The Riding from the Tower
Ceremonial Origins

This page explains
an important mediaeval ceremony of state, at which the Henxmen of the Royal Household performed their duties.

The Riding from the Tower
The ceremony of 'The Riding from the Tower' was one of the grandest elements of the English coronation ceremony.  It took place on the day before the actual coronation.  It was also perhaps the greatest regular formal event in which the Henxmen participated, and one in which they were all very publicly visible.

In it the monarch-to-be, surrounded by the full panoply of state, rode slowly in a great procession from the Tower of London, through the streets of the City, to the Palace of Westminster (where the coronation would take place in the Abbey on the following day).  The purpose of this ancient tradition was for the new monarch to show themselves to the people, and to receive their approval before being crowned. 

The Role of the Henxmen
This formal progress was one of the most important state ceremonies in which the Henxmen participated, and provided an intermittent reminder of the key duties for which their post was created.  The central role entrusted to the Henxmen, during the Riding from the Tower and other state processions, was to keep the monarch's stallion under safe control, despite the noisy crowds and waving flags.  It was this core duty which gave rise to their name of 'hengst' + 'man', from the Old English meaning stallion man.


The ancient manuscript known as the Liber Regalis, kept in Westminster Abbey, provided the order of service for all coronations from the 14th century (when the Henxmen were created) to that of Elizabeth I in 1559, and has been the basis for subsequent coronations too.  The Liber Regalis stresses the importance of The Riding from the Tower:

'Now the king, on the day before his coronation, shall ride bareheaded from the Tower of London through the city to his royal palace at Westminster, in suitable apparel, offering himself to be seen by the people who meet him.'

The first recorded Riding from the Tower took place on Saturday 18 August 1274, on the day before the coronation of King Edward I - although the Henxmen did not exist at that time. 

This majestic occasion, planned months in advance, was a major leap in the history of the coronation as a royal spectacle.  The event established the procession's normal route through Cheapside (London's main market and east-west thoroughfare, illustrated here).  

The Mayor and citizens decorated the city 'without consideration of cost' in banners of silk and cloth of gold, and prepared 'multifarious inventions' (pageants and displays) to entertain the procession and the great crowds who gathered in the streets to cheer their new king.  All of these aspects became traditional parts of the ceremony.  A chronicler of the time wrote that 'neither tongue nor pen' would suffice to describe the scene.

IllustrationThe Riding from the Tower passing the Westcheap Cross, London19 Feb 1546/47.  For picture details, see footnotes.

The Riding from the Tower continued to be part of every coronation ceremony (for monarchs and their spouses too) for nearly 300 years.  It is known to have taken place before the crownings of the following monarchs: Edward I (1274), Edward II (1308), Edward III (1327), Richard II (1337), Henry IV (1399), Henry V (1413), Henry VI (1429), Edward IV (1461), Richard III (1483), Henry VII (1485), Henry VIII (1509), Edward VI (1547), Mary I (1553), and Elizabeth I (1559).

James I (1603) was the first monarch to omit the ceremony of The Riding from the Tower, because of the plague then rife in London, and Charles I (1625/6) travelled by water for reasons of health and cost.  Charles II (1661) subsequently revived the practice, but this was to be the last occasion that the Riding from the Tower took place.

The post of Henxman was devised to enhance the monarch's security and grandeur, especially in royal processions such as the Riding from the Tower, and was closely associated with this particular ceremony.  The Henxmen are known to have existed from circa 1345, and they appear to have participated in every Riding from the Tower from the coronation of Richard II in 1337, to that of Elizabeth I in 1559.  The latter, the penultimate Riding from the Tower to ever take place, was the last to include Henxmen as their post in the Royal Household was abolished during Elizabeth's reign in 1565.

Pictorial Record
However, of all these grand state occasions, only one surviving contemporary picture is known of the Henxmen carrying out their duties during the Riding from the Tower. 

The painting records the whole procession during the Riding from the Tower on 19 Feb 1546/47, preceding the Coronation of the Tudor boy king, Edward VI.  Five Henxmen are clearly shown (with another probably obscured), walking close alongside the King's stallion at the heart of the procession.  The Henxmen are decked in their royal liveries and carrying swords to defend the King from sudden attack.  A Victorian engraving of a detail from the painting is illustrated above, showing the Henxmen.

This unique and important picture confirms the origin of the HINXMAN name, and shows our predecessors at their ceremonial duties.  For more details of the painting and its incarnations, see the footnote below.

  • Marc MORRIS.  2009.  A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain.  Windmill Books.  London, England.  Pages 111-112.
  • Roy STRONG.  2005.  Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy.  London, England.  Page 133.
This page also draws on content from a range of other original sources, which for the sake of simplicity are not listed here.  However, all of them are in the process of being published in detail on a companion website, Henxmen Sources.

Next . . .
  • Click on Henxmen Names to discover what we know about the personal identities of the Henxmen down the ages.
  • Click on Best of Henxmen to learn about Edward Henxman, who is believed to have participated in the 1547 Riding from the Tower (pictured above).
Webpage version 2018.1.  First version 2015.
Webpage c
opyright © Richard HINXMAN, 2015.
The Riding from the Tower on
19 Feb 1546/47, prior to the Coronation of Edward VI, passing the Westcheap Cross in London
The scene depicted is the centre of a 4-hour procession, shown here passing the Eleanor Cross in Westcheap (now Cheapside), London, England.  Five of the six armed Henxmen can be seen just to the left of the Cross, walking beside the King (who is mounted on the white stallion, under the canopy). 

Original:  Detail from a monochrome copperplate engraving.  Unattributed.  Cheapside Cross (as it appeared in the Year 1547) With part of the procession of Edw. VI to his Coronation at Westminster.  Engraving published 01 Jan 1809 by William HERBERT (Lambeth) & Robert WILKINSON (58 Cornhill), London, England. 

Also published in: 
Theatrum Ilustrata Graphic And Historic Memorials, Ancient Playhouses, Modern Theatres, Other Places Of Public Amusement In The Cities And Suburbs Of London & Westminister With Scenic And Incidental Ilustrations From The Time Of Shakspear To The Present Period.  Editor Robert WILKINSON.  First published 1825.  This engraving is from the second edition, 1834.  London,
England.  Collection of Richard HINXMAN. 
Public domain.  See Terms of Use.

This 1809 engraving was copied from part of a much larger 1787 engraving, itself copied from an original 16th century mural at Cowdray Castle, Sussex (now destroyed).