The Armourer's House
The Armourer's House
First edition cover







Historical era


The Armourer's House is a novel for younger children published by Oxford University Press in 1951, with illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. It has an episodic plot which follows eight-year-old Tamsyn Caunter as she goes to live in her uncle's family in Tudor London.

Plot Edit

Tamsyn Caunter, an eight-year-old orphan, cannot go to sea with her favourite uncle Martin because she is a girl. Her Uncle Gideon, a London armourer, takes her from her home in Devon to live with his wife Deborah and their four living children, Piers, Beatrix and Giles the Almost-Twins, and Littlest, where despite their kindness she misses her home and the ships of Bideford. Three weeks after she is established in the Dolphin House, she sees her eldest cousin Piers watching a ship sets sail from Billingsgate Quay in much the same manner as she does, as if he wished nothing more than to be sailing in her (1). Near Eastertime the family takes a day's holiday to the countryside at Chelsea Meadows, where Tamsyn wanders off to be properly alone for the first time since coming to London. On returning to the family she is struck anew by her sense of not belonging, and retires to the playroom in the attic on their return home, where Piers finds her crying. She confides her homesickness and even her secret wish to be a boy so that she could go to sea, and he in return tells her of his dream of exploring the New World, dashed by the loss of his elder brother Kit at sea, leaving Piers heir to the armoury. He shows her his copy of Cabot's map of the Americas, complete with an ideal ship called the Dolphin, which they rename the Dolphin and Joyous Venture for Tamsyn's share in her (2).

On May Day, a Morris dance turns into the customary apprentices' riot when the apprentice dancing the Fool hits an alderman over the head. The Almost-Twins are disgusted that their brother Piers is surely too quiet to join the cause, but he and his fellow apprentice return in triumph with the Morris dancers, to the admiration of the other children and the amusement of their parents (3). On Midsummer's Eve, the whole family goes to watch the archery practice, and Tamsyn and the Almost-Twins wander off looking for an adventure. They stumble upon a fairylike garden kept by an old Wise Woman from Devonshire, who gives them each a gift before they leave: Tamsyn's a rare tulip bulb, which the Wise Woman promises will flower by Christmas and bring her her heart's desire, though Tamsyn does not see how a flower will help her to sail with Piers (4).

In June, the Almost-Twins warn Littlest that he will turn into a peacock if he eats all the unripe gooseberries in the garden, and Tamsyn and Piers are busy consoling him when they hear a procession passing on the river. Over the garden wall they see the King's Grace Henry and his laughing Queen Anne, who Tamsyn thinks is sad behind the laughter. Amidst the crowds cheering for the King, the Caunter children cheer for the Queen, and Tamsyn is her partisan ever afterwards (5).

On a day in September when Tamsyn is at home with a cold, she and Piers make a Believing-magic and set sail in the Dolphin and Joyous Venture as Master and Master's Mate to explore the West Indies, ending in a sea-fight with a Castilian pirate. They make a hypothetical promise that if Piers really became a ship's Master, they would marry so that Tamsyn could sail with him (6). On Hallowe'en, Aunt Deborah tells the Scottish tale of Young Tam Lin, and how Janot met him at the Fairy Well at Carterhaugh and rescued him from the Fairy Court (7).

A sailor stops by with a letter from Uncle Martin, saying that he means to spend Christmas at the Dolphin House, and four days later he is there, to Tamsyn's delight (8). He invites Piers and Tamsyn along on a visit to an old friend, now the Master Shipwright at Deptford Royal Dockyard. As they tour the dockyard, Martin and Master Bourdekin notice Piers's longing to sail, and Martin promises Piers a place in his ship if ever he is free to come. But that evening at home, Tamsyn finds him deeply unhappy (9). On Christmas Eve, a knock at the door comes as the family is singing carols. Kit, the long-lost eldest son, has come home, after being carried on a two years' voyage to India and back by the Portuguese ship that rescued him. Piers is released from his apprentice's indentures to go to sea with Uncle Martin, and someday Tamsyn will go with him. The bells ring out at midnight, and Tamsyn's tulip is in bloom (10).

Chronology Edit

The story takes place in 1534, during the reign of Henry VIII and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, when Elizabeth I is a year old (5).

  • 1506 (2): The Caunter brothers carved the tree in their mother's garden, nearly 30 years ago
  • 1530, 4 years ago: William Hawkins's voyage to Brazil
  • Two years ago (1): Kit's ship lost off Portugal.
  • 1533 (5): Princess Elizabeth was born.
  • 1534:
  • March (1): Uncle Gideon takes Tamsyn to London
    • 3 weeks later (1): Tamsyn sees Piers on Billingsgate Quay
  • Near Easter (2): trip to Chelsea Meadows
  • May Day (3): apprentices' riot
  • Midsummer's Eve / St John's Eve (4): they meet the Wise Woman
  • June (5): they see the Queen on the river
  • September (6): the Believing-magic
  • Hallowe'en (7): Tam Lin
  • Saturday, December 14 (8): Jabez Varley bring's Martin's letter
  • Thursday, Dec 19: Snow and Uncle Martin arrive
  • Monday, Dec 23 (9): Deptford Royal Dockyard
  • Tuesday, Dec 24, Christmas Eve or the Feast of Lights (10): Kit lands in London
  • Wednesday, Dec 25, Christmas Day

Characters Edit

  • Tamsyn Caunter: nearly nine
  • Martin Caunter: Merchant Venturer of Bideford
  • Gideon Caunter: Master Swordsmith and Armourer, of London
  • Deborah Caunter: warm and pretty
  • Kit Caunter: Lost at sea.
  • Piers Caunter: Fourteen. "probably a most exciting person, only the exciting part was underneath"
  • Beatrix Caunter: Ten. "generally pretending to be somebody else"
  • Giles Caunter: Nine. "liked eating and fighting and keeping beetles and caterpillars in boxes."
  • Benjamin "Littlest" Caunter: Three. "always busy and never cross"
  • Bunch the greyhound
  • Master Roger Whitcome (1): Owner of Kit's ship, a neighbour
  • Meg the Kitchen (1): "inclined to be stout and inclined to be deaf"
  • Master Bodkin (1): goldsmith neighbour
  • Caleb (1): swordsmith under Gideon
  • Timothy (1): squinty apprentice with different-coloured eyes
  • King Henry VIII (1): young and merry
  • Catherine of Aragon (1): less so
  • William Hawkins (2): explorer of Brazil 4 years ago
  • Sebastian Cabot (2): New World cartographer
  • Ned Buckle (3): cause celebre; Master Guildersleeve, his master; Alderman Branby, his victim
  • Toby Meredith (3): rival apprentice beaten up by Piers
  • Tiffany Simcock (4): the Wise Woman from Devonshire
  • Lady Anne Boleyn (5): Queen who gets the chop
  • Pizarro (6): a Spanish cut-throat
  • the Inca Atahualpa (6): a murdered king
  • Princess Margaret Tudor (7): married the Scottish King
  • Jabez Varley (8): sailor
  • Master Bourdekin (8): Master Shipwright of the Deptford Royal Dockyard, an old acquaintance
  • Mistress Bourdekin (9): his small friendly lady
  • Peter (9): their servant
  • Cardinal Wolsey (9): whom the Bourdekin sons once convinced they had smallpox
  • Mistress Whitcome (10): donor of wrapping-paper
  • Tell-true (10): Martin Caunter's dog
  • Jenny the Mare (10): his horse
  • Jack Marfield and Tenby (10): other survivors of the Elizabeth
  • Ships:
    • Joyous Venture: Uncle Martin's new West Indies trader
    • Elizabeth: Roger Whitcome's, in which Kit Caunter was lost off Portugal
    • Dolphin and Joyous Venture: Piers and Tamsyn's ideal ship
    • Peter and Pomegranate; Catherine Bonaventure
    • Santa Marguerita: pride of the Spanish fleet
    • Mathew (8): Sebastian Cabot and Jabez Varley's ship
    • Great Harry (8): the flagship with top-gallant sails
    • Mary Rose (9): the fastest ship in the fleet
    • Mary Garland (10): arrives from the Canaries on Christmas Eve
    • Santa Cristobel (10): Kit's Portuguese ship

Places Edit

  • Devon
    • Bideford: Uncle Martin's home port; Lundy
    • The Torridge
    • East-the-Water (8): site of Braund's shipyard
  • London
    • Charing village, the Strand, Ludgate: route to:
    • The Dolphin House: close to the river and Blackfriars Monastery, with dolphin corbels
    • St Paul's & St Paul's School: Giles's
    • Cheapside: marketplace
    • Billingsgate: fishmarket and quay
    • Southwark: St Mary's of the Ferry; the Tabard Inn; the Canterbury Road
    • Whitehall Palace; the Tilt-Yard
    • Chelsea Meadows (2)
    • Deptford (8): the Royal Dockyard, home of the Bourdekins
    • Fountain Tavern (8): horse rentals
    • London Bridge (8)
    • the Savoy Chapel, St. Olaf's, St. Clement Dane, St. Margaret's, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminter Abbey (10)
  • Elsewhere in England:
    • St. Alban's (8): home of Jabez Varley
    • Bristol (8): home port of the Mathew
  • Scotland: Holyrood Palace; the Highlands; Carterhaugh, Selkirkshire
  • Portugal:
    • Lisbon (10): where the Elizabeths awaited a ship
    • the Canaries
  • The Americas
    • The West Indies: Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, Tobago, Marguerite, Grenada
    • Brazil, Pern, Darien, Mexico, the Orenoque, Manoa or El Dorado, Peru, the Amazon
    • the North-West Passage (8): to Cathay
  • The East Indies: Cathay, India, the Cape of Storms

Background & references Edit

Publication history Edit

  1. Oxford University Press, 1951, 1957, 1962, 1973, 1975. Illus. C. Walter Hodges.
  2. Random House, 1951.
    1. Red Fox, 1994.
    2. RHCP Digital, 2013. E-book.
  3. Magnet, 1983.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.