A star sight at the Tower of London for some 350 years, the ‘Line of Kings’ dates back to the mid-17th century and was originally installed in the Royal Armouries at the Tower to promote the restored monarchy of King Charles II and the Stuart dynasty.
Often described as the “world’s longest running tourist attraction” (the first visitor was recorded in 1652), it features the historic armour of monarchs on wooden figures and accompanied by fully decked-out carved horses – the work of Grinling Gibbons and others among Britain’s best woodcarvers.
The line has been added to and redisplayed numerous times over its history, partly to accommodate successive monarchs (17 in all were included with King George II being the last).
Only those monarchs deemed worthy were included – this deemed “bad” kings like King Richard III were omitted while “good” kings like King William the Conqueror, King Edward III and King Henry V were included. Queens were not included – when Queen Mary II and King William III were created joint monarchs, only King William was included.
The display began to be mentioned in guidebooks from the 1750s onwards. In 1825, amid growing scholarship and criticism, the line underwent a major change.
It was dismantled and then redisplayed in a purpose-built gallery adjoining the south side of the White Tower. The new line-up included prominent noblemen as well as kings while the kings themselves were reshuffled with some, like King Edward III, dropped, and King James II added.
It was further enhanced in 1869 but the display closed in 1882. The equestrian figures then appeared on the upper floor of the White Tower.
The Line of Kings, which is now located on the entrance floor of the Tower, last underwent a significant revamp between 2011 and 2013.
Highlights include the earlier surviving armour of King Henry VIII – a silvered and engraved armour which was made in the years following his coronation in 1509 – as well as the gilded armours of King Charles I and King James II.
WHERE: White Tower, Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 5.30pm daily; COST: £29.90 adults; £14.90 children under 15; £24 concession; family tickets from £52.20; WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.