Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Line of Kings: The Oldest Exhibition in the World

Q: How long has the world’s oldest visitor attraction been on show?

The Line of Kings
A: An amazing 350 years – and the attraction is the Tower of London’s evocative Line of Kings’ exhibition. But just in case you are thinking the exhibits might be a bit dusty by now – let me assure you that the latest incarnation of this wonderful display is anything but dull!

In the 17th century the aim of the attraction was to display the king’s armour and weapons, and remind subjects of the power of the crown. This latest take on historical armaments has added interest for today's visitor with a display of magnificent, life-sized wooden horses. These horses, carved in the 1690's, were designed as mounts suitable to showcase a king's armour, and in the modern day make breath-taking sculptures in their own right.
The White Tower -
at the Tower of London
Set in the historic White Tower, the very first ‘Line of Kings’ display coincided with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.  The exhibition of royal armour was open to the public and was more concerned with pomp than historical accuracy. For instance, William the Conqueror’s armour was exhibited - despite it being in a style not designed until several hundred years later.

Carved wooden likeness of Henry VIII-
created the late 1690's
Somewhat ironically, when William’s armour was removed from display in 1826 (because of historical inaccuracy), the suit was then reassigned to another nobleman! That said, it seems early visitors were not unaware of the liberties being taken with history if the account below is anything to go by:
 “As we gently mov’d along and viewed the princely scarecrows, he [the guide] told us to whom each suit of armour belong originally, adding some memorandums out of history…some true some false, supplying that with invention which he wanted in memory.”
Ned Ward- visiting the Tower of London in 1699

King Henry VIII armour on display
The current Line of Kings’ exhibition is now open at the Tower of London.  Armour worn by Henry VIII and Charles I (amongst other royals) is on display, but the highlight of my visit and personal favourites are the gorgeously carved wooden artefacts in the form of life-sized prancing horses. [More about the horses in my next post]
Detail from Henry VIII's armour
As well as those fabulous horses there is an eerie cabinet displaying the carved likenesses of kings’ heads and hands. To whet your appetite further, below is a photo of the wooden horse made to display King Henry VIII’s armour in a late 17th century display.
The original horse created to display
King Henry VIII in his armour

 Entry to the Line of Kings exhibition is included as part of the entrance fee to the Tower of London.


  1. I visited the Tower in 1967 and was so awed by all that armor. I remember Henry VIII's. There were several sets getting bigger as he aged and got fatter.

  2. Michele, I went on a primary school visit in the late 1960's - I wonder if we saw the same display. My memory is of a long wood panelled hall and with suits of armour lining the route on either side. I'm sure there were crossed pikes and swords on the walls, along with shields and breast plates - but my imagination might have manufactured that.
    I also remember my packed dinner - cucumber-in-vinegar sandwiches, a packet of crisps and a fizzy drink (the last two real treats) and a packet of cola flavoured spangles for the coach ride.
    Thank you for leaving a comment, G x

  3. I have walked past the Tower of London but never had the time to go in - it's pretty impressive from the outside. This looks great - I must get back down some day and look inside for myself.

  4. I'm always stunned by the view as you walk out of Tower Bridge station. For you it must be a case of 'familiarity breeds contempt' (in the nicest possible way). The Tower is a fantastic place to visit and I'm so impressed with the effort the Historic Royal Palaces put in to bring the Tower to life, rather than preserve it as a dusty museum piece. Well worth a visit.
    Thanks for commenting, Sandy.
    G x


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