Interactive timeline - History of the RA
Before the Romans
The pre-Roman site of the Tower of London was probably occupied by an Iron Age farm.
Twilight of the Roman City
Londinium was remodelled and strengthened in response to the threat of Saxon invasion.
The Conqueror's Castle
Work began on the construction of William the Conqueror's mighty White Tower.
The Tower Enlarged
A major expansion of the Tower's defences during the reigns of Richard I and King John.
The Classic Castle
Henry III extended the defences of the Tower and refurbished and enlarged the royal lodgings.
Apogee of the Medieval Castle
Tower defences extended, to those seen today, by England's greatest warrior king, Edward I.
The Tudor Power House
During Henry VIII's reign the Offices of Ordnance, Armoury, Mint and Records occupy the Tower.
Showplace of the Nation
After the Restoration in 1660 armouries displays are established to impress the visiting public.
The Great Conflagration
The Grand Storehouse including two armouries displays is destroyed by fire on 31 Oct 1841.
Remedievalisation of the Castle
50 years of restoration transformed the appearance of the Tower following the fire of 1841.
The Castle at War
WWII aerial bombing threatens the Tower. The Main Guard is destroyed on the 29 Dec 1940.
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 later, 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, when two permanent public displays were set up, 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 was first recorded in the Tower in an inventory dated October 1660, and it is possible that the display was assembled to mark Charles II’s visit to the Tower of London in August that year, after his many years in exile.
The Spanish Armoury was a collection of fearsome-looking weapons, displayed alongside a few instruments of torture, claimed to have been taken from the Spanish Armada in 1588. However, the historical basis for this association was quite unsound, with few, if any, of the objects having Spanish connections.