Lancastrian archers ran out of arrows, and suffered the indignity of having the Yorkists shoot their own arrows back at them. So the vision moves away from darkening the sky with arrows like the Persians’ at Thermopylae towards a smaller number of accurately aimed arrows shot from very powerful bows by highly skilled and practised professional archers.

The Battle of Agincourt catalogue and exhibition present a whole new way of looking at English medieval archery, derived from the study of actual objects, experimental archaeology and medieval documents, all working together to provide a new understanding of the past. And we have acquired a large group of English arrowheads of the period, mostly from the River Thames, to go in the exhibition. Sadly Westminster Abbey, who own the only fifteenth century arrow in England, couldn’t lend it to us, but our bows and arrowheads will join forces with the Mary Rose bows and arrows (no heads, iron hardly survives at all on the Mary Rose) to present in the catalogue and exhibition the most comprehensive display about English medieval archery ever staged.


Broadhead (arrowhead) European, 15th c. Royal Armouries collection.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press website. The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: An introduction to the battle

Battle of Agincourt (1415) Chroniques. d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century) - H. W. Koch: Illustrierte Geschichte der Kriegszüge im Mittelalter, S. 133,

Battle of Agincourt (1415) Chroniques. d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century) – H. W. Koch: Illustrierte Geschichte der Kriegszüge im Mittelalter, S. 133,

The battle of Agincourt took place on St Crispin’s day, Friday 25 October 1415, between the armies of King Henry V of England and King Charles VI of France. For the 600th anniversary of the battle, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection of arms, armour, objets d’art, and manuscripts at the Tower of London, as well staging a family events programme and publishing a book commemorating the battle in association with Yale Books.

To introduce you to this battle and the Hundred Years War period, we’ll have to take you through some family history of Henry V.

The background

Henry V was the son of Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV of England). Edward III was Henry V’s great-grandfather;his grandfather was Edward’s third son John of Gaunt (1st Duke of Lancaster). Henry V inherited the ‘Hundred Years War’ from his great-grandfather after Edward III challenged Phillip VI’s right to the French crown.

When Charles IV, the French King, died in 1328 he left no male heir. His nearest male relative was his nephew Edward III;Charles IV’s sister Isabella was Edward’s mother.The French nobility did not want to be ruled by an English King, and there was already recognition that femailes could not succeed to the throne. Therefore they agreed that the heir would be Phillip of Valois, Charles IV’s first cousin. Despite this Edward III argued that although a woman was unable to inherit , it did not  prevent inheritance through the female line – which formed the basis of his claim.

100 years war family tree

There were many other factors that contributed to  outbreak of  the Hundred Years War: including England’s relationship with Scotland, France’s disruption of the English wool trade, and England’s complicated land ownership history of Gascony and Aquitaine (regions of South West France) – but it was his claim to the French throne that Edward III’s campaigns, and those  of his descendants, would be later justified.

The Battle

Agincourt was one of three major land battles of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), which in fact lasted 116 years. On 26 August 1346 Edward III defeated Philip VI at Crécy. On 16 July 1356 Edward’s eldest son, Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) captured Philip VI’s successor John II at the battle of Poitiers. He was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London. Yet it is hard to imagine national celebrations of these battles or a major exhibition devoted to them.

Battle of Crécy, 1346. Copiste inconnu - Grandes Chroniques de France, British Library Cotton MS Nero E. II pt.2, f.152v

Battle of Crécy, 1346. Copiste inconnu – Grandes Chroniques de France, British Library Cotton MS Nero E. II pt.2, f.152v

Battle of Poitiers (miniature from the Chronicles of Froissart).

Battle of Poitiers, 1356 (miniature from the Chronicles of Froissart).

Agincourt is a well-documented battle. 1415 was the first occasion since 1359 that an English king had invaded France in person. It was also the largest army taken to France since the battle of Crécy 69 years previously. His preparations indicated that Henry V was planning to conquer the kingdom in what would be a long campaign. Despite this, Agincourt was a swift victory; one chronicler suggesting it was over in half an hour, while others suggest that it lasted between two and three hours.

Henry V set sail for France on 11th August, landing near Le Havre on the 13th. He then laid siege to Harfleur from  17th August until the 22nd September when the town surrendered. Despite his intention to conqueror France, this would be Henry’s one and only capture of his campaign.

A map of Henry V's campaign route

A map of Henry V’s campaign route

On the morning of Friday 25th October both English and French armies met in battle at Agincourt.  In the early afternoon, fearing a renewed French attack, Henry famously ordered the French prisoners to be killed. This has generated controversy in more recent times, even to the extent of asking whether Henry V should be deemed a war criminal. Contemporaries, however, saw the battle as distinctive primarily for the high number of French casualties and prisoners, and for the exceptionally low number of English casualties.

There was no ‘standing army’ (a permanent, often professional, army composed of full-time soldiers that is not  disbanded in times of peace) in either France or England in 1415. Troops were raised on a campaign-by-campaign basis. There were many similarities between the armies in terms of their recruitment, armour and equipment, but one crucial difference: the English brought relatively few men- at- arms on campaign (soldiers who wore full plate armour in battle) but a much greater proportion of archers. The significance of archers in the battle was noted at the time. Their ‘arrowstorm’ disrupted  the French advance, thereby undermining  their numerical superiority. Henry’s deployment of his archers has been a contested area in modern historical work, alongside the sometimes heated debate on the size of the armies.

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Images of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt diorama, made by model maker David Marshall and Perry Miniatures, which forms part of the exhibition at the Tower of London.

This takes us to the nub of historical study of the battle. Despite pioneering work in the mid nineteenth century by Sir Joseph Hunter, one of the founders of the Public Record Office, and the extensive but antiquarian narrative of the campaign in James Wylie’s Reign of Henry the Fifth (1914), there was no full- scale study of the financial records of Henry’s army until Professor Anne Curry (trustee of the Royal Armouries) published ‘The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations’. There are many documents to draw on, especially the muster lists which provide names and details of pay. Records for the French army also exist but are less extensive and await fuller analysis.

Narrative sources are numerous, as Curry’s study outlines. The most well-known English sources include the Gesta Henrici Quinti (‘Deeds of Henry V’) written by an English priest present on the campaign, plus battle narratives in two eulogistic Latin lives of Henry V written in the late 1430s, and insights into ‘popular’ views through English poems and chronicles – especially the vernacular chronicle known as the Brut. On the French side, the most influential account has been that of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, who sought to continue the earlier chronicling begun by Jean Froissart in the late fourteenth century, but there are many others – testimony to the impact of the battle on the French. Many studies of the battle have drawn on the sixteenth- century English histories of Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed, which informed Shakespeare, rather than on narratives written closer to the period.

The battle’s legacy

Why should there be so much interest in commemorating this battle today? Agincourt was not a decisive battle. The French suffered heavy losses in terms of dead and captured but politically these were not significant enough to force the French to the negotiating table. Henry’s victory made his later conquest of Normandy easier, as the French were reluctant to meet him in battle again. But his final triumph in May 1420 – acceptance as heir and regent of France by the treaty of Troyes – was the result of political divisions in France rather than simply military success.


Title page of Q1 The Chronicle History of Henry Fift (1600)

The simplest explanation for the special place of Agincourt is Shakespeare. His Henry V (1599), probably the first play performed at the Globe Theatre, provides the image of a charismatic individual and his great victory that still predominates today. Had Shakespeare’s involvement in the writing of the play Edward III (1590–94) been greater, we might have been celebrating Crécy and Poitiers too, but its language comes nowhere near the memorable and inspirational speeches of Henry V. Over the centuries Shakespeare’s Henry V has come to stand for Englishness and for triumph in the face of adversity. Nowhere is this more evident than in Laurence Olivier’s famous film of the play released in 1944, dedicated to the commandos and airborne troops who made D- Day possible.

Poster of Henry V. British Film Institute.

Poster of Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, 1944. British Film Institute.

The dominance of Shakespeare explains why we have included the play, the Olivier film and the musical legacy in this exhibition. The Agincourt Carol, which may have been composed only weeks after the battle for Henry V’s triumphal entry to London, was used to good effect by William Walton in his film score. It was also played when the announcement was made that London had pipped Paris to the 2012 Olympic Games. A fifteenth century manuscript of the Agincourt Carol is included in our exhibition at the Tower of London.

Performance of the Agincourt Carol by the Alamire.

The frequency of conflict with France until the Entente Cordiale (peace treaty between England and France) of 1904 helped to keep Agincourt in the public gaze. It is not surprising that families, from the sixteenth century onwards, have been keen to find (or invent) ancestors who distinguished themselves at the battle, or that objects should be forged to provide a tangible link with the glorious victory.

The first serious study of the battle by Harris Nicolas in 1827 was coloured by the Napoleonic Wars. Even though it publicised important sources it also perpetuated myths, including the notion that we did not know the names of the archers in Henry V’s army. Excavations at Azincourt in 1818, initiated by Lt- Col. John Woodford – who commanded the army of observation in the region after Waterloo, clouded rather than extended knowledge of the battlefield. Current efforts to apply modern standards of battlefield archaeology are starting to advance our understanding, but as yet the location has not been confirmed.

The aim of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition, events programme, and publication, is to set the battle in context as well as to explore the event itself. The aim is to enhance understanding of the proceedings leading up to the battle, including the military preparations made by each side, the immediate consequences of Henry V’s victory, and finally the influence that Agincourt has exerted on historical and cultural memory in the centuries following the battle. The Tower of London provides an ideal starting point since it played a crucial role in preparations for the campaign as well as its aftermath. The Royal Armouries were not formally established until 1984, but as the successor body to the Tower Armouries and, before that, the Ordnance Office, we have enjoyed a continuous presence at the Tower of London since the establishment of the privy wardrobe in the early fourteenth century. The privy wardrobe managed the supply and logistical requirements for the military campaigns of English kings from the reign of Edward III onwards. The 1415 campaign was no exception.

The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition will run at at the Tower of London from 23 October 2015 until 31 January 2016, please visit our website to find out about the objects on display and our half term events programme. Further posts on the content of our ‘Agincourt’ catalogue, in association with Yale University Press, can be found as they are published via this link.


Henry VIII (1540): at large

A coy II.8 mounted for foot combat.

A coy II.8 mounted for foot combat.

Despite reports in the press, Henry VIII’s 1540 garniture – recently  identified as one of Britain’s most valuable hidden museum treasures – far from hiding away has been flaunting himself happily about the Tower for the last three and half centuries.

As part of the Horse Armoury, the Tower’s oldest display, Henry has been a mainstay of the monarchs posing for the public. Unfortunately there are only written descriptions of the exhibit for the 17th and 18th centuries when it was at its most raunchy.  The Stuarts and Georgians had no problems with displaying the armour in its entirety – codpiece and all. There are even suggestions that the Yeoman Warder guides rigged up a device to make a greater spectacle of the latter.

By the 19th century illustrations of the display and its various armours become more commonplace.


This illustration of the line of monarchs parading in the Horse Armoury from 1830, shows the display after Sir Samuel Meyrick’s reorganisation of 1826 in its purpose built gallery attached to the south front of the White Tower. At number 4, Henry’s armour is not really that distinguishable from the others.  His previous medieval companions who had been kitted out from Store and therefore sported largely 16th C and later armour, had been culled by Meyrick in the interests of authenticity.

HenryVIII 1540 Penny mag

The Penny Magazine of 1840 sports a jovial Henry, visor raised to show his 17th century sculpted wooden head clearly atop the 1540 harness.   He has acquired a horse – perhaps to spare  delicate   Victorian sensibilities the embarrassment of the codpiece?

Eight years later, Henry shows signs of succumbing to the good life.

Illustrated London News_HenryVIII 1540

The 1848 Illustrated London News has a markedly rotund Henry, mace in hand.  A similarly broad John Bull figure stands  in the foreground.

In photographs of the 1870s Henry rides a grey horse and has donned a sword belt. Unfortunately the belt girdles his waist with difficulty, looking suspiciously like a recycled  old school tie pressed into service.

With the demolition of the New Horse Armoury building in 1882, the displays and Henry moved into the White Tower colonising the top floor.

HenryVIII 1540 blog post_Postcard

This post card shows the display in about the 1890s – early 1900s and Henry can be seen clearly to the right. His horse seems to have lost its glowing paleness and may even have moved towards the dun.

But perhaps it’s just the overall tone, as the Wrench postcard shows it even more clearly pre 1906 glowing white again.

HenryVIII 1540 blog post_Postcard2

After the First World War, Henry moved back to a central display line riding a new horse.

HenryVIII 1540 armour mounted_1

Henry acquired his final horse, with distinctive curling lip, in 1951.

HenryVIII 1540 armour mounted_2

In the 1980s, Henry parted company with his horse, regained his codpiece and was joined by a modern American Footballer, to compare and contrast sporting armours. The face is the same as the one illustrated in The Penny Magazine, but seems to have acquired a resigned air.

HenryVIII 1540_American footballer

Underneath it all he remains the figure we have known and loved for so long – with underpinnings revealed –HenryVIII 1540 armour_Internal frameHenryVIII 1540 armour_Front viewA very merry and public monarch indeed.

Bridget Clifford, Keeper at the Tower and present custodian of the king’s suit. 7.09.2015.


The Curator @ War: 8 September 1915 “Cometh the hour, cometh the man – ffoulkes to the fore!”

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

ffoulkes 8th September

If ffoulkes had wondered how best he could contribute to the War effort, his involvement with London’s anti-aircraft defences saw him thrust him into the frontline on the evening of Wednesday 8th September 1915.

The threat of air raids hung over Britain from the outbreak of hostilities, finally materialising on 19th January 1915. The intention was for German naval Zeppelins L3 and L4 to attack military and industrial buildings on Humberside, while L6 targeted the Thames estuary under strict instructions to avoid London (and the Kaiser’s relations there). Engine problems forced L6 to turn back, while bad weather caused the other pair to bomb Norfolk coastal towns. As a result, Samuel Alfred Smith, shoe maker of St Peter’s Plain, Great Yarmouth became the first civilian victim of an air raid, closely followed by Martha Taylor. In King’s Lynn 14 year old Percy Goate and 26 year old Mrs Alice Gazely (recently widowed) perished.

Further raids on the East Coast followed, and on May 31st Army Zeppelin LZ.38 attacked Greater London reportedly killing 6 (nowadays revised to 7 dead with 35 injured).

At the Tower ffoulkes was already beginning to turn his thoughts to the collection and preservation of material from the conflict, and attempted – unsuccessfully – to secure examples of this new form of warfare as this letter of 8th June reveals.

ffoulkes 8th September_2

The Imperial German Navy’s Zeppelin L13 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Mathy (follow this link to see his photograph was a comparatively new addition to the fleet, and its raid on Eastern Counties & London District on the night of 8th September 1915 – the 15th   raid  on England – was probably the most costly. The Times of 10th September reported 20 dead (including children and babies) and 86 injured. Damage to property was reckoned to be £500,000. More decisively it struck at the heart of the nation’s capital.

Recalling the events of that night in his 1939 autobiography  ffoulkes admitted that realising a historic moment was approaching he ordered the anti-aircraft gun he commanded to fire before receiving official orders.   “I was questioned as to why I had fired without orders, and on giving my reasons, which were mainly of a historical nature, after a mild ‘reprimand’, was told by a sympathetic retired naval captain that I could keep the two first cartridge-cases provided that my return of used cases was complete. This was effected by judicious negotiations in the proper quarter, known as wangling, and the historic first rounds repose, the one in the Tower and the other in the Imperial War Museum”.

ffoulkes 8th September_ffoulkes cartridge case

ffoulkes cartridge case accompanied by one from Tower Bridge anti-aircraft gun and the remains of a German incendiary device from the raid on display in the Basement of the White Tower today.

There was much debate about the effectiveness of the raids. The British press asserted it merely raised anti-German feeling stiffening the home front’s resolve to resist the enemy. Much was made of the abandonment of the “honourable practice of civilized warfare to exempt from attack” civilians. The German press trumpeted British vulnerability in the face of “successful attacks, conducted with endless technical superiority” (Cologne Gazette) while stressing the raids sought to spare “the Royal Palaces, homes of art and science, monuments, churches and buildings which serve benevolent purposes” (Vessiche Zeiling).

L13 made her stately withdrawal to fight another day. On the night of October 1st 1916 while part of an 11 strong attack on the Eastern Counties she was shot down in flames at Potters Bar.  Mathy, described as “incomparably the best of all the airship commanders” perished with his crew.

London’s last Zeppelin attack was on 19th October 1917.



The Curator @ War : April 1915 –An exercise in equine detection.

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.


After the traumas of March 1915, the Minute Book has a single entry for April dealing with the more humdrum concerns of everyday life in the Tower Armouries.  The continuing fight against woodworm and decay has featured in this blog before, and this month a further three wooden horses succumbed. Only one of them is readily identifiable thanks to Ffoulkes noting its association with James II.

James II reigned from 1685 – 1688 and archival records suggest that he was actively engaged with exploiting the line of kings’ display at the Tower commissioning new horses for the figures of his brother, Charles II (1685) and his father (1686). He may also have had a hand in initiating the ordering of 17 new horses and 16 new figures with faces received into Store between 1688 -1690, but he did not remain long enough to reap the reward.  In December 1688 James fled the country with his wife and 6 month old son whose birth had precipitated the crisis.  His son in law and usurper, William, was the beneficiary, using the revamp of the monarchist display to bolster his position.

James would not have satisfied the criteria (never fully defined) for inclusion in the early line, but he did leave behind a very fine harquebusier’s armour.



By 1826, the antiquarian Sir Samuel Meyrick intent on making a more historically accurate display of this line of equestrian figures had no compunction in including James together with a new horse as can be seen in the accompanying illustration of 1830.


The 1827 guide book noted that James’s abdication was reflected by his position leaving “the company of his brother sovereigns and the enclosure assigned to them … stealing cautiously along, close to the wall… with his horse’s head towards the door”. As none of the horses are coloured, the new steed may indeed have been white, but it is distinguished by its odd posture.

Unlike the earlier 17th century beasts who give the impression of solidity in their stance even with the occasional leg lifted, James’s mount is poised on the tips of three of its hooves with only its offside foreleg extended to meet the ground more firmly. Unfortunately 2 illustrations of the figure published in 1842 seem to show a completely different horse – the Penny Magazine one having also changed its colour.










A photograph in a private album of the 1870s shows James back in line with his fellow kings reunited with the impractical prancing white steed in the New Horse Armoury.

With the clearance and subsequent demolition of the New Horse Armoury in 1881, the equine figures moved into the White Tower colonising the top floor.  Once again James found himself displayed adrift from the parade, riding across the south wall of the gallery while his fellows processed northwards along the length of the floor.



Interestingly, the magazine engraving of the display from the Graphic of 1885 has reversed James and omitted the splendid electrical globe lighting installed by the Royal Engineers in 1884.  It does however show the decoration of the roof light surrounds in great detail.


The final image of the group so far identified is this postcard dated 1903 showing the later configuration of the displays issuing out from the walls towards the central light wells with their surrounds of Land Transport Corps swords.  The latter were gleefully disposed of by ffoulkes in February 1914.


Perhaps James’s horse pined with the destruction of the Victorian displays and weakened, crumbled under the dual assault of worm and fungus.

Dismounted, James’s  armour was shown near to the  Stuart Prince’s armours according to the Guidebook of 1916.  As the guide notes the more highly decorated armours had “recently been placed under glass owing to the injurious effects of the river mists upon their surfaces”. It was only rehorsed – using one of the original 17th century stallions – in July 2013, complete with new 21st century body, and original wooden head of Charles II. Today the full figure can be seen in all its glory on the East side of the Entrance floor – cased of course to guard against mists and visiting fingers.

James’s armour will be on its travels again this autumn, moving down river to Royal Museums Greenwich to appear in the exhibition “Samuel Pepys and the Stuart Age” (November 2015 – April 2016).









Bleatings from the Tower: Sheep may safely graze…

Spring is upon us. As the grass in the Tower moat begins to perk post – Poppies and in the countryside lambs are rushing towards adolescence, this year London too has its very own personalised Spring flock.

Shaun in the City features 50 bespoke statues of Aardman’s cheeky lamb scattered about the metropolis gathering funds for Wallace and Gromit’s children’s charity and two have come to rest on Tower Hill.

Shaun as Yeoman of the Baaard

Shaun as Yeoman of the Baaard

At first sight there might seem little to link sheep to the Tower but as so often delve a little deeper and out pops a historical precedent. The oldest connection lies with the Constable of the Tower and his right to claim any cattle passing the Tower by means of the Thames as his own. Unlikely as he is to exercise this privilege one of the privileges of a Freeman of the City of London today remains the right to drive sheep across London Bridge.

Moving forward to the 19th century  in 1845 the Tower moat was finally drained on the orders of the Constable – at the time the Duke of Wellington –  as it had become more a stagnant cesspit than defensive barrier and  the resulting ditch was turfed.


John Warrender’s oil painting from about 1870 views the Tower from the gardens NW of the site.  11 sheep graze or loll about the moat while a 12th stands, feet squarely planted as if on guard, under Legges Mount.  Further down the moat adjacent to the Beauchamp Tower a disproportionally large horse rests from bringing in stone to repair the outer wall.

Odd as it might seem, our ovine friends on Tower Hill are not the first.

Come July a further 70 Shauns will colonise Bristol until October when the whole flock is due to be auctioned to raise funds to support children in hospital.


The Curator @ War: 15 March 1915 “Foreman Buckingham: the Last Post” (part I)

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.

170415_Ffoulkes Buckingham part 1.jpeg

Buckingham’s departure for war had been recorded in the Minute Book entry of 5th September 1914.  Technically he had retired from the Territorial Army in April 1912, but on the outbreak of war he re-enlisted aged 45 and his eighteen years experience as a Volunteer Artilleryman – including a year’s active service in South Africa in 1900 – were to be put to good use training volunteers. Bidding farewell to his wife of 3 years, Buckingham set off to serve King and Country in Peterborough.  As Dillon commented in his appreciation of Buckingham published in the Ilford Recorder of 26th April 1915 “He was a most enthusiastic soldier and devoted much time to the making of soldiers”.

Buckingham fell sick in February 1915 and was given 3 weeks home leave. He died on the “very hour” he should have returned to duty according to one newspaper account. Cause of death? Phthisis – for keen scrabble players a useful archaic term for tuberculosis (apparently pronounced Tie-sis for those of us not fluent in classical Greek).

Dillon, Curator of the Tower Armouries from 1892 to 1913, was fulsome in his praise of his former colleague. “As a servant of the Government he was essentially one of the “Queen’s good bargains”, and his place will not easily be filled up” Dillon told the press. “As Foreman of the Armouries he displayed much zeal, and his intelligent and tireless work materially assisted in the classification and instructive arrangement of the treasures of the national collection.  He became a good judge of the genuineness or otherwise of objects in his charge and was a most willing pupil of those who could instruct him”.   Above all else he was innately a “gentleman”. The latter judgement was re-enforced in Dillon’s letter of 29 May 1915 to Buckingham’s widow, Daisy (formerly Miss Clarke) where he assured her “I knew your husband for some 20 years and always had the warmest regard and respect for him” adding “I’m sure that anyone whom he married would be of the same high standard as himself” – not perhaps a judgement one would expect to find openly expressed today.

Ffoulkes in his autobiography Arms and the Tower (John Murray, 1939) ascribed Buckingham’s death to “a chill caught in drilling Territorial Artillery”, and provided practical help when the family made enquiries as to the arrangements for a military funeral. It transpired that there were no suitable guns left in London to bear the coffin – all serviceable ordnance was in action on the Continent. However ffoulkes pulled some strings, and although he was vague as to which department of the War Office obliged “with commendable speed a dummy gun and carriage were made” which went on to be frequently used for funerals in the early war years.

Buckingham’s funeral was set for Saturday 20th March 1915, arrangements with Messrs Dyer & Sons of Forest Gate and Ilford, with the interment announced for 3.30 pm. Look out for part two of this post – coming next week – to learn more of the event, which according to the local press aroused much interest and attracted an enormous crowd of spectators.