Numerically, the European and Oriental Armoury collections total nearly two-and-a-half thousand objects, by far the largest part of the Wallace Collection as a whole.
The spectacular array of Oriental arms, armour and related works of art, chosen specifically for their fine craftsmanship, Eastern opulence and exotic beauty, were acquired mainly in Paris by the 4th Marquess of Hertford prior to his death in 1870.
Objects of this kind were highly fashionable in Parisian society at this time. Most of the weapons here are Indian, Persian and Turkish, ranging in date from the 15th to the 19th century, while the armour is predominantly 18th and 19th-century Indo-Persian. The collection is widely recognised as being one of the largest, finest and most important in the U.K. The European Armoury, on the other hand, was assembled principally by Richard Wallace in the early 1870s, from the collections of Sir Samuel Rush Meyrick and the comte de Nieuwerkerke. Meyrick was the founding father of the serious study of arms and armour in Britain, while Nieuwerkerke was Director of Fine Arts under the Emperor Napoleon III.
Such distinguished and learned collectors as these sought only the finest, rarest and most important pieces, so the combination of the best of their acquisitions immediately resulted in the creation of a princely European Armoury of truly international importance. In terms of content, the European Armoury is a microcosm of 19th-century collectors' taste. Historical interest, rarity, beauty of design, superlative craftsmanship, and richness of decoration were the guiding principles behind its formation. The earliest pieces of armour date from the 14th century, the earliest sword is 10th century, while the very fine historic firearms collection spans the 16th to the 19th centuries.