Line of Kings: Return of the Prince

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, welcomes back, a true treasure, the armour of Henry Frederick Stuart, which will be displayed within the Line of Kings this Summer.

After forming part of the very successful Lost Prince exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, we are delighted to welcome back the armour of Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales, to the Tower of London.

Henry was the eldest son of James I and was heir to the throne until his untimely death in 1612, aged just 18. This beautiful armour was made by Dutch armourers and was presented to Henry, the Prince of Wales, by Sir Francis Vere, a former soldier, under Elizabeth I, in 1607.

Henry was about 13 years old when he received this armour. Though only just a teenager, he was being prepared for a future role as king. He showed promise as a swordsman and jouster, was a keen huntsman and a patron of the arts, as well as a strong advocate for Protestantism.

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The armour of Henry Stuart in pieces

The armour consists of 15 parts and is extremely delicate. It is transported in pieces, which are carefully unpacked before being reassembled in the gallery. Closer inspection of the armour reveals its true beauty, with wonderful gilt bands of decoration showing scenes from the life of Alexander the Great, including elephants. Therein lies a problem.  The decoration continues along the lames and, where these rub over each other, any movement erodes the surface. Older cleaning methods, using brick dust and oil, while keeping the bright sections glowing, have also left their mark.  However in spite of the passage of time, and elbow grease, this armour remains one of our treasures. With such delicate and beautiful armour, it is always a relief to see it finally reassembled and back on display.

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Henry Stuart back on display

Henry Stuart’s armour will form part of our exciting new exhibition Line of Kings, opening in the Summer, so be sure to come and see it, in all its splendour, then.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

Line of Kings: Voices from the past

Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes, tells us about delving into the past of the Line of Kings.

Our research included compiling all the images of the ‘Line of Kings’ in the Royal Armouries’ collection and beyond that we could trace, from early sketches to later photographs.

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Visitors to the Line of Kings in 1800

Alongside this, other team members were burrowing into the Royal Armouries’ archives and those held by organisations such as The National Archives at Kew to discover and record as much information as possible about the display’s origins and subsequent development.

Please look out for new web pages in 2013 in the build-up to the new exhibition’s opening, which will include areas looking at this research in detail.

One of the most fascinating studies traced visitors’ voices from the past – an area which really started as a sideline to the main research but has now developed into our strongest exhibition storyline…

Alex Gaffikin, Interpretation Manager from Historic Royal Palaces takes up the story:

We’ve been reading old guidebooks, postcards, journals and letters to hear what visitors have thought of the exhibition through the ages.

Visitors to the ‘Line of Kings’ included Zacharias Conrad von Uffenbach who in 1710 describes a curious ceremony with the lining of part of the armour of Henry VIII, ‘For a jest countless pins have been stuck into this velvet, and any young persons, especially females, who come here, are presented with one, because they are supposed to be a charm against impotency and barrenness.’

My favourite recollection is from a letter by César de Saussure from around 1725 who writes that Henry VIII, ‘is said to be a good likeness of this celebrated king. If you press a spot on the floor with your feet you will see something surprising with regard to this figure; but I will not say more and leave you to guess what it is.’ The mind boggles.

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Visitors to the Line of Kings in 1845

Can you help? We are on the look-out for any old postcards, diary entries or recollections from visitors in times gone by that we can use either in the exhibition itself or on the web pages being developed to support it … if you have anything along these lines please do get in touch by emailing karen.whitting@armouries.org.uk

Line of Kings: Time to Think…

We continue on our journey from the past to modern concept, to physical reality, as Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes takes us through the process of a ‘Thinking day’.

Our Ambition: To re-display an area of the entrance floor of the White Tower entitled the ‘Line of Kings’, which was developed most recently in 1996 – and installed at that time with a clear intention to re-visit the exhibition as soon as further resources became available. Unfortunately, this was put on hold as other plans came into play – until now.

Our Collection: The objects currently on display include a wide range of material from 12 carved wooden horses to rows of pikemen’s armours. Our challenge was to develop a brief, which would inspire a new exhibition showcasing these objects and revealing their stories.

A composite image of the current ‘Line of Kings’ display in the Entrance floor of the White Tower
© Royal Armouries Museum

Thinking Day: In June 2011, interested parties from both Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces stepped away from their day-to-day working and into a ‘thinking day’ on the ‘Line of Kings’. Thinking days offer a fantastic opportunity to focus on specific subjects, really drilling down into detail without distraction. I think they work most effectively when they take the format similar to that of the ‘Moral Maze’ on Radio 4 – evidence is presented by a diverse range of experts and then examined and discussed in order to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the subject.

For the ‘Line of Kings’ we were lucky enough to hear from two of our own staff about the current collection on display and on existing research material regarding the history of the Line, complemented by presentations on the Restoration period from Dr Jacqueline Rose (Author of ‘Godly Kingship in Restoration England: The Politics of the Royal Supremacy, 1660-1688’) and examining the horse in mythology & culture from Dr Elaine Walker (Author of ‘Horse’, a study of the horse in cultural history).

After a lively and challenging debate, our conclusion was that we needed even more information – focussing on both the Royal Armouries’ collection and its use in the ‘Line of Kings’ and this history of the Line at the Tower of London.

Research: The project, therefore, began not with the commissioning of designs but rather in the exploration of archives, the consultation of experts in areas such as wood and paint analysis and the collation of reports – all aiming for one outcome – the unlocking of the secrets of the origins of the ‘Line of Kings’ which in turn would inspire us to create our new exhibition.

 

Line of Kings: First steps…

Follow our new series of blogs, as we journey from the past to modern concept, to physical reality in the making of the ‘Line of Kings’, opening at the Tower of London in 2013.

The White Tower at Tower of London
© Royal Armouries Museum

In our first instalment Karen Whitting, Head of Creative Programmes at the Royal Armouries tells us about those crucial first few steps.

All the best projects at delivery have started from a great idea, supported at every stage of development.

From 2007, that idea for Royal Armouries at the Tower of London was to create a showcase for our prestigious collection, embedded in the history of the Tower, which would attract visitors from all over the world. It was supported by a wide range of stakeholders – from our partners Historic Royal Palaces to sponsors such as HistoryTM, DCMS/Wolfson Galleries Improvement Fund – without whom delivering this vision would have been impossible.

Our mission: To deliver a complete re-display of Royal Armouries’ collections and stories in the White Tower, the iconic building at the heart of the Tower site, to be enjoyed by over 2 million visitors a year.

Our challenge: To ensure that access for visitors was kept open throughout and that each new exhibition was complete in itself, offering a great experience to both first time and repeat audiences.

Our plan: To research, develop, design and deliver a series of exhibitions opening annually – starting with a temporary exhibition ‘Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill’ for 2009 and completing in 2013 with the ‘Line of Kings.’

Our team: At each stage a team of Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces’ staff has been gathered with skills to support the projects at every stage of their development, through to finishing touches before the exhibition is revealed. This internal team has been complemented with a vast range of external experts and suppliers – carrying out tasks from concept drawings to electrical wiring.

Our exhibitions: These teams have delivered stunning exhibitions showcasing extraordinary objects and fascinating stories from the Royal Armouries’ collection, which have achieved hugely positive feedback from White Tower visitors. The programme included:

Temporary Exhibitions

Henry VIII: Dressed to Kill –April 2009-January 2010

Permanent Exhibitions

Fit for a King – opened March 2010

Charles I Fit for a King
© Royal Armouries Museum

Treasures of the Royal Armouries – opened March 2010

Treasures of the Royal Armouries
© Royal Armouries Museum

Powerhouse – opened March 2011

Storehouse – opened March 2012

What’s next?

The final piece of the jigsaw is a new exhibition for 2013, which started its development over a year ago with a research project which was to turn all our plans on their heads and give us the opportunity of a lifetime to reveal the story of the longest running visitor attraction in the world…

For more information about exhibitions at the Tower of London visit our website.