In 1545, a visiting foreign dignitary is reported to have paid to view the collection at the Royal Armouries in the Tower of London. This date marks the beginning of this museum. By the reign of King Charles II (1660 to 1665), there was a permanent public display at the Royal Armouries which included the Spanish Armoury (which contained instruments of torture) and the Line of Kings (wooden effigies of English kings). The Royal Armouries is one of the oldest museums in Europe and is generally considered the oldest museum in the United Kingdom. The museum includes the National Collection of Arms and Armour, National Artillery Collection, and National Firearms Collection. In addition, it is the keeper of the Tower of London history.
The Tower of London:
The Tower of London—officially known as Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress—was founded following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. The White Tower is the earliest stone keep in England and it contained grand accommodations for the king. For the English, the White Tower was a symbol of oppression inflicted upon London by the new Norman ruling elite.
While the castle was not intended to be a prison, it was being used as a prison as early as 1100, although this was not its primary function. The first recorded prisoner to be held in the tower was the Bishop Ranulf Flambard who was also the first to escape from it. It was more commonly used as a prison during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period when a number of prominent prisoners were held here. In spite of its reputation, only seven people were actually executed within the tower prior to the twentieth century.
The Tower of London is actually a complex of several buildings set with two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat.
Today, the Tower of London is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United Kingdom. In 1988 it was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More than 2 million people visit the Tower of London each year.
Office of Ordnance and Armoury:
In the fifteenth century, the Office of Ordnance and Armoury was founded to look after the monarch’s arsenal and valuables. At this time there was no standing army, so the royal armoury at the Tower of London procured supplies and equipment in times of war.
The Master of the Ordnance (created in 1415) and the Ordnance Office were responsible for providing weapons to both the Army and the Navy.
The Royal Armouries has one of the largest collections of arms and armour in the world. Since only a small part of this collection could be displayed, in 1955 much of the artillery collection was moved to Fort Nelson in Hampshire and in 1956 a new Royal Armouries Museum was opened in Leeds. In 1996, a new museum was opened in Clarence Dock.
According to the Museum’s website:
If you thought the Royal Armouries was just about guns, knives and armour in display cases, think again.The collection at the Royal Armouries consists of about 70,000 examples of arms, armour, and artillery dating from antiquity to the present day. It is, however, more than a collection of artifacts: it presents an interpretation of these artifacts. According to the museum:
The use of violence by humankind for supremacy or survival, or its sublimation into sport or play always has been, and probably always will be, one of the main forces for historical change. This is the underlying theme of the Royal Armouries, a fascinating and often disturbing story of great importance to us and our children. The modern world can be a scary place; from the playground to the football pitch, from the streets to the skies and from day to night, many people see our world as increasingly unsafe.