The Riding from the Tower
Ceremonial Origins

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

The Riding from the Tower
The ceremony of 'The Riding from the Tower' is little known today, but it used to be one of the grandest elements of the English coronation. 
Its purpose was for the new monarch to show themselves to the people, and to receive their approval before being crowned. 

It was also one of the most important state ceremonies in which the Henxmen routinely participated, and one in which they were very publicly visible. 

The ceremony always
took place on the day before the actual crowning.  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 route led through Cornhill, Cheapside (London's main market, and east-west thoroughfare), St Paul's, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street and the Strand, to Whitehall.

Liber Regalis
The ancient manuscript known as the Liber Regalis, kept in Westminster Abbey, sets out the fourth and most fully developed version of the English mediaeval coronation ceremony. 

This book, probably introduced in 1307, provided the order of service for all coronations from the 14th century to that of Elizabeth I in 1559.  Within it, the Liber Regalis stresses the importance of the Riding from the Tower.  Here is the statement in its original mediaeval Latin:

'Rex autem precedenti die coronacionis sue. de turri londoniensi per mediam ciuitatem uersus palacium regium westmonasterii in cultu decentissimo equitabit. plebi occurrenti se offerens intuendum capite denudado.'

And here it is translated into modern English:

'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.'

Although the Liber Regalis gave remarkable continuity to this ancient tradition, sometimes minor details still varied. 

For instance, despite the direction that the king 'shall ride bareheaded', King Edward VI appears wearing a hat in a contemporary painting of his Riding from the Tower in 1546/47 (here copied in an engraving).

Illustration.  The Riding from the Tower passing the Westcheap Cross, London1546/47.  For picture details, see footnotes.

A Grand Spectacle
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 also established the procession's traditional route through Cheapside.  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.  The first detailed account of an actual Riding from the Tower was recorded in the minutes of a Court of Claims, held before the coronation of King Richard II in 1377: 

'Now on Saint Swithin's day after breakfast there assembled the nobles, knights, and the mayor, sherriffs, aldermen, and very many citizens of London, and other horsemen, in great number, suitably adorned, in an open space by the Tower of London; and when they had remained there for a short time, the lord king came out of his said Tower clothed in white, with a huge crowd of peers, nobles, knights surrounding him, and squires in his train, and moreover sergeants-at-arms of the armed men going before.  And on assembling there they rode solemnly with trumpets and all other kinds of music through the public streets of London to the noble road called the Cheap to Fleet Street and so straight to the said royal palace of Westminster, and came to the great hall of the said palace.'

Pictorial Record
Only one contemporary picture survives, of the Henxmen carrying out their duties during a 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 this painting,
showing the Henxmen, is illustrated above.

The Role of the Henxmen
The Riding from the Tower provides a good example of the Henxmen's ceremonial duties on public occasions. 

The Henxmen appear to have been introduced to enhance the monarch's security and grandeur during royal processions, and they became closely associated with The Riding from the Tower.  Their central ceremonial role seems to have been to ensure the monarch's stallion was under safe control, despite the noisy crowds and waving flags.  This duty explains the origin of their name, which is a compound of Old English 'hengst' + 'man', meaning 'stallion man'.

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 (1377), 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 Henxmen are known to have existed from circa 1345, so their first Riding from the Tower was at the coronation of Richard II in 1377.  In all, they appear to have participated in a total of 11 Ridings from the Tower, to that of Elizabeth I in 1559.  This latter, the penultimate Riding from the Tower to ever occur, was also the last to include Henxmen - as their post in the Royal Household was abolished during Elizabeth's reign in 1565.

The Riding from the Tower plays an important part in the history of the Henxmen.  (more text to be added)

  • Anonymous author.  1377.  Minutes of the Court of Claims.  Close Roll.  1 Richard II.  Membrane 45.  Public Record Office.  London, England.
  • Leopold G. Wickham LEGG.  1901.  English Coronation Records.  Archibald Constable & Co.  Whitehall Gardens, Westminster, England.  Page 81.
  • 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 2018.2.  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).