Interactive timeline - History of the RA

  1. Before the Romans: the site of the Tower of London in AD 40, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    40 AD

    Before the Romans

    The pre-Roman site of the Tower of London was probably occupied by an Iron Age farm.

  2. The Twilight of the Roman City: the site of the Tower of London in AD 400, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    400 AD

    Twilight of the Roman City

    Londinium was remodelled and strengthened in response to the threat of Saxon invasion.

  3. The Conquerer's Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1080, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1080 AD

    The Conqueror's Castle

    Work began on the construction of William the Conqueror's mighty White Tower.

  4. The Castle Enlarged: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1200, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1200 AD

    The Tower Enlarged

    A major expansion of the Tower's defences during the reigns of Richard I and King John.

  5. The Classic Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1240, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1240 AD

    The Classic Castle

    Henry III extended the defences of the Tower and refurbished and enlarged the royal lodgings.

  6. The Apogee of the Medieval Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1300, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1300 AD

    Apogee of the Medieval Castle

    Tower defences extended, to those seen today, by England's greatest warrior king, Edward I.

  7. The Tudor Powerhouse: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1547, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1547 AD

    The Tudor Power House

    During Henry VIII's reign the Offices of Ordnance, Armoury, Mint and Records occupy the Tower.

  8. Showpiece of the Nation: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1700, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1700 AD

    Showplace of the Nation

    After the Restoration in 1660 armouries displays are established to impress the visiting public.

  9. The Great Conflagration: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1841, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1841 AD

    The Great Conflagration

    The Grand Storehouse including two armouries displays is destroyed by fire on 31 Oct 1841.

  10. The Remedievalisation of the Castle: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1890, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1890 AD

    Remedievalisation of the Castle

    50 years of restoration transformed the appearance of the Tower following the fire of 1841.

  11. The Castle at War: the site of the Tower of London in AD 1940, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    1940 AD

    The Castle at War

    WWII aerial bombing threatens the Tower. The Main Guard is destroyed on the 29 Dec 1940.

  12. The Tower Today: The site of the Tower of London in AD 1999, by Ivan Lapper. 1999.

    2000 AD

    The Tower Today

    The Tower of London attracts over 2 million visitors per year as a World Heritage Site.

16th - 17th century

By the end of the 16th century some of the early visitors to the Tower began to record their impressions of the Armoury. Jacob Rathgar, secretary of Frederick, Duke of Wirtenburg, described what they were shown in 1592. Despite the presence of many fine pieces of artillery, Rathgar felt the collection did not compare with those in his native Germany for ‘they stand about in the greatest confusion and disorder’.

Paul Hentzner provided the first detailed description of the Armoury after a visit to London in 1598. He was shown many items belonging to Henry VIII, including a gilt suit of armour, and several historic cannon, among them two wooden pieces used to deceive the French at the siege of Boulogne in 1544.

The following year Joseph Platter, a Swiss traveller from Basle, visited the Tower and again paid attention to the personal armoury of Henry VIII, which he makes clear, was located in the White Tower. Interestingly, reference is made to the cost of viewing the Armoury, with payments being made at four points in the building ‘to a servant appointed to receive the same’.

The complaint by Rathgar in 1592 about the disorderly appearance of the Armoury, repeated by the Duke of Stettin-Pomerania, a decade latter, suggests that little attention was paid to presentation in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

This situation was to change immediately after the Restoration of 1660 with the setting up of two permanent public displays known as the Line of Kings and the Spanish Armoury.

The former, as the name suggests, was a row of figures representing the kings of England. They appeared on life-sized wooden horses wearing what was said to be their personal armour. The line is first recorded in the Tower in an inventory dated October 1660 and it is possible that the display was assembled to mark the visit to the Tower of London in August that year by Charles II after his many years in exile.

The Spanish Armoury was a collection of fearsome-looking weapons, together with a few instruments of torture, claimed to have been taken from the Armada of 1588. The historical basis for this association was quite unsound, however, with few, if any of the objects having Spanish connections.

Did you know?

Too hot to handle

Before the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum revolver the most powerful handgun in the world was the Mars pistol. It was so powerful that during testing in 1906, the Royal Navy vowed never to fire it again.