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In connection with the Armouries, it should be noted that the present collection of arms and armour had its origin in that formed at Greenwich by King Henry VIII, who received many presents of this nature from the Emperor Maximilian and others. He also obtained from the Emperor several skilled armourers, who worked in his pay and wore his livery.
English iron in former days was so inferior, or the art of working it was so little known, that even as far back as the days of Richard II German and Italian armourers were the chief workmen in Europe.
It should be remembered that the earlier kind of armour chiefly consisted of quilted garments, further fortified by small pieces of leather, horn, or metal.
So far from the invention of gunpowder having driven out armour, if we may credit the story of the earliest employment of that explosive, it was at a date when plate armour was hardly in use, certainly not in large pieces.
What actually did cause the disuse of armour was the change in ideas as to the movement of troops and the weight of the defences which, up to the middle of the 17th century, were proved by crossbow bolt, or later by pistol bullet.
In England the disuse of armour seems to have begun earlier than on the Continent, but at no time were the ordinary soldiers covered with metal as seen in the Armouries and other places. The weight, and what was more important, the cost, prevented such a thing. It was only the rich, who could afford to pay for and had horses to carry armour, who wore much of what we see now.
Again, armour for war was much lighter and less complete than that used for the tilt yard, where protection to the wearer was more considered than his ability to hurt his opponent. The greater substance of such armour and its frequent enrichment with engraving and gilding no doubt led to the preservation of this class of defence.
Chain mail suffered extremely by rust and neglect, and even plate armour was subject to the same deterioration. It is consequently not surprising that little or no armour predates the 15th century in this collection.
The earliest extant inventory of the Royal collection was made on Henry VIII's death and this includes the armour and arms at Greenwich, and arms and artillery at the Tower of London which, from this time onward was one of the sights for foreigners of distinction.
In the troubles of the Civil War the arms were drawn out, and there is no doubt much, both of arms and armour, was used and lost. The Protector took one suit, and it was not till 1660 that the armour, which had meanwhile been brought to London, was collected, and, with the weapons still in the store, was formed into a kind of museum.
On entering the White Tower the visitor finds himself on the ground floor of the building (known as the "Gun Floor") used as a store for service arms between the years 1841 and 1916. The first room is known as THE RECORD ROOM.
Next page: Record Room
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