The History of The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum

The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum is a museum of military history charting the military history of Denmark from the 1500s to today. The museum was officially founded in 1928 on the basis of the historical collections held by the Danish army, some of which go as far back as the Renaissance period in the 1500s and 1600s.

The Renaissance is said to have come to Denmark with Christian IV around 1600. He became king in 1596, and immediately embarked on the modernisation of the Danish monarchy. One of the king’s first and most important building projects was a new arsenal complex close to Copenhagen Castle, which had been built at the end of the 1500s.
It was de rigueur for a modern Renaissance royal in the age of Christian IV to be erudite and cultivated, but also a military leader. A true royal had a castle and an arsenal, where power and the tools of power – arms or artillery and other weapons – were gathered. But in addition to his arsenal, the king also had a library, cabinet of curiosities or kunstkammer, and an armoury. The armoury contained the weapons and armour of the royal dynasty – symbols and evidence of its longevity and military prowess. Christian IV was the feudal lord of the Oldenburg dynasty, and of course had an armoury containing the magnificent armour and combat and hunting weapons of his ancestors. Once construction was complete at the beginning of the 1600s, Christian IV moved his armoury to the newly built arsenal.

The construction of the new arsenal was completed in 1604. It was to function as an arsenal, and to store all the weapons of the king and kingdom when Denmark was not at war. This makes it the only secular building in Denmark to have served the same purpose for such a long a period of Danish history.

The arsenal was built as part of an extensive complex around the warship harbour (where you can visit the garden of The Royal Library today). On the opposite side of the harbour was the provisions store, and the gunpowder stores were where The Royal Library is today. The guiding principle behind the complex was that warships could sail into the harbour and be equipped with everything they needed for a sortie at sea – weapons, food, gunpowder, etc.

The Royal Arsenal Museum emerged partly because a collection of old weapons had accumulated here, and partly because the kings of Denmark had kept their military uniforms, etc. here.
Over the course of time, other royal armouries were established, and weapons were an important and symbolic element at Denmark’s royal castles. But during the 1700s the Renaissance was gradually replaced by the less authoritarian ideals of the Enlightenment. The display of royal power took other forms, and distinctions between the state and the king were made increasingly apparent. Slowly but surely royal collections became state institutions. The king’s library formed the basis of The Royal Library, the cabinet of curiosities is now part of the collections of The National Museum, and the royal arsenal became The Royal Arsenal Museum - now a modern museum of Danish military history.

The Royal Arsenal Museum as founded in 1928 as an independent institution under the Danish Ministry of War, although its origins can be traced back to The Historical Arms Collection of Denmark, founded in 1838.

At the core of the new Royal Arsenal Museum were the collections and staff of The Historical Arms Collection. This collection played a central role at the museum and in its exhibitions for many years at the museum.

In 1960 the museum came under the auspices of the Danish Ministry of Culture.
Since 1990 the museum has focussed on changing its profile from being a museum on the history of weapons to be a specialised cultural history museum on Danish military history.
In 2004 The Royal Arsenal Museum and The Royal Danish Naval Museum were amalgamated under the name  The National Defence Museum. The exhibitions of both museums are, however, still independently managed under the auspices of the new umbrella organisation.

In 2010 the old exhibition of hand weapons on the first floor of the museum, which had been virtually unchanged since the 1950s, was dismantled.

In February 2013 the first stage of a new permanent exhibition – Denmark at War - opened.
On January 1st 2013 The National Defence Museum became part of The National Museum of Denmark.

The Museum’s Collections

Parts of the collections at The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum can be traced back to the royal collections of the 1600s. In 1838 The Historical Arms Collection of Denmark  was founded. A significant element in the collection was the former royal collections. In 1928 The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum was founded, collating The Historical Arms Collection of Denmark with other collections relating to military history. These included trial collections from Danish military authorities. These trial collections have since been expanded and consolidated, as well as supplemented by new collections, including a collection of military vehicles.

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