The White Tower and the New Armouries contain the national collection of arms and armour. As the most important fortress in the kingdom, the Tower must have held armour and arms from the time it was first built, but in their present form the Armouries date from the time of Henry VIII. The collection — one of the greatest in the world — illustrates the development of arms and armour from the Middle Ages to 1914.
The White Tower is entered through the Tournament Room. The display here is devoted entirely to armour specially designed for use in warlike exercise. This collection includes the tilt armour for the German form of joust known as the Scharfrennen, in which sharp lances were used, and the splendid Brocas helm. The armour was made about 1490 in Germany for use at the court of Emperor Maximillian I; the tilt helm was probably made in England in the same period.
In tournaments mounted men ran different courses against each other, each course requiring armour of a special design. Men also fought against one another on foot and this required armour of yet another pattern. The Armouries contain three foot-combat armours made for Henry VIII; the first dates to about 1512 and the second about 1515 when he was slim and active. The third one was made in 1540 when he was forty-nine and very portly. The middle armour is remarkable in that all the plates fit together, over flanges, thus enabling his height of six-feet one-inch to be accurately determined.
In the adjacent room the collection of hunting and sporting arms includes crossbows and firearms. Here can be traced the technical advances in firearm mechanisms, from the matchlock, the snaphance and the wheel lock to the flintlock. The development of decorative techniques is also evident. Craftsmen applied or inlaid precious metals, ivory, bone and even mother-of-pearl to enhance the wood they carved and chiselled with such consummate skill; the contemporary artistic styles from the 15th to the 19th centuries can thus be compared.
An especially interesting exhibit is the elegant silver-decorated sporting gun made in Dundee in 1614. It came from the personal gun-room of Louis XIII of France. Another unique exhibit is the Scottish gun made entirely of engraved brass for Charles I when he was a young man. Through the Chapel of St John is the Mediaeval Room which is now devoted to the earliest arms and armour in the Tower. The exhibits are mostly of the late 14th and 15th centuries and include a superb Italian visored bascinet with its original neck protection of mail. There is also one of the few Gothic horse armours surviving. It was probably made to order for Waldemar VI of Anhalt-Zerbst (1450-1508).
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