The Tower of London and the garderobae armorum

The Tower of London and the garderobae armorum

By Randall Storey

Royal Armouries Yearbook, Vol. 3 (1998)

Introduction: The history of such a treasured monument as the Tower of London is a famed account full of epic events and infamous deeds. Its place in the nation’s capital only ensured for it a reputation as a great castle and monument. Indeed, its service over the millennium has been awesome, serving as a royal stronghold, treasury, mint, and museum.

So great is its fame, though, that the Tower’s reputation has become legendary. Owing to its magnificent past undue significance has been attached to its role in England’s medieval military organization; thus undermining the sophistication of medieval England’s administrative faculties. Traditional histories perpetuate the notion that the Tower acquired national importance as an armoury in the 14th century. This is a natural assumption given its pre-eminent political and geographical position. But as we shall see, the Crown’s logistical network and modus operandi for managing armaments were well established by the 13th century. Detailed investigation into this network of armouries, or garderobae armorum, reveals that even through the 14th century the Tower was just one of a series of regional headquarters used mostly to collect and distribute armaments. For acquisitions the Crown increasingly turned to the private sector in an attempt to spread and lessen logistical burdens.

When investigating the English Crown’s management of armaments, we are basically presented with a system operating on two levels. As the primary agent for conducting war, the Crown had to predict the needs of its forces and prepare accordingly so as not to hinder its strategy. In this sense the management effort was substantiated by its logistical nature and catered for the entire military force. Without doubt this activity constituted the heart of the effort. At the same time, however, the system was used to furnish the king with finer armaments. By diverting the potential of the system, a separate stratum was maintained to provide the king with personal armaments.

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