The new exhibition Fit for a King, showing 500 years of Royal arms and armour, is now permanently on view in the White Tower at the Tower of London.
After the stunning exhibition of Henry VIII’s armour at the Tower of London last year comes Fit for a King, showing 500 years of Royal arms and armour. Put together by the Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, it is now permanently on view in the White Tower.
Not only does the exhibition include Tudor, Stuart, Hanoverian and Windsor pieces, its installation also marked the 350th anniversary of King Charles II’s restoration to the throne and the first time the Tower of London’s opened to visitors. Said Royal Armouries Master and Director General Jonathon Riley, “Fit for a King is a rare opportunity to see some of the most spectacular armour as well as follow its history over five centuries.
The exhibition begins with a look at armour used on battle and sports fields and how its design evolved. It also explains why armour declined in use and shows some remarkable firearms.
Particularly interesting are two 16th-century pieces created for Henry VIII. One is an intricately decorated, silvered and engraved armour celebrating his marriage to Katherine of Aragon which shows their intertwined initials, as well as Tudor roses and pomegranates. The other and later field and tournament armour was made in the king’s workshops in Greenwich and shows just how large Henry had become. He probably couldn’t have demonstrated any sporting prowess by then, due to ill health.
King Charles I’s gilt armour (c1612) is also here. It is much decorated and covered entirely with gold leaf. This must have caused the death or at least serious illness of its Dutch makers, since the gilt was done with a process called mercury-gilding.
I particularly liked the armour created for young royals like Edward VI and Charles I who could play dressing up as their forebears and fathers. Young Prince Charles’s miniature horseman’s armour (c1615) is another beautiful piece, created in the Netherlands.
For visitors who like a fine pair of pistols, there are several on show including one made for King William III and decorated in the latest French fashion. There are also Hanoverian and Windsor swords from George I to George VI’s time.
Like the Henry VIII armour exhibition, I started off thinking “boys’ toys”, but found myself fascinated by the intricate workmanship!
Fit for a King is at the Tower of London permanently.
The Tower of London â¨London, England â¨EC3N 4AB; tel: 0844 482 7777 (from the UK); +44 (0)20 3166 6000 (from outside the UK); www.hrp.org.uk
Report by Pat Moore