Friday, 19 July 2013

Exhibition: Line of Kings, Tower of London

line of kings.jpg
The mid-1600s was a precarious time to be king. The species was threatened. The reign of Charles I had been brought to a bloody end and the country's failed dalliance with republicanism had seen a fragile rapprochement with the concept of monarchy.

When the restoration occurred under Charles II, a determination to suggest that his God-given role was a necessary constant - and not something to be foreshortened with an axe - seemed like good PR, at the very least.

This might not have been the stated purpose of the Line of Kings but its mission statement had encapsulated keywords such as longevity, endurance and survival, then gold stars all round.

For the Line of Kings now claims - without challenge so far - to be the longest running visitor attraction in the world.

The display was originally envisioned - and realised - as a parade of lineage and grandeur, with the armour (and representations) of kings on wooden horses.

Revamped last week, in the White Tower of the Tower of London, it now offers a twin narrative - the historical artefacts themselves and the story of the attraction.

For the determination to present an unbroken line from William I often led to anachronisms, mischief and work-arounds.

The most famous is the "armour of William the Conqueror" which was way ahead of its time, the equivalent of presenting the White Queen with a digital watch.

Royal Armouries head of creative programmes Karen Whitting, who led the two year revamp said: “Created in the 17th century, the line's message was more about kingship than telling the history of arms and armour.
line of kings
“We believe the organisers concentrated on making a powerful statement at a time following considerable unrest from the reign of Charles II and culminating in the accession of William III and Mary II.

“For example, William I was displayed in plate armour - a 14th century development for an 11th century conqueror - and his figure once sported a matchlock musket, technology he could not have dreamt of.”

All this silliness was stopped in the 1820s when historian Samuel Meyrick wrote to The Times despairing of the inaccuracies. He was invited to apply a more scholarly eye, which resulted in a duller exhibition.

Curator of armour at the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson said: “Meyrick undoubtedly put it on a much more sound and scholarly footing but when he had finished there was practically nothing left to represent the middle ages.”

This sparked a trawl for genuine artefacts and widened the exhibition beyond the original theme. This revamp of the exhibition offers collections of weaponry, torture equipment, ornate saddles and suits of armour, displaying an almost effete delicacy for fashion from fluting to gold inlay.

The comments of visitors throughout the years are also on display.

“They have left us amazing insights into their experiences for us still to enjoy today, writing letters, journals, articles and books,” said Karen.

The Line of Kings forms part of the Tower of London experience and is the final chapter in the redevelopment of the White Tower.

Go to

line of kings

■ “As we gently mov'd along and viewed the princely scarecrows, he told us to whom each suit of armour belon originally, adding some memorandums out of history to every empty iron-side; some true some false supplying that with invention which he wanted in memory.”
Ned Ward
The London Spy, 1699