Dillon, Harold Arthur Lee-, seventeenth Viscount Dillon 1844-1932, antiquary, was born in London 24 January 1844, the elder son of Arthur Edmund Denis Dillon-Lee, sixteenth Viscount Dillon, a numismatist (whom he succeeded in 1892), by his wife, Ellen, daughter of James Adderley, of King's county. The Dillon family had held land in Ireland since the twelfth century: several of its members are noticed in this Dictionary. The seventh viscount raised the famous Dillon regiment for James II, which at a later date went over to the French service; the eleventh married, in 1744, the heiress of the Lees, of Ditchley, Oxfordshire, through whom Lord Dillon was related to Sir Henry Lee [qv.], champion to Queen Elizabeth, and descended from Charles II. He was educated at a private school at Eltham from 1855 to 1860, and afterwards at Bonn University. He passed out fourth in the army examination of 1862, and was gazetted as an ensign in the Rifle Brigade. After having been stationed in Canada and India, he retired from the Brigade in 1874, whereupon he was promoted captain in the Oxfordshire Light Infantry (militia battalion), retiring as major in 1891.
     After leaving the Rifle Brigade Dillon became interested first in military equipment and dress and later in the history of arms and armour, medieval costume, and kindred subjects, of which he made an exhaustive study. In 1892 he was appointed first curator of the armouries of the Tower of London, a post which he held until 1913. In the course of his researches he travelled much abroad, making frequent visits to France, Belgium, Germany, and Russia. In 1905 he found in Paris a volume of armourer's drawings which enabled him to identify many armours in the Tower, at Windsor, and elsewhere, and on his advice it was purchased for the Victoria and Albert Museum. He never collected armour, as he considered that the keeper of a national armoury should not make a private collection. He took all the important armours in the Tower to pieces in order to learn their construction and made minute studies of the locks and crossbows and firearms. His knowledge of medieval and later periods was encyclopaedic, and inquiries on subjects within these fields came to him from all over the world. He had two maxims, one that Duty is doing more than you are paid for, the other being Never say you do not know, but find out and then reply. On one occasion it took him three months and a visit to Germany to deal with a question, but he answered it correctly.
     Dillon was responsible for much of the work connected with the Stuart and Tudor exhibitions held at the New Gallery, Regent Street, in 1889 and 1890. As chairman of the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery from 1894 to 1928 his knowledge was of the greatest possible value to that body. From the notable collection at Ditchley he presented to the Gallery in 1925, in memory of his first wife, three portraits of outstanding historical importance, Archbishop Warham, Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir Henry Lee (the last-named by Antonio Moro). He presented and bequeathed other portraits, including the Ditchley Queen Elizabeth, to the gallery.
     In any case where finance was involved Dillon was very exact, and he would never give an official signature until he had checked the accounts before him. His knowledge of his own library was such that he could tell the shelf, the colour of the binding, and often the page of the work which was asked for. He would never put forward theories unsupported by evidence, and when at a trial which involved the authenticity of a suit of armour the opposing counsel questioned his opinion he replied: My opinions are facts. A true aristocrat, he was equally at home in a royal palace and in a third class carriage of the Great Western Railway by which he travelled from Charlbury to London and back several times a week for many years.
     Dillon contributed numerous papers to archaeological and antiquarian journals. He was president of the Royal Archaeological Institute (1892-1898) and of the Society of Antiquaries (1897-1904); was a trustee of the British Museum (1905-1912) and of the Wallace Collection (1918-1931); and was elected a fellow of the British Academy on its foundation in 1902. He was antiquary to the Royal Academy and was an honorary member of the Armourers' Company of London. He was appointed C.H. in 1921. He was twice married: first, in 1870 to Julia (died 1925), eldest daughter of Isaac Brock Stanton, of Ottawa, and had one son who predeceased him; secondly, in 1926 to Margaret Louisa Everard, daughter of the Rev. Henry Edward Browne ffolkes, and widow of the Rev. John Erasmus Philipps. He died at Ditchley 18 December 1932, and was succeeded as eighteenth viscount by his nephew, Arthur Henry (1875-1934), who sold Ditchley in 1933, when nearly all the remaining pictures in the collection were dispersed
     Lord Dillon possessed a fine head and figure. A portrait by Georgina Brackenbury is in the National Portrait Gallery, and a portrait by Maurice Codner belongs to the Society of Antiquaries. There is a monumental tablet in St. Peter's chapel, Tower of London, and a memorial window depicting his kneeling figure is in Enstone church, Oxfordshire, in the churchyard of which he is buried. A portrait-medal, by Sydney Carline, was struck in 1913.

     The Times, 20 December 1932
     C. ffoulkes, Viscount Dillon, 1844-1932 in Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. xviii, 1932 (containing a bibliography compiled by J. G. Mann)
     personal knowledge.

Contributor: C. ffoulkes.

Published: 1949