Okay, I admit it, I am no seasoned blogger, I am no historical expert, (I don’t think a history degree counts) but I have just been invited to my first press preview at the Tower of London run by Historic Royal Palaces. When the invite came via Twitter I thought it must be a mistake, I don’t have thousands of followers, I have only written a few blogs, but I won’t tell them if you don’t.
I am off on my merry way to review ‘Line of Kings’, the re-display of an exhibition which has been in existence for over 350 years. The Royal Armouries has joined forces with Historic Royal Palaces to present to the public over 500 objects in the White Tower, Royal armour and swords and horses (yes, horses). The sun is shining, I just can’t tell you how excited I am, I resist the temptation to admit to my fraudulent qualifications when I first arrive. I walk in with a Press Association photographer, my resolve crumbling, I am asked “Who I am with?”, I announce I am a blogger, it sounds so off hand. Before my obvious lack of experience and over excitement is noticed I am introduced to the wonderful Bridget Clifford, Head of Collections (South) at the Royal Armouries, who takes me on an in-depth and fascinating insider view of this amazing exhibition.
She tells us of the history of the exhibit, the part it played in propaganda over the centuries, a show of power you can’t help but admire. What do we look to now as a country’s power base? A healthy budget deficit? Give me a man on a horse any day.
She shows us the intricacies, the hidden details, the stories and unprompted truths of museum curator. The detail on Henry VIII silvered armour, if you look closely you will see the tale of St. Barbara. She tells us of the time she took a farrier round to examine the wooden horses to discover they are all individually shod, I recommend the Royal Armouries website for more stunning detail. There is also one, more modern horse from the 19th century (the others mainly dating from 1688-90) whose ears were replaced with leather which makes his halter go on easier, see if you can find him when you visit!
There are gems here of course, real standout pieces, objects that make you stare and gasp. I could give you a list of the star objects, a history of owners, creators and makers, but that is not the kind of review I am aiming for. I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you when you can visit and enjoy every golden moment. I am going to go with the impressions I got on the day. After all that is what really lasts when we visit a museum or historic site. The objects are more often than not always fascinating but it is how they make us feel, the thoughts they prompt in us that have the lasting power. That is what we take away with us, what gets us to share and encourage others to visit.
The exhibition is after all part fantasy, a power play that still impresses, and I am not just talking of Henry VIII’s cod piece. Not pictured here, this is a family show, but I recommend you check it out for yourself. The Victorians often removed such offending items, back on show in its full glory, obviously seen as tame by today’s TOWIE generation.
The cod pieces, the suits of armour, what I had not really thought about is how they are so emblematic of fashions of their time. Fashion Rules may be running at the Tower’s sister site at Kensington Palace but it also rules in the curves, designs and cuirasses of the kings. Not just the high end, catwalk fashion of parading monarchs, but the high street, low end mass production is represented too.
The visual impact of the wall of breast plates is stunning, like the Primark of the High Street (no insult intended) the ‘pile ’em high’ basics are on full show. There is a power on display here too, different to gilded monarchs, it speaks of armies and strength and dominance.
The how and why items have been displayed in particular ways provides enough information for its own separate exhibition. I love looking back at the displays through the centuries, it is a curators dream to soak up the glimpsed progression and the challenge of a lifetime to present it in a new way for a new generation.
I spent some time in the rest of the White Tower after visiting ‘Line of Kings’, and I was amazed to learn that the earliest Tower Guide books in the collection are from 1741 by Thomas Boreman. A fascinating insight to our unchanging obsession surrounding royalty that we still see today. Admittedly, currently all centered around a new royal baby.
With my own Mum hat on, there is much for children here. The child’s armour is poignant for adults and enticing for children, the ultimate dress up outfit. I can imagine squeezing the youthful Charles I into its metal confines, I bet he didn’t get a new one every few months, school uniforms are expensive enough, imagine ordering a suit of armour for your nearest and dearest. They will also love the model cannons made in 1638 for the 8 year old Prince of Wales, later Charles II, a tempting attraction any 8 year old would like to get his hands on. The horses of course beg to be ridden, one little girl on the day was most upset at not being able to.
Luckily for me I could saunter without my brood in tow, so what pieces did I most enjoy? I loved the ‘Here be dragons’ bone saddle, a gift from Emperor Sigismund to King Henry V on joining the Hungarian Dragon Order in 1416. Out of place among the metal, gold and silver and yet more enticing for its differences.
The detail drawing you in, the dragons both fearsome and intricate, begging to be touched.
Final word of course goes to the horses, not behind glass, not hidden in reflections. Bold, proud, stirring, powerful even when unadorned, they exemplify and mirror their royal counterparts.
And so what do we have in the re-imagining of the ‘Line of Kings’? Power, Power, and Power again. The power of kings, the power of armies, the power of beautiful beasts and the power to make you come and visit again and again. Be part of history and come to the Tower, the ‘Line of Kings’ awaits.
‘Line of Kings’ opens 10 July 2013 entrance is included with admission to the Tower of London.
You can find out more about the exhibition from the official site here
Tuesday – Saturday 09:00 – 17:30
Sunday – Monday 10:00 – 17:30
Last admission 17:00 –