The Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Territorial Army. In 1537, the Fraternity or Guild of St George received a Charter of Incorporation from King Henry VIII. According to the Charter, the Guild of St George was intended for ‘The better increase of the Defence of this our Realm and maintenance of the Science and Feat of shooting Long Bows, Cross Bows and Hand Guns’. The Guild became known as ‘The Gentlemen of the Artillery Garden’, after its practice ground in Spitalfields, then simply as ‘The Artillery Company’. The word ‘artillery’ was used at that time to describe archery and other missile weapons, while guns were known as ‘great artillery’. The courtesy prefix ‘Honourable’, which was first used in 1685, was officially confirmed by Queen Victoria in 1860.
Captains of the Artillery Garden provided officers for the London Trained Bands, a citizen militia, most notably when they assembled at Tilbury Camp in 1588 to oppose the Spanish Armada. Members of the Artillery Company fought on both the Royalist and Parliamentary sides during the English Civil War of 1642 to 1649; the City of London was predominantly Parliamentarian. Although the Company’s silver was lost during the Civil War, its archives survive from 1657 onwards. Since 1633 the HAC has been governed by a Court of Assistants, like many of the City Livery Companies, and a number of committees are appointed by the Court. The first Annual General Court for which a record can be found was held in 1660.
The Company has always had strong connections with the City of London. In the early part of the 17th Century the Court of Aldermen appointed the chief officers and paid the professional soldiers who trained members of the Company. The Lord Mayor and Aldermen are honorary members of the Court of Assistants.
Since the Restoration, the Company has provided Guards of Honour in the City for visits by members of the Royal Family and overseas Heads of State. In gratitude for the Company’s role in restoring order to the City at the time of the Gordon Riots in 1780, the Corporation of London presented "two brass field-pieces", which of necessity led to the creation of an HAC Artillery Division.
In 1830, King William IV ordered that the uniform of the HAC should be based on that of the Grenadier Guards. Thirty years later, control of the Company moved from the Home Office to the War Office and in 1889 a Royal Warrant gave the Secretary of State for War full control of the Company’s military affairs.
The first occasion that the Company saw active service overseas was as part of the City Imperial Volunteers (CIV) for the South African War in 1900/02. In 1908 the Company became part of the Territorial Army. It was mobilised for the First World War and suffered 1600 killed. In the Second World War it provided four regiments of artillery, while its Infantry Regiment was converted into an Officer Cadet Training Unit, leading to 3,800 commissions. 723 members were killed in the Second World War. Post War, the Company has provided a diminishing force in the TA. Currently it has a surveillance and target acquisition role as part of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps.
Also referred to as being part of the Active Unit is the Special Constabulary. Originally providing a detachment for the Metropolitan Police, it is now aligned with the City of London Police.