Origin, Division and Re-Formation, 1537 - 1701
The HAC is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Territorial Army. The Company traditionally traces its origins to 1537, when Henry VIII granted a charter to the ‘Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns’ which was also to be a perpetual fraternity of St George. According to the charter, the Fraternity was intended for ‘the better increase of the defence of this our realm and maintenance of the science and feat of shooting in longbows, crossbows and handguns’. In 1538, this body leased an area in Bishopsgate and trained there until around the 1560s.
Military exercises were revived in the Bishopsgate ‘Artillery Garden’ between 1586 and 1588 by the captains of the City’s forces (‘the Trained Bands’) in response to a threatened Spanish invasion. In 1611, during a period of chivalric patriotism, some of the ‘Captains of the Artillery Garden’ and other citizens returned to practise in the same ground as a ‘society of arms’.
At this time, the City of London’s Court of Aldermen appointed the chief officers and paid the professional soldiers who trained members of the Society. However, a royal warrant from Charles I in 1634 granted the appointment of its Captain to The King, of its President to the Lord Mayor of London, and of the rest of its officers to the body itself.
The Civil War years (1642–1649) led to division and the suspension of the Society, but its re-formation as the ‘Artillery Company’ took place in January 1657. In 1658, a move was made to a new Artillery Garden in Finsbury. From this year, and probably since 1611, members served as either pikemen or musketeers.
From c.1670, an artillery train of large guns was used occasionally on marches and a Grenadier Company was added in 1686. After a decline in membership and training during the reign of James II, William III’s warrant of 22nd May 1689 renewed the Company’s privileges. Importantly, it also restored Court elections, which had been suspended since 1681.
The word ‘artillery’ had been used in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to describe archery and other missile weaponry, whilst large guns were known as ‘great artillery’. The courtesy prefix ‘Honourable’, which was first used in 1685, was officially confirmed by Queen Victoria in 1860.