Royal Armouries

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The Hall of Steel in the Royal Armouries in Leeds
Part of the display at the Tower of London

The Royal Armouries is the United Kingdom's National Museum of Arms and Armour. It is the United Kingdom's oldest museum, and one of the oldest museums in the world. It is also one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world, comprising the UK's National Collection of Arms and Armour, National Artillery Collection, and National Firearms Collection. Its historic base is in the Tower of London, but today the collection is split across three sites:[1]

Location Coordinates
Royal Armouries Museum (Leeds) 53°47′31″N 1°31′56″W / 53.791866°N 1.532258°W / 53.791866; -1.532258 (Royal Armouries Museum)
Tower of London (London) 51°30′31″N 0°04′35″W / 51.508545°N 0.076310°W / 51.508545; -0.076310 (Tower of London)
Fort Nelson (Portsmouth) 50°51′38″N 1°08′20″W / 50.860691°N 1.138867°W / 50.860691; -1.138867 (Fort Nelson)

A limited selection of items is also on display in Louisville, Kentucky, in the United States, in cooperation with the Frazier History Museum.


The Royal Armouries is one of the ancient institutions of the Tower of London and was originally engaged in the manufacture of armour for the Kings of England. The Office of the Armoury grew out of the department known as the King's Privy Wardrobe at the Tower of London in the mid-15th century. Overseen from 1423 by the Master of the King's Armour, and based in the White Tower, the Office was responsible for manufacturing armour and edged weapons for the monarch and his armies; it functioned alongside the Office of Ordnance, which had responsibility for firearms.[2]

The Armoury oversaw storehouses and workshops at Woolwich and Portsmouth, and at various royal palaces (most notably the Greenwich Armoury, which specialized in richly-decorated ceremonial armour). In 1545, it is recorded that a visiting foreign dignitary paid to view the Armoury collection at the Tower of London. By the time of Charles II, there was a permanent public display there; the "Spanish Armoury" which included instruments of torture and the "Line of Kings" - a row of wooden effigies representing the kings of England. This makes it the first museum in Britain.[3]

Fort Nelson, a 12.5 inch muzzle loading rifled gun for a shore battery, 1875

The influence of the Armoury began to wane as traditional weapons gave way increasingly to firearms in the field of war. In the 1620s, swords, lances and items of armour were still used in battle, but for the most part were being issued by the Office of Ordnance (which was becoming a sizeable department of State) rather than by the Armoury. The latter, however, remained staffed and operational until 1671, when it was finally absorbed by the Ordnance Board; the Board continued to maintain, and indeed expanded, the Armoury as a museum.[2]

The Tower was engaged in the development, manufacture and storage of a wide variety of weaponry until the Board of Ordnance was abolished in 1855. Thereafter the historic armoury collection remained. Only a small part of this could be displayed, however, and in 1995, much of the artillery collection was moved to Fort Nelson in Hampshire and the following year a new Royal Armouries Museum was opened in Leeds.[4] The remaining part of the collection relates directly to the Tower.

The National Heritage Act 1983 established the Armouries as a non-departmental public body, now sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.


  1. ^ "Royal Armouries official website - About Us". Retrieved 8 October 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Stewart, Richard W. (1996). The English Ordnance Office 1585-1625. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell Press. 
  3. ^ "Tower of London". Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  4. ^ "Royal Armouries Library, London: Royal Armouries and Office of Ordnance". Retrieved 29 September 2010. 

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