The Tower of London and the garderobae armorum

The Tower of London - The White TowerThe Tower of London and the garderobae armorum

Randall Storey

Royal Armouries Yearbook: 3 (1998)

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 (Parnell 1993).

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.


This difference between the Crown’s effort to supply the army and navy with certain basic armaments, and the king’s effort to equip himself and others with sumptuous armaments, serves as an initial distinction between the Great and Privy Wardrobes (see Tout 1928: Chapters 14, 15; Lyon 1983: Introduction). Although the Crown’s logistics had followed similar patterns since at least the 12th century, it was not until the mid 13th century that its network of castles and depots began to be known collectively as the Great Wardrobe (magna garderoba). These strongholds stored and maintained not only armaments but the whole range of goods needed by the king and household. The term garderoba armorum was used when clerks wanted to refer specifically to a depot or part of a depot used for armaments. By at least 1290 it was not uncommon to refer to clerks with this specific task as custos garderoba armorum or custos armorum regis (Tout 1928: 444-5).

The garderobae armorum and their staffs were mostly concerned with two types of armaments. Engines, rams and siege towers were durable and the greater ones were often given a nickname that allows their service to be traced from siege to siege. These armaments occupied a lot space, required constant and heavy maintenance, and were transported with tremendous effort. Consequently no castle held more than a few, as they were roughly distributed throughout the network with major castles taking preference.

Bows, crossbows and their ammunition were much more prevalent in gardarobae armorum, as extremely large quantities could be spent, but not procured quickly. The need for large amounts caused the Crown to be in a perpetual state of preparation, and appears to have dominated its management activities. Atillatores, craftsmen who specialized in missile weapons, were routinely employed in various localities to manufacture such articles (e.g. Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1226-1240: 24 [Tower of London]; 31 [Hereford and Corfe]; 44 [Cumberland]). In times of high demand craftsmen were conscripted throughout entire regions. In 1244 the sheriff of Northumberland was empowered to cause all the smiths in his shire to make quarrel heads (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1240-1245: 256). However, when the Crown was satisfied with the overall amounts being produced, incentives for production were reduced. Even the craftsmen at the Tower of London risked pay cuts when supplies were adequate. As production in Hereford increased in 1227 the wages of the royal craftsmen in the Tower were cut from 7 1/2 d. to 6 1/2 d. per day (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1226-1240: 39).

As a case-study in quarrel production the terms of employment for two smiths and a fletcher relate to us several facts about the Crown’s military organization. The Crown sent the smiths, William and John de Malemort, and William, their fletcher, to St Briavels where they would have easy access to iron from the Forest of Dean. The men agreed to produce specific quantities, ranging from 100 to 200 quarrels per day, with their wages varying accordingly. When they were producing 200 quarrels per day they earned the respectable sums of 71 2 d. (William), 61 2 d. (John), and 51 2 d. (William the fletcher) per day. The Crown provided all of their materials and a house with forge and bellows (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1226-1240: 58-9, 61, 115, 157).

From the early 1230s only John de Malemort is mentioned in this arrangement, although judging by the quantities produced it is likely that he had unmentioned help. In any case the productivity of his workshop was astounding. At first his terms were set at 101 2d per day for producing 100 fletched quarrels. (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1226-1240: 193). The quarrels were then kept at St Briavels until the Crown needed them, as in 1242 when over 150,000 were sent out from there. In fact between 1241 and 1245, John’s workshop issued some 266,000 quarrels (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1240-1245: 67, 92, 112, 114, 251, 303, 316, 322, 324). From at least 1241 he used six patterns for producing these in whatever form the Crown requested (ibid: 67). When Anglo-Welsh relations worsened in the 1250s, John improved his income by agreeing to make 25,000 quarrels per year for 25 marks. For a short time he was even contracted to produce double that (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1251-1260: 373, 415).

Although John de Malemort’s workshop deserves to be recognized as a major component in the Crown’s logistics, several other areas received orders during this time for more conventional amounts of quarrels; usually from 5,000 to 35,000 (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1226-1240: 164, 204, 259). By sending simultaneous orders to several regions the Crown was able to gather impressive amounts of armaments without overtaxing local resources in terms of materials and labour. The armaments from these regions would then have been passed along a chain of posts, usually castles, where a clerk acknowledged receipt of the goods and arranged for their transport to the next post (Hewitt 1966: 65). In 1237 the route for 20,000 quarrels was detailed as leaving St Briavels, passing through Gloucester and London to finally arrive at Dover (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1226-1240: 258).

It is quite clear that the Tower of London did not receive even the majority of such disbursements. Often the Tower is mentioned only in passing. Of the 152,000 quarrels sent from St Briavels in 1242, some 52,000 went to Portsmouth, 50,000 went to Windsor and another 50,000 went to Dover via the Tower of London (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1240-1245: 114). That the Tower was treated as just one of several supply-centres when the Crown made requests for armaments is equally evident. For example in 1257 when John de Malemort was producing 50,000 quarrels per year, it was requested that the Tower organization send 6 crossbows of two feet and 20 crossbows of one foot to the king at Woodstock. Likewise 40 crossbows of one foot and 10 crossbows of two foot were requested from Windsor (Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1251-1260: 387 [Tower], 390 [Windsor]).

In the late 13th century Wales continued to be the primary concern in the Crown’s logistics. In 1277 it was ordered that 200,000 quarrels be deposited at Bristol. In 1285 Anglesey was issued with 170,000 quarrels and that same year when Caernarfon castle was being built, 120 crossbows and 104,800 quarrels were deposited there (Morris 1901: 91-2). Amounts such as these were rarely seen in the Crown’s logistics, indicating the seriousness of the situation in Wales and the need for keeping stores close to operations.

In the 14th century when momentous changes were occurring in England’s military organization, very little changed in the Crown’s logistical modus operandi. Supplies were still gathered in regions near to the theatre of operations, while supplements from production sites, major armouries and various other places were forwarded as far as possible along routine supply lines. When the army campaigned in Wales, Chester made for a convenient headquarters for receiving these supplies. Berwick, Carlisle, Newcastle or York acted as headquarters when the army campaigned in Scotland (Tout 1928: 394-6). Perhaps somewhat optimistically, Berwick was even described as a second Alexandria (Chronicon de Lanercost, quoted in Bain 1884: xi). When campaigning overseas, London and the southern ports assumed responsibility for supplies gathered in Britain.

Owing to its industrial capabilities, London figured prominently in the Crown’s logistics. Armaments were purchased there as a regular procedure for a campaign, and its shipments can be found in nearly all the Crown’s wars. But rarely could the amounts produced and sent from there be considered crucial to a campaign’s success or any more significant than many other centre’s contributions. After the brief campaign of 1301, Edward I retired to Linlithgow and ordered more supplies. Requests went out for 14 crossbows a tour with 3,000 quarrels, 28 crossbows of two feet with 4,000 quarrels (1,000 of which were winged with latten), and 7,000 quarrels for crossbows of one foot. About half of the equipment was sent by land from London to York and then sailed up the coast. The rest was to be obtained in the vicinity of York (Stevenson 1870: 438-40; Bain 1884: no. 1250). In 1304 the sheriffs of London sent to Stirling 80 crossbows, 120 bows, and 200 arrow heads; while the sheriff of Lincoln sent 36 crossbows, 286 bows, 1,200 quarrels and 1,200 arrows (Bain 1888: 462, 463). The Tower was not regularly, or even often, specified as the source of origin in the London shipments, highlighting London’s craftsmen, merchants and shrieval administration instead of the Tower’s (e.g., Cal. Close Rolls 1313-1318: 147).

Further contributing to the myth of the Tower’s role as a national armoury was the peculiar development of the Privy Wardrobe (parua garderoba). It first appears in the records in the early 13th century acting as a depot for the Chamber and denoting where the king stored his personal effects and armaments. When the court travelled, the Privy Wardrobe was charged with caring for the household’s armaments (Tout 1928: 443-4).

In the 14th century this itinerant behaviour began to wane necessitating more definite headquarters for the Great and Privy Wardrobes. When not travelling it had been customary for the Privy Wardrobe to use the Tower for its headquarters because the Chamber and Great Wardrobe did so (Tout 1928: 440). In the 1340s this local garderoba armorum in the Tower, became recognized as a permanent establishment and official department. This occurred in part because its keeper, John Fleet, was already a prominent official who was responsible for most of the Chamber’s affairs in the Tower, being keeper of the mint, keeper of the king’s jewels, and receiver of the Chamber’s monies. Fleet’s title varied according to his many duties, but occasionally he was described as ‘keeper of the king’s armour in the Tower’, or ‘keeper of the Privy Wardrobe in the Tower’. After Fleet’s keepership, the post ‘keeper of the king’s wardrobe in the Tower’, was regularly granted by letters patent, thus accidentally establishing the Tower as the official headquarters of the Privy Wardrobe and king’s armaments (Tout 1928: 446-51).

Yet all the same the Crown found it unwise to maintain large stockpiles of armaments in the Tower or elsewhere, because of the likelihood that they would deteriorate, be lost or stolen. Inquisitions into the state of a castle’s defences frequently revealed that its armaments were worthless or debiles (Prestwich 1982: 163-5). Furthermore, at a time when the Crown was facing stiff opposition in trying to implement the latest armours into military obligations, it made little sense to fill great arsenals rather than the army with these armaments. Such a reluctance to maintain exceptionally large arsenals is supported by the early 14th-century inventories of Windsor, Dover, and the Tower of London.

The inventories of Windsor castle from 1325, 1326 and 1330-1331 give a fair representation of a major armoury (London, PRO E 101/17/11 [1325], E 101/17/19 [1326] and E 101/18/24 [1330-1]). The inventory of 1325 listed the most armour: 204 coats of plates, a pair of horn gauntlets, 2 pairs of plate gauntlets, 4 pairs of plates, and 2 plate gorgets. The store of crossbows during these years (1325-31) ranged from 121 to 301 for crossbows of two feet (20 of which were not working) and 390 to 453 for crossbows of one foot (6 of which were not working). Winches (16 in 1325, 17 in 1326), 15 coffers and 14 buckets of quarrels (about 30,000 quarrels), and 446 quarrel shafts accompanied the crossbows. The number of targets ranged from 60 in 1325 to more than 150 later. A large springald, named Grimild or Gunnuld, with several cables and 37 heads for bolts, about 20 war lances and 55 darts (12 without heads) rounded out the castle’s armoury.

Dover Castle’s armoury of 1344 was comparable. Under the care of an engineer were 3 great springalds, 5 small springalds, 3 lesser springalds, brachia for supporting engines and 628 springald quarrels. His store of armour included 25 haubergeons, 30 aketons (of no value), 44 basinets, 31 other helmets, 25 pairs of gauntlets (of no value), 12 helmets of cuir bouilli and 103 targets (34 of no value). There were also 156 bows, 126 various crossbows, 43 baldrics, 149 garbs of arrows, 3 winches, a cask with quarrel and arrow heads, 2 barrels and 6 buckets of quarrels (about 5,000-10,000 quarrels) and a case of Saracen arrows. Only 9 pikes, 118 lances, and a barrel of caltrops represented the castle’s weapons (Way 1854).

Obviously, castles had a finite amount of space to store such armaments. Even this century when the Royal Armouries’ collection was kept in the Tower it suffered from a lack of space. In a letter quoted by Oakeshott and dated 1906, the anonymous author complained that a bequest of armours would have been ‘lost’ in the Tower because of its ‘overcrowded, inadequate space’ (1991: 271). So it has always been. In 1382 Queen Anne’s bedroom was used for storing armaments, which were hurriedly removed by eighteen men prior to her arrival. Even the great hall was used as a storeroom, perhaps workroom, when not required for domestic uses. In 1387 stone cannon balls had to be removed from the great hall when Richard II came to the Tower for Christmas (Tout 1928: 479).

Although some manufacturing undoubtedly occurred at the Tower, records of the 14th century indicate that the Tower acted more like a distribution post rather than a national depot or supply centre. This should not surprise us since the Tower was nearly equidistant from regularly used departure-points such as Dover, Portsmouth and Southampton. If the site for embarkation was not yet known while the armaments were being collected, or if the Crown wanted it to remain a secret, then London served as a convenient collection point in the meantime.

Even in London though, the Tower organization did not act as an overriding headquarters in managing the Crown’s armaments. During this period the Great Wardrobe never fully relinquished its concern for military stores. From the 1360s its sprawling quarters in what was Thomas Beauchamp’s estate surely rivalled the Tower in terms of storage capabilities. Other facilities were also maintained. Keepers sought out and rented even more houses in the city as workshops and residences for armourers and tailors (Tout 1928: 389, 394, 405ff). Baynard castle was intimately connected with the manufacture of armaments and the storage of materials (e.g., London, PRO E 101/165/1). In 1338 springalds were stored in various places along the wall facing the Thames (Riley 1868: 176). In 1339 the ‘Bretaske’ was built next to the Tower to house a variety of armaments including more springalds (Thomas 1926: 102). Even London’s Guildhall was used at this time for storing guns and other war material (Riley 1868: 206-7).

Records that detail what was actually stored at the Tower confirm the impression that its role as a depot was limited. When preparations began for the War of St Sardos (1324) and the Tower’s armoury was listed, it was found that the armaments currently being manufactured would double its arsenal. This account of the armoury under John de Weston listed no armour, a minimum of ammunition (9,000 arrows and 34,000 quarrels) and 16 springalds (only 6 were working). The rest of the stock was slowly being doled out: 55 gisarmes reduced to 54, 26 baldrics reduced to 24 (London, PRO E 101/17/6 m.9). Weston’s receipts from the treasurer of the Exchequer during 1324-5 were of similar proportions, i.e., a pair of gauntlets, 6 helms, a sword, a pair of shinbalds, a pollaxe, etc. (London, PRO E 101/16/31).

If the Tower acted as a national armoury one would expect to find that it contained ample stores in 1344. The Crown was well aware that an offensive into France was necessary (Sumption 1990: 423-4). By midsummer preparations had begun throughout London (Sharpe 1894: 190). Yet only modest amounts of armaments were listed in a fragmentary indenture recording the transfer of goods to the new ‘custodian of the wardrobe in the Tower of London’ (London, PRO E 101/390/7). From the remnant it can be gathered that the Tower contained 8 helmets, 3 basinets, 3 haubergeons, 3 pair of plate gauntlets, a pair of greaves, 2 aventails, a gorget, an iron tabard, 2 guns, 7 pairs of poleyns, 2 shinbalds, a pair of sabatons, 5 pairs of plates, a pair of cuisses, 6 pair of jambes, a horse trapper, 2 helms for tournaments, an old chapel de fer, 37 visors for horses, a long sword garnished with silver, and a white (steel) long sword. No mention of engines, missile weapons, or ammunition could be found; although it must be assumed that the section listing them has been destroyed. Even so, the manner in which the pieces of armour were tallied (in ones and twos rather than tens or hundreds) suggests that the Tower kept no more of these high-maintenance articles than any other major armoury.

Even more telling is an episode in 1338 which revealed that the Tower’s armoury contained so few armaments that it underwent preparations for defence like any other castle. On 16 July 1338, Edward III’s small army left for France leaving behind the young Prince Edward to reside in the Tower. In March the Tower’s engines had received repairs and a newly made great engine augmented the defences (Cal. Close Rolls 1337-1339: 15). The king’s carpenter, smith, and fletcher had been busy throughout the year (ibid: 556). Still, during July it was ordered that the Tower be provided with men-at-arms and archers, and as much iron, steel, lead, bows, crossbows, arrows, quarrels, and armour as required for the prince’s safety (ibid: 445-6; cf. 725). Two months later a bill was presented by Walter de Weston, clerk of the king’s works at the Tower, for £30 spent on making repairs and building springalds, crossbow, bows and other necessaries (ibid: 467). Surely, if the Tower had been acting as the national armoury, it would not have needed these arrangements to bring its defences up to a safe level. In 1338 it cannot even be said that Edward III had taken very many armaments from the Tower with him on campaign, because the army of less than five thousand was reportedly lacking arms (Sumption 1990: 240-1).

Even though the Tower certainly did not maintain huge stockpiles of armaments during the 14th century, considerable transactions still occurred in the name of the Privy Wardrobe. The acquisitions of Thomas de Snetesham (see Appendix), clerk of the king’s ships, reveal an active Privy Wardrobe and an overlooked source of demand. The ever-increasing tension on the seas meant that the Crown’s sailors had to be prepared to fight hand-to-hand if attacked at sea. Shipowners and sailors had already been pressed into service, no further obligations such as arms requirements could be impressed upon them. Consequently the Crown had to provide these armaments if it wanted ships capable of defending convoys and cargoes (e.g., Moore 1920). Snetesham gained some of his armaments from the Tower’s armoury; on one occasion Edward III personally witnessed Fleet’s transfer of arms to him (Tout 1928: 446). But more importantly, based on the contents of the Tower’s armoury in 1338 and 1344, very few, if any, of Snetesham’s armaments were returned to the Tower. Part of the issues were probably spent in war; countless arrows and quarrels were loosed, bows cracked, caltrops were thrown onto enemy ships or strewn on battlefields.

Still, hundreds of pieces of a more substantial nature were issued as well. Normally the Crown kept track of its issues with surprising tenacity. In 1339 when John Fleet was personally involved in arranging Southampton’s defences, indentures were still used to record every transaction including who possessed the armaments or where they were stored (Cal. Close Rolls 1339-1341: 82-3, 135, 161, 185, 189). When the Tower required armaments, writs were issued to authorize the purchases and repairs as with any other castle. As ships left the Crown’s employ their armaments would have been returned and stored somewhere under the Crown’s watchful eye. Yet none of the inventories or other evidence suggests that the Tower of London was the return depot for Snetesham’s armaments. Instead the armaments were more likely to be kept near the docks, in warehouses which were being special built for that purpose since the 13th century (Hattendorf et al. 1993: nos 29-31).

Throughout the 14th century the armoury in the Tower remained a modest organization. Occasionally the sheriffs from numerous counties were ordered to send large amounts of missile weapons to the Tower, such as the 8,100 bows, 321,600 arrows, 2,000 arrowheads and 6,000 bowstrings requested in 1341 (Rymer 1967: vol. 2, part 4: 98). But three aspects belie the Tower’s importance in these writs. First, there is the possibility that the Crown never expected the sheriffs to fulfil the requests in toto, in which case the sheriffs were ordered to send the money needed to buy the remainder (Hewitt, 1966: 69). This would explain the high prices set forth by the Crown in these writs. Second, whereas London was expected to contribute copious amounts, the Tower organization was not ordered to produce anything. Third, it does not appear that these armaments were meant to be anything of a standing arsenal in the Tower, as the orders were always justified by an oncoming campaign. In fact, most campaigns left the Tower’s arsenal totally depleted. When William de Rothwell began his keepership (1353) the Tower’s arsenal almost solely comprised arrowheads. By 1360 he had raised it to 15,365 bows, 4,000 bowstaves, 567,432 arrows, and 22 breastplates, but this and more was needed for the next expedition (Hewitt 1966: 69; Tout 1928: 469).

Other late 14th-century inventories continue to show deficiencies in the Tower’s armoury. In his magisterial work, Tout was perplexed by the amount of armaments taken by rebels during the Peasant’s Revolt, concluding that access must have been gained to only ‘a small section of the Tower armouries’ (1928: 460-1). By comparison with earlier inventories, what the rebels obtained seems like a rather large haul, including almost every conceivable kind of armament. Among other things their robberies included 2 guns, 110 mail coats, 92 pairs of plate gauntlets, 63 aventails, 90 jacks and 21 basinets. The fact that the rebels also took practically worthless equipment (67 doubletti debiles), and unfinished armaments (some 2,000 heads and 2,626 shafts for arrows, quarrels and springalds) suggests that most if not all of the Tower’s armoury was looted.

A more promising figure is recorded in an indenture made later that year between Thomas Hatfield and his successor, John Hermesthorpe. The Tower’s armoury contained 1,469 breastplates, but only 77 crossbows, 21,100 quarrels, 8,100 caltrops and 11 guns (Tout 1928: 470). Given the recent problems, and the growing tendency to organize recruitment around large retinues, it is not so surprising to find that many breastplates in the Tower at this time. However, the rest of the disproportionate armoury fails to impress.

From the mid 14th century the Tower organization concentrated on that most promising invention: firearms. Even so, the Tower’s claim for predominance in this area is challenged by its reliance on the craftsmen and apothecaries of London (Tout 1911; Tout 1928: 471). Furthermore, London and the Tower’s productivity together did not fulfil all of the army’s needs for firearms. From Richard II’s reign cannon were regularly obtained by castellans in royal service who then charged the expense to the Exchequer, bypassing the Privy Wardrobe and Tower organization (Tout 1911: 675). As seen in many inventories of private armouries like the Earl of Arundel’s, cannon were also obtained outside of the Crown’s patronage altogether (Salzman 1953). Consequently, no one centre could claim complete mastery. By 1375 not only did the Tower have a master of guns but so did its Continental counterpart, Calais (Tout 1928: 472).

We have seen that even within London several facilities were used simultaneously to accommodate and manufacture the Crown’s armaments. Besides its many depots throughout the realm, the Crown also used foreign possessions like Calais to manage its armaments. Gascony was naturally considered part of the network, and officials in that region were capable of exporting large amounts of armaments into England, such as the £2,000-worth of horses and arms sent for the war in Scotland (Renouard 1962: no. 1443). Warehouses were kept in Flanders and northern France with regional headquarters in Antwerp, Bruges and Mechlin so that the Crown could trade in some of Europe’s best markets for military stores (Tout 1928: 396-7). After its capture in 1347, Calais probably relieved the Tower more than any other Continental site, and the extent to which the Crown relied on it is revealed by the amount of money poured into its defences (Ramsay 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883). With an international network such as this for managing armaments, the Crown’s use of the Tower for supplying the army at large remained limited.

After the 14th century, the Great and Privy Wardrobes diminished in importance and activity, severely limiting the scope of the Tower’s influence on military affairs. By the very early 15th century, the post of keeper of the Privy Wardrobe represented little more than an office with a retirement pension for honourable service to the Crown (Tout 1928: 479-82). One of the reasons for this decline was a change in the methods of military recruitment. From around the beginning of the 14th century the Crown began experimenting with wages and contracts to obtain military service. With indenture-based service the recruits or their captains could be held absolutely responsible for providing their own armaments, as was supposed to happen previously. By the 1340s when indentures became the norm, the Crown’s concern in providing armours was considerably lessened.

A more decisive reason for the decline of the Great and Privy Wardrobes should be sought in the administrative changes of the 14th century (see Brown 1989). During the transitional period of the late 13th and 14th centuries the Great and Privy Wardrobes acted as the fundamental war departments. Their clerks accounted for the greatest proportion of military expenses, and the keepers then submitted yearly accounts (theoretically) to their parent office. In the 1320s the Great Wardrobe began to account to the Exchequer instead of the King’s Wardrobe. In the 1340s a similar transformation began in the Privy Wardrobe, which slowly separated from the Chamber and Great Wardrobe (Tout 1928: 378-80, 455). These developments in effect sounded the death knell for the wardrobe departments. Since many clerks and officials accounted to the Exchequer directly, including armaments in their accounts was advantageous to both parties. Local officials could use their own staff who were familiar with the local economy to purchase or purvey armaments more easily and quickly than travelling clerks. Consequently, the relatively late development of the Privy Wardrobe never allowed it to assume the ‘national’ status which the Great Wardrobe enjoyed for nearly a century. Instead the Privy Wardrobe teetered on the brink of institutionalism but never entirely outgrew its personal nature.

After these changes in accounting there was no practical reason to distinguish the keepers of the Great and Privy Wardrobes from any other clerks in the Crown’s service. Late in Edward III’s reign the keeper of the Great Wardrobe was still likely to be described as emptor, provisor, clericus liberator or some combination of these despite the fact that he ranked high among the household clerks (Tout 1928: 375). Although the Privy Wardrobe was most often thought of as the small wardrobe, parua was also taken to mean ‘secret’ hence private or personal. Its clerks conducted their business with the Griffin seal, being the king’s personal seal. In this light it looks as if in the 13th and 14th centuries the Tower served as a personal stronghold rather than a national armoury.

In reviewing the English Crown’s logistical system it has become evident that the Tower of London was not an all-important centre. The Crown wisely chose not to maintain large and unnecessary arsenals that tied up precious resources. Its manufacturing was carried out in many localities with clear favourites which rivalled or surpassed the Tower’s capabilities; and from the 14th century the Crown began to rely less on its own manufacturing and more on purchases and purveyance to acquire armaments. Most of the network helped in collecting armaments, which were then passed along supply lines until they reached a border castle or port.

Overall a well-established network, a streamlined administration, the Tower’s dual purpose as military storehouse and residence, and its physical limitations hampered its bid to become a national armoury. However, as the king’s principal stronghold in the nation’s capital it was an obvious choice to place those offices which were concerned with the king’s armaments. As a result the Tower was well grounded in the Crown’s military operations. However, the extent to which the Tower was solely responsible for supplying and directing such operations was ultimately limited by many practicalities and fortunes of war.


Acquisitions of Thomas de Snetesham (London, PRO E 101/20/9)








arrows, garbs





















crossbows (1 ft)








gauntlets, pairs














plates, pairs of






quarrels (1 ft)


quarrels (2 ft)



Cal. Close Rolls Calendar of the Close Rolls

Cal. Lib. Rolls Calendar of the Liberate Rolls

PRO Public Record Office


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Cal. Close Rolls 1337-1339. London, 1900

Cal. Close Rolls 1339-1341. London, 1901

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Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1240-1245. London, 1930

Cal. Lib. Rolls Henry III, 1251-1260. London, 1959

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