Introduction to the Armouries

Welcome to our The Royal Armouries history section. You can skip to subsequent pages using the links below or simply continue reading to start at the beginning.

Introduction to the Armouries

The Tower of London has played many parts in its time - palace, prison, public record office, armoury, barracks, and gunpowder store.

It is still one of the few buildings in Europe that is both a show place open to the public and a fortress, and preserves some of its functions.

From Norman times until the beginning of the 18th century the Tower was the principal arsenal of the realm, and from the fourteenth century onwards the records are full of inventories of arms and armour, bills of payment to armourers, and such-like details.

In the reign of Henry VIII the Tower shared the storage of arms with the Royal Armouries at Greenwich, where the armourers were installed and where the finer specimens of their work were preserved up to the reign of Charles II Armour was certainly stored and sometimes shown to visitors in the White Tower at the end of the sixteenth century, and there was also a large amount of service armour in the magazines on the north side, near the site occupied by Waterloo Barracks.

In the early seventeenth century certain armour appears to have been exhibited in a building known as the "Spanish Armoury," situated on the site of the present "Main Guard," north of the Bloody Tower, so called from the tradition that herein was preserved a large amount of armour captured from the Spaniards after the defeat of the Armada.

But in those days historical accuracy was at a discount, and it is more than probable that after the disposal of a large amount of Spanish armour by public sale in 1588, in order to give prize-money to the British sailors, the tradition still was attached to armour which had no connexion whatever with the Spaniards.

Next page: Evolution of the Armouries