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.

An Everyday Story of Museum ffoulkes

November 21, 1912 – 100 years ago, Charles ffoulkes, B.Litt Oxon, FSA was appointed Curator of the Armouries at the Tower of London.  He took up the post on New Year’s Day, January 1913.

Mr ffoulkes – whose surname was spelled, unusually, without an initial capital letter – inherited a series of displays redolent of imperial glory in the White Tower and the remaining stores of the Board of Ordnance (dissolved in 1856). These were scattered about the site – in effect a museum in “kit form”.  The protégé of the first modern Curator, Viscount Dillon, (in post 1895 – 1913), ffoulkes set to with gusto, consolidating his position and dragging the organisation – such as it was – into the 20th century.

The office of Charles ffoulkes, Curator and later Master of the Armouries in the Martin Tower.

The curator was not one to hide his light under a bushel, and he liked to find advantageous links with the past.

He declared with pride in the Minute Book (I.189,) that recorded the Armouries’ daily activities, “The curator is a direct descendant of Captain Thomas Fowke, keeper of the Queen’s Hand Guns and Calivers and Warden of the White Tower circa 1596 (see Hatfield Papers).  Captain Fowke was therefore in office under Viscount Dillon’s ancestor Sir Henry Lee, Master of the Armouries”. Impeccable credentials indeed.

He had a small staff to assist him, noting in his autobiography Arms and the Tower (London, 1939), “Unlike all other museums, we had no staff except those engaged in the actual treatment of armour”.  The team is listed in the front of the Minute Book as follows:

Foreman of the Armouries: W Buckingham;

Staff of cleaners: T Bishop, W Williams, W Brown, T Riddles, G Stewart, F Davy – and not forgetting A H Price (ticket office), D Marsh (Parcels) and W Johnson (lavatory).

Messrs H Evans (died 23 December) and W Spooner (ruled through with a marginal note as to his dismissal) are also listed.

All other services were provided courtesy of the War Office.

We invite you to follow the fortunes of the curator and his band a century ago by following the Minute book entries, month by month, in the run up to the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Tower Armouries

The Axe and the Head

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections, tries not to lose her head in the mystery of the heading axe…

Recently I received an enquiry regarding an axe; could we identify it as a heading axe? Well if anyone could, you’d think the Tower of London could. However, identifying a heading axe is a lot more difficult than you would think.

Indeed, the shape of an axe head can tell you a lot about what an axe was used for. From Coachmaker Axes (clue’s in the name) to Blocking Axes (often used in shipbuilding), axes were often designed as tools of trade rather than weapons. To discover their uses we often turned to trade directories or the handy Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodwork Tools.

Nevertheless, cutting heads off isn’t normally named as a particular use and ‘Executioner’ isn’t generally the sort of trade these works are discussing. Depictions of public executions aren’t always reliable either. Artistic impressions are sometimes made long after the execution with no way of knowing if the artist attended any public executions. The image below of Lady Jane Grey’s execution was actually created in the 19th century. Furthermore written descriptions don’t tend to focus on the design of the axe when describing a public figure’s last few moments.

Engraving by George Cruikshank showing the execution of Lady Jane Grey on Tower Green in 1554. From The Tower of London / by W.H. Ainsworth (1845)
Copyright: Board of Trustees of the Armouries

Consequently, provenance is our best indication. Beheading was an execution preserved for the rich and (previously) powerful. The average execution involved hanging and if you were particularly treacherous you were hung, drawn and quartered. Moreover, it was primarily the English who favoured an axe beheading, whereas the executioners on the continent preferred the sword. Not trusting the axe, and perhaps an English executioner, Anne Boleyn requested a swordsman and sword to be shipped over from France especially for her execution.

Heading axe. Probably English, 16th century
Copyright: Board of Trustees of the Armouries

The Tower of London’s heading axe is traditionally believed to be one of four that we know were stored here in the 17th century, but we don’t have details about its use. We actually know more about the block it is displayed with, which was used for the execution of Lord Lovat in 1747, but that is a different story. So in conclusion, to know if you have a heading axe you need to know where your axe head comes from.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

What a corker!

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

Conservation work has recently commenced on a Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s regimental helmet, which will shortly be going on display at the Tower of London. The helmet is of the Home Service Pattern design, introduced in May 1878.

Black and silver helmet with chin strap and spike

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

The body of the helmet is made of cork, covered in black cloth, with two seams on each side. The chin chain is made of interlocking silver-plated rings, backed with leather and velvet. This was attached to the helmet on two side rose bosses and, when not being worn, the chain would have been attached to a rear hook. All the metal components on the helmet are silver-plated.

There is a metal crosspiece with a spike and base on the top of the helmet and a metal plate badge on the front. The badge’s design comprises an eight-pointed star surmounted by a crown. A Garter belt is around the outside, inscribed with the motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it). The centre of the badge features the White Tower in the Tower of London as a symbol of the Tower Hamlets Regiment.

Silver badge with representation of White Tower and the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Silver badge with the White Tower in the centre

The helmet’s interior has a leather layer and also a pink silk lining. The helmet features two retail labels for the hatters ‘W. Cater & Co. Established 1776, 56 Pall Mall, London’. The silk lining also features a name label for the helmet’s owner, ‘G.E. Colebrook’. George Colebrook was part of the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade and was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1901. Sadly he is recorded as having died in a motorcar accident in 1903.

Silver chin strap with detached leather backing

Silver chin chain with detached leather strap

The helmet arrived in the conservation lab with tarnished metal components and a partially detached chin strap, where the original thread had broken leaving some of the rings hanging loose from the leather backing. Stay tuned to hear about the conservation treatment and repair to the chin strap, ready for the helmet to go on display.

Blogger: Philippa Beesley, Conservation Student

Royal Armouries to publish oldest known fencing manual in Western World

Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33 is the oldest known fencing manual in the Western world.

In this Olympic year it is being lent for exhibition to The Wallace Collection in London.

The Royal Armouries have taken this opportunity to rebind the manuscript and
while it is unbound to photograph it so that a unique full scale colour facsimile can be published.

The Royal Armouries have teamed up with specialist publishers Extraordinary Editions who have designed a replica early 14th-century binding for the facsimile, which will be packaged in a solander box along with a companion volume and feature a page by page transcription and translation as well as a new introduction by Dr Jeffrey Forgeng of the Higgins Armory Museum, Worcester, Mass.

MS I.33 will be published as a limited edition and in order to fund the project a limited number of subscriber copies will be made available at £600 [plus postage and packing]. Remaining copies will cost considerably more.

If wish to register for a copy of I.33 please e-mail mm@extraordinaryeditions.com as soon as possible.

The first 25 copies have already been reserved.

Medieval manuscript illustrations of sword fencing

Royal Armouries MS I.33 – the oldest known fencing manual in the Western World

Here be Dragons

Today (Monday, January 23) sees the coming of the Year of the Dragon, and any Chinese Dragon stopping off to visit London’s sights might care to look up some of his occidental relatives among the exhibits in the Royal Armouries’ galleries at the Tower of London.

Henry Tudor – On entering the White Tower, Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour (II.5; VI.1-5) 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 appropriately enough by the saint mounted.

Engraving of St George and the dragon

Engraving of St. George slaying the dragon on the horse armour of Henry VIII

Agincourt – Hurrying onwards, 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 (VI.95). 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.

Decorated saddle

Saddle of the Hungarian Order of the Dragon possibly presented to King Henry V

Charles I – Continuing the Royal association, the case opposite the Gothic dragons of the 15th century holds the tiny 17th century armour (II.126) 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. If you look carefully, the helmet surface is scaled, and a fearsome monster frames the wearer’s face, with growling companions adorning the pauldrons or shoulder pieces. At only 95 cm tall, this is still something of mystery armour. 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.

Dragon in steel on top of helmet

Dragon perched on the helmet of the armour possibly belonging to Charles I

More dragons – Darting back in time, the World Treasures’ case contains a roaring dragon’s head (VI.319). 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.

Dragon shaped decoration for a horses tail

Part of a horse’s armour for protecting the tail

Passing around the end of the case, and along the side of the main case to the displays of the Great Collectors, another dragon lurks, clinging to the side of a German horse muzzle dated 1569 (VI.400) . 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.

Horse muzzle

Pierced steel horse muzzle decorated with dragons

The beasties decorating the sides of the wheellock pistols (XII.1250/1) slightly further along may be related to the wider dragon family, but only distantly.

pistol with dragon decoration

Detail of decoration which may be a stylised form of dragon

Power House – However, the most impressive of the White Tower dragons welcomes visitors to the Power House display on the top floor – a fitting reward for toiling up so many twisty stairs. Its body is formed from elements of all the Tower institutions celebrated in the wider gallery – from weapons of the Ordnance to coins from the Mint and much else between – it greets you with a dragon-like roar if you pass by its far side.

Dragon constructed from arms, armour, maps, coins and guns.

Impressive – 4m high, 3.5m long with a wing span of 5m and weighing 1200 Kg!

New displays – Finally on the way out, lurking in the shadows under the staircase in the Basement but moving to a more prominent position in the coming redisplay of the area, are a pair of Burmese dragons. Fabulously moustached, they sit atop a bronze bell (XVIII.19) dated 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.

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

Bronze bell with Burmese dragons

The new displays open at the beginning of April, and this pair provides a fitting celebration of the Year of the Dragon.

Blogger: Bridget Clifford, Keeper of Collections South, Tower of London