Tower visit header showing Line of Kings

Armouries in the Tower of London

The origins of the Armouries may be traced back to the working armoury of the medieval kings of England. The first recorded visitor to the Tower Armouries was in 1498, when entry was only by special permission. After the restoration of Charles II in 1660, the paying public was allowed in to marvel at new displays set up to celebrate the power and splendour of English monarchy.

The Armouries is one of the ancient institutions of the Tower of London, which have also included the Board of Ordnance, the Menagerie, the Royal Mint, the Jewel House, the Royal Observatory and the Tower Record Office. These institutions are the focus of a permanent exhibition in the White Tower – Powerhouse).

An important chapter in its development occurred in the early 15th century, with the emergence of the Office of Armoury as an offshoot of the Privy Wardrobe of the Tower. At this point it seems that the positions ‘Keeper of the King’s armour at the Tower of London’ (first mentioned in 1423) and the ‘Master of the Ordnance’ (first recorded in 1414) replaced the previous ‘Keeper of the Wardrobe’.

The offices of the Armoury and Ordnance were responsible for procuring and issuing a wide variety of military equipment. The Armoury concentrated on armour and edged weapons; the Ordnance concentrated on cannon, handguns and the more traditional bow and arrow. Developments in the art of war resulted in the Ordnance becoming the more important of the two organisations, and in 1670 the equipment and functions of the Office of Armoury passed to the Ordnance.

Did you know?

So good they named it twice?

Armour commonly and mistakenly referred to as ‘chainmail’ should be correctly called ‘mail’, which is derived from the Old French word maille, meaning chain. Therefore, ‘chainmail’ actually translates as ‘chainchain’!