The Honourable Artillery Company is the oldest regiment in the British Army and the second most senior unit of the Army Reserve. The Company traditionally dates its origins to 1537 when Henry VIII granted a charter to the Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns for ‘the better increase of the defence of this our realm’ and ‘the maintenance of the science of artillery’. This fraternity practised in the Artillery Ground in Bishopsgate (Spitalfields) until around the 1560s. During the years of the Armada threat in 1586-1588, this practice ground was again used by the officers who trained the City of London’s Trained Bands and who were also known as the ‘Captains of the Artillery Garden’. The word ‘artillery’ was used at this time to describe archery and other missile weapons, while bigger guns were known as ‘great artillery’.
In 1611 practice was again revived in the Bishopsgate ground when the ‘society of arms’ also used the space for training. This 1611 group, who were performing the same training in the same space used by the 1537 fraternity, are the certain ancestors of today’s Honourable Artillery Company. During the Civil War period of 1642-1649, the City of London was predominantly Parliamentarian and members of the Artillery Company fought on mainly the Parliamentarian side, but there were also some Royalists amongst its membership and also men who changed sides. Although some of the Company’s silver and records were lost during the Civil War period, its Archives
mainly survive from 1657.
Since at least the 1620s (according to new research), 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 courtesy prefix ‘Honourable’, which was first used informally in 1685, was officially confirmed by Queen Victoria in 1860.
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’, leading to the creation of the HAC’s first dedicated artillery unit.
In the mid nineteenth century the 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’s membership saw active service overseas was as part of the City Imperial Volunteers (CIV) during nine months in 1900 when the CIV served in the South African War.
In 1908 the Company became part of the Territorial Army.
Seven HAC units were mobilised for the First World War
with nearly 13,000 men serving in one of the HAC units, with around 4,000 commissioned into other units of the armed forces. Over 1600 members serving either in HAC units or with other units of the armed forces were casualties of this war.
In the Second World War
the HAC provided four regiments of artillery, whilst its Infantry Battalion was converted into an Officer Cadet Training Unit. Around 4,000 men were commissioned into other units of the armed forces. Around 900 members and other men serving with HAC units died in the Second World War. Since 1947
the Company has remained part of the Territorial Army – now renamed the Army Reserve.