Tower of London: A Palace, a Prison and a Place of Execution

Tower of London: A Palace, a Prison and a Place of Execution

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The White Tower, most commonly known as the Tower of London, is situated on the north bank of the river Thames in central London and is one of the oldest, long-standing edifices in England. It is believed that after the Norman invasion of England and victory over the city of London, William the Conqueror ordered an architect by the name Gundulf to design this massive fortress in order to deter retaliation and rebellion from his newly conquered subjects and to strike fear into advancing armies wanting to invade England’s borders. Although, the Tower of London was initially built as a fortress, it has served many purposes over the years. It has been used as a prison, a menagerie, a palace, a mint, and a repository for the crown jewels. One of the Tower’s most renown uses was as a place of execution to get rid of Britain’s undesirables among the royal class.

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Tower of London seen from the opposite bank of river Thames (London, England). Image Credit: Carlos Delgado ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Tower of London isn’t one of England’s most aesthetically pleasing structures as William insisted that this building exude military power and domination. Throughout the centuries it towered over all other buildings; however, modernity has seen the construction of much larger buildings whose size trump the Tower of London. It has always been a well-protected building and even today, the Queen’s personal guards perform various secret ceremonies that the public is not allowed to witness. Each year millions of tourists converge upon the establishment to marvel at the building’s enormity and history. Several ravens that are unable to fly are kept within its courtyard, a ritual believed to be a part of a superstition that has survived through many generations. The ravens are considered a source of power and wealth and the groundkeeper usually keeps 6-8 of them on the grounds at any given time. The myth endures that “If the ravens leave the tower, London will fall.”

Jubilee and Munin, Ravens of the Tower of London. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

The Tower of London’s Prisoners

The Tower of London has an extensive history of imprisonment. Both people and animals alike have been victims within this enormous tower. Ranulf Flambard was one of the first recorded prisoners in the tower. He worked for the financial administration of the kingdom but was jailed for embezzlement. Ranulf managed to escape from the tower and resumed his life in the financial arena. The fate of successive prisoners wasn’t as lucky. William de Marescis, who was implicated in the murder of Henry III’s messenger, Henry Clement, was captured and later executed. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, was one of the first to reject Henry VIII’s authority. He did not accept the validity of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Thus, he was sentenced to prison in the Tower for treason and later faced his demise at the hand of an executioner’s axe. Henry VIII Chief minister, Sir Thomas More, fell victim to a similar fate as John Fisher. He refused Henry’s new position as leader of the Church and this infuriated the king. Thomas More was imprisoned and later executed as a traitor, freeing Henry VIII from any interference from the Vatican as exclusive sovereign over England and its people.

The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death, (by William Yeames)

Another of the famous and intriguing stories of the prisoners of the Tower is that of the two young sons of Edward IV in 1483. These young princes, Edward aged 12, the would-be King and Richard aged 9, were housed in the Tower by their uncle Richard, supposedly in preparation for Edward’s coronation. However, Richard took the throne for himself and the boys were never seen again. Their true fate is unknown but it is popularly thought that they were killed by Richard II to make sure they never challenged his claim to the throne.

The Two Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, 1483 by Sir John Everett Millais, 1878 ( Public Doman

There is probably no prisoner more famous than Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Despite Hollywood’s depictions of a very public humiliation and annihilation of Anne Boleyn , she in fact was executed within the walls of the Tower of London, a cruel yet discreet demise for a member of the royal establishment. Henry VIII accused his wife of adultery and charged her with treason. For her crimes, she was sent to the Tower to await her demise at the axe. Anne’s moods ranged from “resignation to hope to anxiety” as she awaited her fate. Her hope stemmed from the belief that her husband would show mercy and pardon her since no queen prior had ever been executed. Henry did indeed show mercy for Anne by bringing in a master swordsman from France who would at least spare her in the beheading process, making it swift and clean. Countless other people of the noble class were tortured or executed over the centuries within the Tower until 1749 when the last execution took place.

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Portrait of Anne Boleyn in the Tower of London by Edouard Cibot

Ghostly Legends

With so much death that took place within the walls of the Tower of London, including people and animals alike, there is no wonder that many tales of ghost sightings have arisen over the years. The Tower of London is considered to be one of the most haunted places in London. One of the first reported ghost sightings was that of Thomas Beckett, the archbishop martyred at Canterbury. Another sighting is that of Henry VI who was martyred as he knelt in prayer in 1471. It is also believed that Sir Walter Raleigh’s ghost has been seen sitting at a desk in one of the studies. By far one of the most famous executions in the Tower is also one of the most popular ghost sightings. Anne Boleyn is one of the most often seen ghosts in the tower – seen by many as a headless grey or white spirit lady. Another apparition that has been sighted is not that of a human but instead a bear that was killed on the grounds of the Tower.

This building is riddled with a history of death and tragedy; so, ghost tales are undoubtedly the Tower of London’s greatest lure for tourists. Today, the Tower still dominates the banks of the Thames as a testament to the dynamic history of England, leaving its observers in awe as was originally intended by its builder.

    Prisoners of the Palace: 10 Famous Prisoners of the Tower of London

    For centuries, the Tower of London held some of the highest profile prisoners in British history. From deposed royals to kidnapped royals to Nazi spies the intrigue surrounding the famous prison is almost unmatched. The Tower of London was founded in 1066 and the White Tower was built in 1078, 22 years later the castle would begin its long and sordid history as a prison. However, the Tower was never intended to just be a prison, it was also meant to be a royal residence and therefore it has all the lavish accommodations one would expect for medieval royalty.

    Guy Fawkes.

    About the Show

    The Tower of London is England’s most formidable royal fortress, standing guard on the banks of the great River Thames. It is home to a thousand years of bloody history and is one of Britain's most iconic landmarks. At almost every chapter in London's history, the Tower has had a starring role. Built by William the Conqueror as part of the Norman Conquest of England in the 11th century, it was designed to dominate London's skyline.

    The ancient fortifications are set in grounds the same size as those of the White House, but this is far more than just a castle, protecting London from her enemies. The Tower is a truly multipurpose site and has fulfilled many different functions over the centuries of its existence. It's been the nation's store house for wild and exotic animals, a repository for weapons and armor and a secure strong-room for the monarchs’ most precious possessions: the Crown Jewels of England. It's also been the private palace home of kings and queens.

    It has served as a near-inescapable prison, incarcerating all who angered the sovereign ruler of the day and a fearful place of execution, infamous for its bloody beheadings — the most infamous of all being that of Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn. She played a role in one of the most turbulent times in British history. King Henry had defied the Pope to marry her, declaring himself supreme head of a new Church of England. Just three years after her glorious coronation, she was to return to the tower. Henry had conspired with his chief minister to have her accused of adultery with five men, one of them her brother. Four of them went to the block protesting her innocence and their own.

    Locked within its 15-foot thick, solid stone walls are vestiges of its past, often hidden from public view. Medieval murals, evidence of wild and exotic creatures, skeletal remains locked in secret chambers, secret messages left by prisoners, and an exhibit which has been running for the last five hundred years – which now has the status of the longest running exhibition in the world. The Tower is a huge tourist destination, with two millions visitors flooding through the gates every year.

    Tower of London

    Reason for Designation: A first-class example of Norman military architecture, the Tower has also played a leading role in the saga of British history.

    Fortress, palace, prison, and even place of execution—the Tower of London has filled all these roles and more during nearly a thousand years on the banks of the River Thames in the heart of Great Britain.

    William the Conqueror began work on a White Tower to center his London fortress in the 1080s, soon after he invaded the British Isles (1066) and became the first Norman king of England.

    The Tower of London, not a single tower but a large complex, was built as a formidable keep at a strategic spot to guard London and assert Norman control of the capital. It remains an example of cutting-edge military architecture circa the 11th and later the 13th-14th centuries. But during the reigns of Henry III (1216-72) and Edward (1272-1307) an evolving palace complex was added to the site.

    Prisoners had long been kept in parts of the tower but during the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) the site fell into disuse as a royal residence and took on an expanded and extended role as a jail where religious and political prisoners, traitors, rogues, and even royalty were confined.

    In the 16th century alone three English queens (including “Nine Days Queen” Lady Jane Grey) were executed on Tower Green. Though it’s hard to find the bright side to a death sentence, execution at the tower was in fact a form of favor extended to those of noble birth or high rank. The Tower Green was, at least, a private spot to die away from the riotous crowds that attended other executions in the city.

    The last execution at the tower took place during World War II, when German spy Josef Jakobs met a firing squad there.

    During the English Civil War (1642-49) Charles I’s loss of the tower to the Parliamentarians was a key to the loss of London itself and a serious factor in the king’s defeat and subsequent execution.

    The tower’s history is dotted with other famous names in British history. In 1389 a clerk of works named Geoffrey Chaucer—author of The Canterbury Tales—oversaw construction of the Tower Wharf.

    In 1605 Guy Fawkes was tortured here after his Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament failed. In 1671 a Colonel Blood attempted to steal the crown jewels in a grab-and-run effort after overpowering the elderly Jewel House keeper. (Blood was caught but later pardoned.) Today the jewels remain in the tower under armed guard, as they have since Blood’s day.

    For six centuries this famed fortress was also home to a shifting menagerie of exotic animals from elephants and big cats to polar bears, in residence for the amusement of monarchs and later the public. The menagerie was closed in 1835 and its animal inhabitants moved to new digs at the London Zoo.

    Today visitors can walk the fortress walls and visit guard towers, see the fabulous crown jewels, and gawk at Henry VIII’s armor. Yeoman warders, popularly known as beefeaters, not only guard the tower but also give amusing tours that are among the highlights of any visit.

    Tower Ravens

    It is not known when the ravens first came to the Tower of London, but their presence there is surrounded by myth and legend. Unusually for birds of ill omen, the future of both Country and Kingdom relies upon their continued residence, for according to legend, at least six ravens must remain lest both Tower and Monarchy fall.

    The first Royal Observatory was housed in the north eastern turret of the White Tower. Legend has it that John Flamsteed (1646 – 1719), the ‘astronomical observator’ complained to King Charles II that the birds were interfering with his observations. The King therefore ordered their destruction only to be told that if the ravens left the Tower, the White Tower would fall and a great disaster befall the Kingdom. Sensibly the King changed his mind and decreed that at least six ravens should be kept at the Tower at all times to prevent disaster.

    The Ravenmaster Chris Skaife is a Yeoman Warder or ‘Beefeater’ dedicated to caring for the Tower’s unique Unkindness of Ravens.

    Meet The Ravens

    There are seven ravens at the Tower today ( the required six plus one spare!) Their names are Jubilee, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin, Poppy and Merlina. Their lodgings are to be found next to the Wakefield Tower.

    The ravens consume 6oz. of raw meat and bird formula biscuits soaked in blood each day. They are very partial to an egg each once a week plus the occasional rabbit which is given to them whole as the fur is good for them! They also enjoy scraps from the mess kitchen at the Tower – they particularly like fried bread!

    To prevent the birds flying away one of their wings is clipped by the Ravenmaster. This does not hurt the raven nor does it harm them in any way. By unbalancing their flight it ensures that they don’t stray too far from the Tower.

    Escape from the Tower!

    However despite the wing clipping, there have been occasional escapes. One such escapee was Grog, who was last seen outside an East End pub called the ‘Rose and Punchbowl’ in 1981. Although he had been at the Tower for 21 years, Grog obviously felt he needed a change of scene!

    Bad Behaviour

    Occasionally ravens have to be dismissed for bad behaviour. This happened to George who received his marching orders in 1986 after he developed an unhealthy taste for TV aerials:

    “On Saturday 13th September 1986, Raven George, enlisted 1975, was posted to the Welsh Mountain Zoo. Conduct unsatisfactory, service therefore no longer required.”

    Ravens can live to a very ripe age. The oldest raven to live at the Tower was called Jim Crow who died at the age of 44. The newest raven at the Tower is Poppy, who arrived in May 2018.

    Ravens in Wartime

    The fortunes of the Tower Ravens reached their lowest point just after World War II when only Raven Grip was left at the Tower. It is believed that the birds were upset by the continuous bombing of London. There is also the suggestion, although it has never been proved, that one raven, Mabel, was kidnapped!

    The Ravens Today

    Since 1987 the Tower has undertaken a successful breeding programme for the ravens. Charlie and Rhys paired up and produced a total of 17 chicks.

    The Tower of London

    Founded by William the Conqueror in 1066-7 and enlarged and modified by successive sovereigns, today the Tower of London is one of the world’s most famous and spectacular fortresses. During its 900-year history it has been a royal palace and fortress, prison and place of execution, mint, arsenal, menagerie and jewel house.

    HM Tower of London
    EC3N 4AB

    Information line:
    +44 (0)870 756 6060

    1 March – 31 October
    Monday – Saturday: 09.00-18.00
    Sunday: 10.00-18.00
    Last admission: 17.00

    1 November – 28 February
    Tuesday – Saturday: 09.00-17.00
    Sunday – Monday: 10.00-17.00
    Last admission: 16.00

    Getting here
    The Tower is easily accessible by bus, boat and rail, please try our London Transport Guide for further information.

    Castles in England
    Try our interactive map of Castles in England to browse our huge database, including more detailed information concerning the Tower of London.


    Layout Edit

    The Tower was oriented with its strongest and most impressive defences overlooking Saxon London, which archaeologist Alan Vince suggests was deliberate. [4] It would have visually dominated the surrounding area and stood out to traffic on the River Thames. [5] The castle is made up of three "wards", or enclosures. The innermost ward contains the White Tower and is the earliest phase of the castle. Encircling it to the north, east, and west is the inner ward, built during the reign of Richard I (1189–1199). Finally, there is the outer ward which encompasses the castle and was built under Edward I. Although there were several phases of expansion after William the Conqueror founded the Tower of London, the general layout has remained the same since Edward I completed his rebuild in 1285.

    The castle encloses an area of almost 12 acres (4.9 hectares) with a further 6 acres (2.4 ha) around the Tower of London constituting the Tower Liberties – land under the direct influence of the castle and cleared for military reasons. [6] The precursor of the Liberties was laid out in the 13th century when Henry III ordered that a strip of land adjacent to the castle be kept clear. [7] Despite popular fiction, the Tower of London never had a permanent torture chamber, although the basement of the White Tower housed a rack in later periods. [8] Tower Wharf was built on the bank of the Thames under Edward I and was expanded to its current size during the reign of Richard II (1377–1399). [9]

    White Tower Edit

    The White Tower is a keep (also known as a donjon), which was often the strongest structure in a medieval castle, and contained lodgings suitable for the lord – in this case, the king or his representative. [10] According to military historian Allen Brown, "The great tower [White Tower] was also, by virtue of its strength, majesty and lordly accommodation, the donjon par excellence". [11] As one of the largest keeps in the Christian world, [12] the White Tower has been described as "the most complete eleventh-century palace in Europe". [13]

    The White Tower, not including its projecting corner towers, measures 36 by 32 metres (118 by 105 ft) at the base, and is 27 m (90 ft) high at the southern battlements. The structure was originally three storeys high, comprising a basement floor, an entrance level, and an upper floor. The entrance, as is usual in Norman keeps, was above ground, in this case on the south face, and accessed via a wooden staircase which could be removed in the event of an attack. It was probably during Henry II's reign (1154–1189) that a forebuilding was added to the south side of the tower to provide extra defences to the entrance, but it has not survived. Each floor was divided into three chambers, the largest in the west, a smaller room in the north-east, and the chapel taking up the entrance and upper floors of the south-east. [14] At the western corners of the building are square towers, while to the north-east a round tower houses a spiral staircase. At the south-east corner there is a larger semi-circular projection which accommodates the apse of the chapel. As the building was intended to be a comfortable residence as well as a stronghold, latrines were built into the walls, and four fireplaces provided warmth. [13]

    The main building material is Kentish rag-stone, although some local mudstone was also used. Caen stone was imported from northern France to provide details in the Tower's facing, although little of the original material survives as it was replaced with Portland stone in the 17th and 18th centuries. As most of the Tower's windows were enlarged in the 18th century, only two original – albeit restored – examples remain, in the south wall at the gallery level. [15]

    The tower was terraced into the side of a mound, so the northern side of the basement is partially below ground level. [16] As was typical of most keeps, [17] the bottom floor was an undercroft used for storage. One of the rooms contained a well. Although the layout has remained the same since the tower's construction, the interior of the basement dates mostly from the 18th century when the floor was lowered and the pre-existing timber vaults were replaced with brick counterparts. [16] The basement is lit through small slits. [13]

    The entrance floor was probably intended for the use of the Constable of the Tower, Lieutenant of the Tower of London and other important officials. The south entrance was blocked during the 17th century, and not reopened until 1973. Those heading to the upper floor had to pass through a smaller chamber to the east, also connected to the entrance floor. The crypt of St John's Chapel occupied the south-east corner and was accessible only from the eastern chamber. There is a recess in the north wall of the crypt according to Geoffrey Parnell, Keeper of the Tower History at the Royal Armouries, "the windowless form and restricted access, suggest that it was designed as a strong-room for safekeeping of royal treasures and important documents". [16]

    The upper floor contained a grand hall in the west and residential chamber in the east – both originally open to the roof and surrounded by a gallery built into the wall – and St John's Chapel in the south-east. The top floor was added in the 15th century, along with the present roof. [14] [18] St John's Chapel was not part of the White Tower's original design, as the apsidal projection was built after the basement walls. [16] Due to changes in function and design since the tower's construction, except for the chapel little is left of the original interior. [19] The chapel's current bare and unadorned appearance is reminiscent of how it would have been in the Norman period. In the 13th century, during Henry III's reign, the chapel was decorated with such ornamentation as a gold-painted cross, and stained glass windows that depicted the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity. [20]

    Innermost ward Edit

    The innermost ward encloses an area immediately south of the White Tower, stretching to what was once the edge of the River Thames. As was the case at other castles, such as the 11th-century Hen Domen, the innermost ward was probably filled with timber buildings from the Tower's foundation. Exactly when the royal lodgings began to encroach from the White Tower into the innermost ward is uncertain, although it had happened by the 1170s. [15] The lodgings were renovated and elaborated during the 1220s and 1230s, becoming comparable with other palatial residences such as Windsor Castle. [21] Construction of Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers – located at the corners of the innermost ward's wall along the river – began around 1220. [22] [nb 1] They probably served as private residences for the queen and king respectively.

    The earliest evidence for how the royal chambers were decorated comes from Henry III's reign: the queen's chamber was whitewashed, and painted with flowers and imitation stonework. A great hall existed in the south of the ward, between the two towers. [23] It was similar to, although slightly smaller than, that also built by Henry III at Winchester Castle. [24] Near Wakefield Tower was a postern gate which allowed private access to the king's apartments. The innermost ward was originally surrounded by a protective ditch, which had been filled in by the 1220s. Around this time, a kitchen was built in the ward. [25] Between 1666 and 1676, the innermost ward was transformed and the palace buildings removed. [26] The area around the White Tower was cleared so that anyone approaching would have to cross open ground. The Jewel House was demolished, and the Crown Jewels moved to Martin Tower. [27]

    Inner ward Edit

    The inner ward was created during Richard the Lionheart's reign, when a moat was dug to the west of the innermost ward, effectively doubling the castle's size. [28] [29] Henry III created the ward's east and north walls, and the ward's dimensions remain to this day. [7] Most of Henry's work survives, and only two of the nine towers he constructed have been completely rebuilt. [30] Between the Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers, the innermost ward's wall also serves as a curtain wall for the inner ward. [31] The main entrance to the inner ward would have been through a gatehouse, most likely in the west wall on the site of what is now Beauchamp Tower. The inner ward's western curtain wall was rebuilt by Edward I. [32] The 13th-century Beauchamp Tower marks the first large-scale use of brick as a building material in Britain, since the 5th-century departure of the Romans. [33] The Beauchamp Tower is one of 13 towers that stud the curtain wall. Clockwise from the south-west corner they are: Bell, Beauchamp, Devereux, Flint, Bowyer, Brick, Martin, Constable, Broad Arrow, Salt, Lanthorn, Wakefield, and the Bloody Tower. [31] While these towers provided positions from which flanking fire could be deployed against a potential enemy, they also contained accommodation. As its name suggests, Bell Tower housed a belfry, its purpose to raise the alarm in the event of an attack. The royal bow-maker, responsible for making longbows, crossbows, catapults, and other siege and hand weapons, had a workshop in the Bowyer Tower. A turret at the top of Lanthorn Tower was used as a beacon by traffic approaching the Tower at night. [34]

    As a result of Henry's expansion, St Peter ad Vincula, a Norman chapel which had previously stood outside the Tower, was incorporated into the castle. Henry decorated the chapel by adding glazed windows, and stalls for himself and his queen. [30] It was rebuilt by Edward I at a cost of over £300 [35] and again by Henry VIII in 1519 the current building dates from this period, although the chapel was refurbished in the 19th century. [36] Immediately west of Wakefield Tower, the Bloody Tower was built at the same time as the inner ward's curtain wall, and as a water-gate provided access to the castle from the River Thames. It was a simple structure, protected by a portcullis and gate. [37] The Bloody Tower acquired its name in the 16th century, as it was believed to be the site of the murder of the Princes in the Tower. [38] Between 1339 and 1341, a gatehouse was built into the curtain wall between Bell and Salt Towers. [39] During the Tudor period, a range of buildings for the storage of munitions was built along the inside of the north inner ward. [40] The castle buildings were remodelled during the Stuart period, mostly under the auspices of the Office of Ordnance. In 1663, just over £4,000 was spent building a new storehouse (now known as the New Armouries) in the inner ward. [41] Construction of the Grand Storehouse north of the White Tower began in 1688, on the same site as the dilapidated Tudor range of storehouses [42] it was destroyed by fire in 1841. The Waterloo Block, a former barracks in the castellated Gothic Revival style with Domestic Tudor details, [43] was built on the site and remains to this day, housing the Crown Jewels on the ground floor. [44]

    Outer ward Edit

    A third ward was created during Edward I's extension to the Tower, as the narrow enclosure completely surrounded the castle. At the same time a bastion known as Legge's Mount was built at the castle's northwest corner. Brass Mount, the bastion in the northeast corner, was a later addition. The three rectangular towers along the east wall 15 metres (49 ft) apart were dismantled in 1843. Although the bastions have often been ascribed to the Tudor period, there is no evidence to support this archaeological investigations suggest that Legge's Mount dates from the reign of Edward I. [45] Blocked battlements (also known as crenellations) in the south side of Legge's Mount are the only surviving medieval battlements at the Tower of London (the rest are Victorian replacements). [46] A new 50-metre (160 ft) moat was dug beyond the castle's new limits [47] it was originally 4.5 metres (15 ft) deeper in the middle than it is today. [45] With the addition of a new curtain wall, the old main entrance to the Tower of London was obscured and made redundant a new entrance was created in the southwest corner of the external wall circuit. The complex consisted of an inner and an outer gatehouse and a barbican, [48] which became known as the Lion Tower as it was associated with the animals as part of the Royal Menagerie since at least the 1330s. [49] The Lion Tower itself no longer survives. [48]

    Edward extended the south side of the Tower of London onto land that had previously been submerged by the River Thames. In this wall, he built St Thomas's Tower between 1275 and 1279 later known as Traitors' Gate, it replaced the Bloody Tower as the castle's water-gate. The building is unique in England, and the closest parallel is the now demolished water-gate at the Louvre in Paris. The dock was covered with arrowslits in case of an attack on the castle from the River there was also a portcullis at the entrance to control who entered. There were luxurious lodgings on the first floor. [50] Edward also moved the Royal Mint into the Tower its exact location early on is unknown, although it was probably in either the outer ward or the Lion Tower. [51] By 1560, the Mint was located in a building in the outer ward near Salt Tower. [52] Between 1348 and 1355, a second water-gate, Cradle Tower, was added east of St Thomas's Tower for the king's private use. [39]

    Victorious at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066, the invading Duke of Normandy, William the Conqueror, spent the rest of the year securing his holdings by fortifying key positions. He founded several castles along the way, but took a circuitous route toward London [53] [54] only when he reached Canterbury did he turn towards England's largest city. As the fortified bridge into London was held by Saxon troops, he decided instead to ravage Southwark before continuing his journey around southern England. [55] A series of Norman victories along the route cut the city's supply lines and in December 1066, isolated and intimidated, its leaders yielded London without a fight. [56] [57] Between 1066 and 1087, William established 36 castles, [54] although references in the Domesday Book indicate that many more were founded by his subordinates. [58] The new ruling elite undertook what has been described as "the most extensive and concentrated programme of castle-building in the whole history of feudal Europe". [59] They were multi-purpose buildings, serving as fortifications (used as a base of operations in enemy territory), centres of administration, and residences. [60]

    William sent an advance party to prepare the city for his entrance, to celebrate his victory and found a castle in the words of William's biographer, William of Poitiers, "certain fortifications were completed in the city against the restlessness of the huge and brutal populace. For he [William] realised that it was of the first importance to overawe the Londoners". [53] At the time, London was the largest town in England the foundation of Westminster Abbey and the old Palace of Westminster under Edward the Confessor had marked it as a centre of governance, and with a prosperous port it was important for the Normans to establish control over the settlement. [57] The other two castles in London – Baynard's Castle and Montfichet's Castle – were established at the same time. [61] The fortification that would later become known as the Tower of London was built onto the south-east corner of the Roman town walls, using them as prefabricated defences, with the River Thames providing additional protection from the south. [53] This earliest phase of the castle would have been enclosed by a ditch and defended by a timber palisade, and probably had accommodation suitable for William. [62]

    Most of the early Norman castles were built from timber, but by the end of the 11th century a few, including the Tower of London, had been renovated or replaced with stone. [61] Work on the White Tower – which gives the whole castle its name – [12] is usually considered to have begun in 1078, however the exact date is uncertain. William made Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, responsible for its construction, although it may not have been completed until after William's death in 1087. [12] The White Tower is the earliest stone keep in England, and was the strongest point of the early castle. It also contained grand accommodation for the king. [63] At the latest, it was probably finished by 1100 when Bishop Ranulf Flambard was imprisoned there. [19] [nb 2] Flambard was loathed by the English for exacting harsh taxes. Although he is the first recorded prisoner held in the Tower, he was also the first person to escape from it, using a smuggled rope secreted in a butt of wine. He was held in luxury and permitted servants, but on 2 February 1101 he hosted a banquet for his captors. After plying them with drink, when no one was looking he lowered himself from a secluded chamber, and out of the Tower. The escape came as such a surprise that one contemporary chronicler accused the bishop of witchcraft. [65]

    The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 1097 King William II ordered a wall to be built around the Tower of London it was probably built from stone and likely replaced the timber palisade that arced around the north and west sides of the castle, between the Roman wall and the Thames. [66] The Norman Conquest of London manifested itself not only with a new ruling class, but in the way the city was structured. Land was confiscated and redistributed amongst the Normans, who also brought over hundreds of Jews, for financial reasons. [67] The Jews arrived under the direct protection of the Crown, as a result of which Jewish communities were often found close to castles. [68] The Jews used the Tower as a retreat, when threatened by anti-Jewish violence. [67]

    The death in 1135 of Henry I left England with a disputed succession although the king had persuaded his most powerful barons to swear support for the Empress Matilda, just a few days after Henry's death Stephen of Blois arrived from France to lay claim to the throne. The importance of the city and its Tower is marked by the speed at which he secured London. The castle, which had not been used as a royal residence for some time, was usually left in the charge of a Constable, a post held at this time by Geoffrey de Mandeville. As the Tower was considered an impregnable fortress in a strategically important position, possession was highly valued. Mandeville exploited this, selling his allegiance to Matilda after Stephen was captured in 1141 at the Battle of Lincoln. Once her support waned, the following year he resold his loyalty to Stephen. Through his role as Constable of the Tower, Mandeville became "the richest and most powerful man in England". [69] When he tried the same ploy again, this time holding secret talks with Matilda, Stephen had him arrested, forced him to cede control of his castles, and replaced him with one of his most loyal supporters. Until then the position had been hereditary, originally held by Geoffrey de Mandeville, but the position's authority was such that from then on it remained in the hands of an appointee of the monarch. The position was usually given to someone of great importance, who might not always be at the castle due to other duties. Although the Constable was still responsible for maintaining the castle and its garrison, from an early stage he had a subordinate to help with this duty: the Lieutenant of the Tower. [69] Constables also had civic duties relating to the city. Usually they were given control of the city and were responsible for levying taxes, enforcing the law and maintaining order. The creation in 1191 of the position of Lord Mayor of London removed many of the Constable's civic powers, and at times led to friction between the two. [70]

    The castle probably retained its form as established by 1100 until the reign of Richard I (1189–1199). [71] The castle was extended under William Longchamp, King Richard's Lord Chancellor and the man in charge of England while he was on crusade. The Pipe Rolls record £2,881 1s 10d spent at the Tower of London between 3 December 1189 and 11 November 1190, [72] from an estimated £7,000 spent by Richard on castle building in England. [73] According to the contemporary chronicler Roger of Howden, Longchamp dug a moat around the castle and tried in vain to fill it from the Thames. [28] Longchamp was also Constable of the Tower, and undertook its expansion while preparing for war with King Richard's younger brother, Prince John, who in Richard's absence arrived in England to try to seize power. As Longchamp's main fortress, he made the Tower as strong as possible. The new fortifications were first tested in October 1191, when the Tower was besieged for the first time in its history. Longchamp capitulated to John after just three days, deciding he had more to gain from surrender than prolonging the siege. [74]

    John succeeded Richard as king in 1199, but his rule proved unpopular with many of his barons, who in response moved against him. In 1214, while the king was at Windsor Castle, Robert Fitzwalter led an army into London and laid siege to the Tower. Although under-garrisoned, the Tower resisted and the siege was lifted once John signed the Magna Carta. [75] The king reneged on his promises of reform, leading to the outbreak of the First Barons' War. Even after the Magna Carta was signed, Fitzwalter maintained his control of London. During the war, the Tower's garrison joined forces with the barons. John was deposed in 1216 and the barons offered the English throne to Prince Louis, the eldest son of the French king. However, after John's death in October 1216, many began to support the claim of his eldest son, Henry III. War continued between the factions supporting Louis and Henry, with Fitzwalter supporting Louis. Fitzwalter was still in control of London and the Tower, both of which held out until it was clear that Henry III's supporters would prevail. [75]

    In the 13th century, Kings Henry III (1216–1272) and Edward I (1272–1307) extended the castle, essentially creating it as it stands today. [22] Henry was disconnected from his barons, and a mutual lack of understanding led to unrest and resentment towards his rule. As a result, he was eager to ensure the Tower of London was a formidable fortification at the same time Henry was an aesthete and wished to make the castle a comfortable place to live. [76] From 1216 to 1227 nearly £10,000 was spent on the Tower of London in this period, only the work at Windsor Castle cost more (£15,000). Most of the work was focused on the palatial buildings of the innermost ward. [21] The tradition of whitewashing the White Tower (from which it derives its name) began in 1240. [77]

    Beginning around 1238, the castle was expanded to the east, north, and north-west. The work lasted through the reign of Henry III and into that of Edward I, interrupted occasionally by civil unrest. New creations included a new defensive perimeter, studded with towers, while on the west, north, and east sides, where the wall was not defended by the river, a defensive ditch was dug. The eastern extension took the castle beyond the bounds of the old Roman settlement, marked by the city wall which had been incorporated into the castle's defences. [77] The Tower had long been a symbol of oppression, despised by Londoners, and Henry's building programme was unpopular. So when the gatehouse collapsed in 1240, the locals celebrated the setback. [78] The expansion caused disruption locally and £166 was paid to St Katherine's Hospital and the prior of Holy Trinity in compensation. [79]

    Henry III often held court at the Tower of London, and held parliament there on at least two occasions (1236 and 1261) when he felt that the barons were becoming dangerously unruly. In 1258, the discontented barons, led by Simon de Montfort, forced the King to agree to reforms including the holding of regular parliaments. Relinquishing the Tower of London was among the conditions. Henry III resented losing power and sought permission from the pope to break his oath. With the backing of mercenaries, Henry installed himself in the Tower in 1261. While negotiations continued with the barons, the King ensconced himself in the castle, although no army moved to take it. A truce was agreed with the condition that the King hand over control of the Tower once again. Henry won a significant victory at the Battle of Evesham in 1265, allowing him to regain control of the country and the Tower of London. Cardinal Ottobuon came to England to excommunicate those who were still rebellious the act was deeply unpopular and the situation was exacerbated when the cardinal was granted custody of the Tower. Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford, marched on London in April 1267 and laid siege to the castle, declaring that custody of the Tower was "not a post to be trusted in the hands of a foreigner, much less of an ecclesiastic". [80] Despite a large army and siege engines, Gilbert de Clare was unable to take the castle. The Earl retreated, allowing the King control of the capital, and the Tower experienced peace for the rest of Henry's reign. [81]

    Although he was rarely in London, Edward I undertook an expensive remodelling of the Tower, costing £21,000 between 1275 and 1285, over double that spent on the castle during the whole of Henry III's reign. [82] Edward I was a seasoned castle builder, and used his experience of siege warfare during the crusades to bring innovations to castle building. [82] His programme of castle building in Wales heralded the introduction of the widespread use of arrowslits in castle walls across Europe, drawing on Eastern influences. [83] At the Tower of London, Edward filled in the moat dug by Henry III and built a new curtain wall along its line, creating a new enclosure. A new moat was created in front of the new curtain wall. The western part of Henry III's curtain wall was rebuilt, with Beauchamp Tower replacing the castle's old gatehouse. A new entrance was created, with elaborate defences including two gatehouses and a barbican. [84] In an effort to make the castle self-sufficient, Edward I also added two watermills. [85] Six hundred Jews were imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1278, charged with coin clipping. [67] Persecution of the country's Jewish population under Edward began in 1276 and culminated in 1290 when he issued the Edict of Expulsion, forcing the Jews out of the country. [86] In 1279, the country's numerous mints were unified under a single system whereby control was centralised to the mint within the Tower of London, while mints outside of London were reduced, with only a few local and episcopal mints continuing to operate. [87]

    During Edward II's reign (1307–1327) there was relatively little activity at the Tower of London. [88] However, it was during this period that the Privy Wardrobe was founded. The institution was based at the Tower and responsible for organising the state's arms. [89] In 1321, Margaret de Clare, Baroness Badlesmere became the first woman imprisoned in the Tower of London after she refused Queen Isabella admittance to Leeds Castle [90] and ordered her archers to fire upon Isabella, killing six of the royal escort. [91] [92] [93] Generally reserved for high-ranking inmates, the Tower was the most important royal prison in the country. [94] However it was not necessarily very secure, and throughout its history people bribed the guards to help them escape. In 1323, Roger Mortimer, Baron Mortimer, was aided in his escape from the Tower by the Sub-Lieutenant of the Tower who let Mortimer's men inside. They hacked a hole in his cell wall and Mortimer escaped to a waiting boat. He fled to France where he encountered Edward's Queen. They began an affair and plotted to overthrow the King.

    One of Mortimer's first acts on entering England in 1326 was to capture the Tower and release the prisoners held there. For four years he ruled while Edward III was too young to do so himself in 1330, Edward and his supporters captured Mortimer and threw him into the Tower. [95] Under Edward III's rule (1312–1377) England experienced renewed success in warfare after his father's reign had put the realm on the backfoot against the Scots and French. Amongst Edward's successes were the battles of Crécy and Poitiers where King John II of France was taken prisoner, and the capture of the King David II of Scotland at Neville's Cross. During this period, the Tower of London held many noble prisoners of war. [96] Edward II had allowed the Tower of London to fall into a state of disrepair, [39] and by the reign of Edward III the castle was an uncomfortable place. The nobility held captive within its walls were unable to engage in activities such as hunting which were permissible at other royal castles used as prisons, for instance Windsor. Edward III ordered that the castle should be renovated. [97]

    When Richard II was crowned in 1377, he led a procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. This tradition began in at least the early 14th century and lasted until 1660. [96] During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 the Tower of London was besieged with the King inside. When Richard rode out to meet with Wat Tyler, the rebel leader, a crowd broke into the castle without meeting resistance and looted the Jewel House. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Simon Sudbury, took refuge in St John's Chapel, hoping the mob would respect the sanctuary. However, he was taken away and beheaded on Tower Hill. [99] Six years later there was again civil unrest, and Richard spent Christmas in the security of the Tower rather than Windsor as was more usual. [100] When Henry Bolingbroke returned from exile in 1399, Richard was imprisoned in the White Tower. He abdicated and was replaced on the throne by Bolingbroke, who became King Henry IV. [99] In the 15th century, there was little building work at the Tower of London, yet the castle still remained important as a place of refuge. When supporters of the late Richard II attempted a coup, Henry IV found safety in the Tower of London. During this period, the castle also held many distinguished prisoners. The heir to the Scottish throne, later King James I of Scotland, was kidnapped while journeying to France in 1406 and held in the Tower. The reign of Henry V (1413–1422) renewed England's fortune in the Hundred Years' War against France. As a result of Henry's victories, such as the Battle of Agincourt, many high-status prisoners were held in the Tower of London until they were ransomed. [101]

    Much of the latter half of the 15th century was occupied by the Wars of the Roses between the claimants to the throne, the houses of Lancaster and York. [102] The castle was once again besieged in 1460, this time by a Yorkist force. The Tower was damaged by artillery fire but only surrendered when Henry VI was captured at the Battle of Northampton. With the help of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick (nicknamed "the Kingmaker") Henry recaptured the throne for a short time in 1470. However, Edward IV soon regained control and Henry VI was imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was probably murdered. [99] During the wars, the Tower was fortified to withstand gunfire, and provided with loopholes for cannons and handguns: an enclosure was created for this purpose to the south of Tower Hill, although it no longer survives. [102]

    Shortly after the death of Edward IV in 1483, the notorious murder of the Princes in the Tower is traditionally believed to have taken place. The incident is one of the most infamous events associated with the Tower of London. [103] Edward V's uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester was declared Lord Protector while the prince was too young to rule. [104] Traditional accounts have held that the 12-year-old Edward was confined to the Tower of London along with his younger brother Richard. The Duke of Gloucester was proclaimed King Richard III in June. The princes were last seen in public in June 1483 [103] it has traditionally been thought that the most likely reason for their disappearance is that they were murdered late in the summer of 1483. [104] Bones thought to belong to them were discovered in 1674 when the 12th-century forebuilding at the entrance to the White Tower was demolished however, the reputed level at which the bones were found (10 ft or 3 m) would put the bones at a depth similar to that of the Roman graveyard found, in 2011, 12 ft (4 m) underneath the Minories a few hundred yards to the north. [105] Opposition to Richard escalated until he was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 by the Lancastrian Henry Tudor, who ascended to the throne as Henry VII. [103] As king, Henry VII built a tower for a library next to the King's Tower. [106]

    The beginning of the Tudor period marked the start of the decline of the Tower of London's use as a royal residence. As 16th-century chronicler Raphael Holinshed said the Tower became used more as "an armouries and house of munition, and thereunto a place for the safekeeping of offenders than a palace roiall for a king or queen to sojourne in". [98] Henry VII visited the Tower on fourteen occasions between 1485 and 1500, usually staying for less than a week at a time. [107] The Yeoman Warders have been the Royal Bodyguard since at least 1509. [108] During the reign of Henry VIII, the Tower was assessed as needing considerable work on its defences. In 1532, Thomas Cromwell spent £3,593 on repairs and imported nearly 3,000 tons of Caen stone for the work. [36] Even so, this was not sufficient to bring the castle up to the standard of contemporary military fortifications which were designed to withstand powerful artillery. [109] Although the defences were repaired, the palace buildings were left in a state of neglect after Henry's death. Their condition was so poor that they were virtually uninhabitable. [98] From 1547 onwards, the Tower of London was only used as a royal residence when its political and historic symbolism was considered useful, for instance each of Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I briefly stayed at the Tower before their coronations. [110]

    In the 16th century, the Tower acquired an enduring reputation as a grim, forbidding prison. This had not always been the case. As a royal castle, it was used by the monarch to imprison people for various reasons, however these were usually high-status individuals for short periods rather than common citizenry as there were plenty of prisons elsewhere for such people. Contrary to the popular image of the Tower, prisoners were able to make their life easier by purchasing amenities such as better food or tapestries through the Lieutenant of the Tower. [111] As holding prisoners was originally an incidental role of the Tower – as would have been the case for any castle – there was no purpose-built accommodation for prisoners until 1687 when a brick shed, a "Prison for Soldiers", was built to the north-west of the White Tower. The Tower's reputation for torture and imprisonment derives largely from 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century romanticists. [112] Although much of the Tower's reputation is exaggerated, the 16th and 17th centuries marked the castle's zenith as a prison, with many religious and political undesirables locked away. [112] The Privy Council had to sanction the use of torture, so it was not often used between 1540 and 1640, the peak of imprisonment at the Tower, there were 48 recorded cases of the use of torture. The three most common forms used were the infamous rack, the Scavenger's daughter, and manacles. [113] The rack was introduced to England in 1447 by the Duke of Exeter, the Constable of the Tower consequentially it was also known as the Duke of Exeter's daughter. [114] One of those tortured at the Tower was Guy Fawkes, who was brought there on 6 November 1605 after torture he signed a full confession to the Gunpowder Plot. [112]

    Among those held and executed at the Tower was Anne Boleyn. [112] Although the Yeoman Warders were once the Royal Bodyguard, by the 16th and 17th centuries their main duty had become to look after the prisoners. [115] The Tower was often a safer place than other prisons in London such as the Fleet, where disease was rife. High-status prisoners could live in conditions comparable to those they might expect outside one such example was that while Walter Raleigh was held in the Tower his rooms were altered to accommodate his family, including his son who was born there in 1605. [113] Executions were usually carried out on Tower Hill rather than in the Tower of London itself, and 112 people were executed on the hill over 400 years. [116] Before the 20th century, there had been seven executions within the castle on Tower Green as was the case with Lady Jane Grey, this was reserved for prisoners for whom public execution was considered dangerous. [116] After Lady Jane Grey's execution on 12 February 1554, [117] Queen Mary I imprisoned her sister Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, in the Tower under suspicion of causing rebellion as Sir Thomas Wyatt had led a revolt against Mary in Elizabeth's name. [118]

    The Office of Ordnance and Armoury Office were founded in the 15th century, taking over the Privy Wardrobe's duties of looking after the monarch's arsenal and valuables. [119] As there was no standing army before 1661, the importance of the royal armoury at the Tower of London was that it provided a professional basis for procuring supplies and equipment in times of war. The two bodies were resident at the Tower from at least 1454, and by the 16th century they had moved to a position in the inner ward. [120] The Board of Ordnance (successor to these Offices) had its headquarters in the White Tower and used surrounding buildings for storage. In 1855 the Board was abolished its successor (the Military Store Department of the War Office) was also based there until 1869, after which its headquarters staff were relocated to the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich (where the recently closed Woolwich Dockyard was converted into a vast ordnance store). [121]

    Political tensions between Charles I and Parliament in the second quarter of the 17th century led to an attempt by forces loyal to the King to secure the Tower and its valuable contents, including money and munitions. London's Trained Bands, a militia force, were moved into the castle in 1640. Plans for defence were drawn up and gun platforms were built, readying the Tower for war. The preparations were never put to the test. In 1642, Charles I attempted to arrest five members of parliament. When this failed he fled the city, and Parliament retaliated by removing Sir John Byron, the Lieutenant of the Tower. The Trained Bands had switched sides, and now supported Parliament together with the London citizenry, they blockaded the Tower. With permission from the King, Byron relinquished control of the Tower. Parliament replaced Byron with a man of their own choosing, Sir John Conyers. By the time the English Civil War broke out in November 1642, the Tower of London was already in Parliament's control. [122]

    The last monarch to uphold the tradition of taking a procession from the Tower to Westminster to be crowned was Charles II in 1661. At the time, the castle's accommodation was in such poor condition that he did not stay there the night before his coronation. [123] Under the Stuart kings the Tower's buildings were remodelled, mostly under the auspices of the Office of Ordnance. Just over £4,000 was spent in 1663 on building a new storehouse, now known as the New Armouries in the inner ward. [41] In the 17th century there were plans to enhance the Tower's defences in the style of the trace italienne, however they were never acted on. Although the facilities for the garrison were improved with the addition of the first purpose-built quarters for soldiers (the "Irish Barracks") in 1670, the general accommodations were still in poor condition. [124]

    When the Hanoverian dynasty ascended the throne, their situation was uncertain and with a possible Scottish rebellion in mind, the Tower of London was repaired. Gun platforms added under the Stuarts had decayed. The number of guns at the Tower was reduced from 118 to 45, and one contemporary commentator noted that the castle "would not hold out four and twenty hours against an army prepared for a siege". [125] For the most part, the 18th-century work on the defences was spasmodic and piecemeal, although a new gateway in the southern curtain wall permitting access from the wharf to the outer ward was added in 1774. The moat surrounding the castle had become silted over the centuries since it was created despite attempts at clearing it. It was still an integral part of the castle's defences, so in 1830 the Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, ordered a large-scale clearance of several feet of silt. However this did not prevent an outbreak of disease in the garrison in 1841 caused by poor water supply, resulting in several deaths. To prevent the festering ditch posing further health problems, it was ordered that the moat should be drained and filled with earth. The work began in 1843 and was mostly complete two years later. The construction of the Waterloo Barracks in the inner ward began in 1845, when the Duke of Wellington laid the foundation stone. The building could accommodate 1,000 men at the same time, separate quarters for the officers were built to the north-east of the White Tower. The building is now the headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. [126] The popularity of the Chartist movement between 1828 and 1858 led to a desire to refortify the Tower of London in the event of civil unrest. It was the last major programme of fortification at the castle. Most of the surviving installations for the use of artillery and firearms date from this period. [127]

    During the First World War, eleven men were tried in private and shot by firing squad at the Tower for espionage. [128] During the Second World War, the Tower was once again used to hold prisoners of war. One such person was Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler's deputy, albeit just for four days in 1941. He was the last state prisoner to be held at the castle. [129] The last person to be executed at the Tower was German spy Josef Jakobs who was shot on 15 August 1941. [130] The executions for espionage during the wars took place in a prefabricated miniature rifle range which stood in the outer ward and was demolished in 1969. [131] The Second World War also saw the last use of the Tower as a fortification. In the event of a German invasion, the Tower, together with the Royal Mint and nearby warehouses, was to have formed one of three "keeps" or complexes of defended buildings which formed the last-ditch defences of the capital. [132]

    The Tower of London has become established as one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. It has been a tourist attraction since at least the Elizabethan period, when it was one of the sights of London that foreign visitors wrote about. Its most popular attractions were the Royal Menagerie and displays of armour. The Crown Jewels also garner much interest, and have been on public display since 1669. The Tower steadily gained popularity with tourists through the 19th century, despite the opposition of the Duke of Wellington to visitors. Numbers became so high that by 1851 a purpose-built ticket office was erected. By the end of the century, over 500,000 were visiting the castle every year. [134]

    Over the 18th and 19th centuries, the palatial buildings were slowly adapted for other uses and demolished. Only the Wakefield and St Thomas's Towers survived. [123] The 18th century marked an increasing interest in England's medieval past. One of the effects was the emergence of Gothic Revival architecture. In the Tower's architecture, this was manifest when the New Horse Armoury was built in 1825 against the south face of the White Tower. It featured elements of Gothic Revival architecture such as battlements. Other buildings were remodelled to match the style and the Waterloo Barracks were described as "castellated Gothic of the 15th century". [135] [136] Between 1845 and 1885 institutions such as the Mint which had inhabited the castle for centuries moved to other sites many of the post-medieval structures left vacant were demolished. In 1855, the War Office took over responsibility for manufacture and storage of weapons from the Ordnance Office, which was gradually phased out of the castle. At the same time, there was greater interest in the history of the Tower of London. [135]

    Public interest was partly fuelled by contemporary writers, of whom the work of William Harrison Ainsworth was particularly influential. In The Tower of London: A Historical Romance he created a vivid image of underground torture chambers and devices for extracting confessions that stuck in the public imagination. [112] Ainsworth also played another role in the Tower's history, as he suggested that Beauchamp Tower should be opened to the public so they could see the inscriptions of 16th- and 17th-century prisoners. Working on the suggestion, Anthony Salvin refurbished the tower and led a further programme for a comprehensive restoration at the behest of Prince Albert. Salvin was succeeded in the work by John Taylor. When a feature did not meet his expectations of medieval architecture Taylor would ruthlessly remove it as a result, several important buildings within the castle were pulled down and in some cases post-medieval internal decoration removed. [137]

    Although only one bomb fell on the Tower of London in the First World War (it landed harmlessly in the moat), the Second World War left a greater mark. On 23 September 1940, during the Blitz, high-explosive bombs damaged the castle, destroying several buildings and narrowly missing the White Tower. After the war, the damage was repaired and the Tower of London was reopened to the public. [138]

    A 1974 bombing in the White Tower Mortar Room left one person dead and 41 injured. No one claimed responsibility for the blast, but the police investigated suspicions that the IRA was behind it. [139]

    In the 21st century, tourism is the Tower's primary role, with the remaining routine military activities, under the Royal Logistic Corps, having wound down in the latter half of the 20th century and moved out of the castle. [138] However, the Tower is still home to the regimental headquarters of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and the museum dedicated to it and its predecessor, the Royal Fusiliers. [140] [141] Also, a detachment of the unit providing the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace still mounts a guard at the Tower, and with the Yeomen Warders, takes part in the Ceremony of the Keys each day. [142] [143] [144] On several occasions through the year gun salutes are fired from the Tower by the Honourable Artillery Company, these consist of 62 rounds for royal occasions, and 41 on other occasions. [145]

    Since 1990, the Tower of London has been cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown. [146] In 1988, the Tower of London was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, in recognition of its global importance and to help conserve and protect the site. [147] [148] However, recent developments, such as the construction of skyscrapers nearby, have pushed the Tower towards being added to the United Nations' Heritage in Danger List. [149] The remains of the medieval palace have been open to the public since 2006 where visitors can explore the restored chambers. [150] Although the position of Constable of the Tower remains the highest position held at the Tower, [151] the responsibility of day-to-day administration is delegated to the Resident Governor. [152] The Constable is appointed for a five-year term this is primarily a ceremonial post today but the Constable is also a trustee of Historic Royal Palaces and of the Royal Armouries. General Sir Nick Houghton was appointed Constable in 2016. [153]

    At least six ravens are kept at the Tower at all times, in accordance with the belief that if they are absent, the kingdom will fall. [154] They are under the care of the Ravenmaster, one of the Yeoman Warders. [155] As well as having ceremonial duties, the Yeoman Warders provide guided tours around the Tower. [108] [115] Over 2.9 million people visited the Tower of London in 2019. [1]

    The Yeomen Warders provided the permanent garrison of the Tower, but the Constable of the Tower could call upon the men of the Tower Hamlets to supplement them when necessary. The Tower Hamlets, aka Tower Division was an area, significantly larger than the modern London Borough of the same name, which owed military service to the Constable in his ex officio role as Lord Lieutenant of the Tower Hamlets. [156]

    The tradition of housing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London probably dates from the reign of Henry III (1216–1272). The Jewel House was built specifically to house the royal regalia, including jewels, plate, and symbols of royalty such as the crown, sceptre, and sword. When money needed to be raised, the treasure could be pawned by the monarch. The treasure allowed the monarch independence from the aristocracy and consequently was closely guarded. A new position for "keeper of the jewels, armouries and other things" was created, [157] which was well rewarded in the reign of Edward III (1327–1377) the holder was paid 12d a day. The position grew to include other duties including purchasing royal jewels, gold, and silver, and appointing royal goldsmiths and jewellers. [157]

    In 1649, during the English Civil War, the contents of the Jewel House were disposed of along with other royal properties, as decreed by Cromwell. Metal items were sent to the Mint to be melted down and re-used, and the crowns were "totallie broken and defaced". [158]

    When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the only surviving items of the coronation regalia were a 12th-century spoon and three ceremonial swords. (Some pieces that had been sold were later returned to the Crown.) [159] Detailed records of old regalia survived, and replacements were made for the coronation of Charles II in 1661 based on drawings from the time of Charles I. For the coronation of Charles II, gems were rented because the treasury could not afford to replace them. [160]

    In 1669, the Jewel House was demolished [27] and the Crown Jewels moved into Martin Tower (until 1841). [161] They were displayed here for viewing by the paying public. This was exploited two years later when Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal them. [134] Blood and his accomplices bound and gagged the Jewel House keeper. Although they laid their hands on the Imperial State Crown, Sceptre and Orb, they were foiled when the keeper's son turned up unexpectedly and raised the alarm. [158] [162]

    Since 1994, the Crown Jewels have been on display in the Jewel House in the Waterloo Block. Some of the pieces are used regularly by the Queen. The display includes 23,578 gemstones, the 800-year-old Coronation Spoon, St. Edward's Crown (worn during all crownings at Westminster Abbey) and the Imperial State Crown. [163] [164] [165]

    There is evidence that King John (1166–1216) first started keeping wild animals at the Tower. [166] [167] Records of 1210–1212 show payments to lion keepers. [168]

    The Royal Menagerie is frequently referenced during the reign of Henry III. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II presented Henry with three leopards, circa 1235, which were kept in the Tower. [169] In 1252, the sheriffs were ordered to pay fourpence a day towards the upkeep of the King's polar bear, a gift from Haakon IV of Norway in the same year the bear attracted a great deal of attention from Londoners when it went fishing in the Thames while tied to the land by a chain. [67] [170] [171] In 1254 or 1255, Henry III received an African elephant from Louis IX of France depicted by Matthew Paris in his Chronica Majora. A wooden structure was built to house the elephant, 12.2 m (40 ft) long by 6.1 m (20 ft) wide. [168] [67] The animal died in 1258, possibly because it was given red wine, but also perhaps because of the cold climate of England. [172]

    In 1288, Edward I added a lion and a lynx and appointed the first official Keeper of the animals. [173] Edward III added other types of animals, two lions, a leopard and two wildcats. Under subsequent kings, the number of animals grew to include additional cats of various types, jackals, hyenas, and an old brown bear, Max, gifted to Henry VIII by Emperor Maximilian. [174] In 1436, during the time of Henry VI, all the lions died and the employment of Keeper William Kerby was terminated. [173]

    Historical records indicate that a semi-circular structure or barbican was built by Edward I in 1277 this area was later named the Lion Tower, to the immediate west of the Middle Tower. Records from 1335 indicate the purchase of a lock and key for the lions and leopards, also suggesting they were located near the western entrance of the Tower. By the 1500s that area was called the Menagerie. [168] Between 1604 and 1606 the Menagerie was extensively refurbished and an exercise yard was created in the moat area beside the Lion Tower. An overhead platform was added for viewing of the lions by the royals, during lion baiting, for example in the time of James I. Reports from 1657 include mention of six lions, increasing to 11 by 1708, in addition to other types of cats, eagles, owls and a jackal. [168]

    By the 18th century, the menagerie was open to the public admission cost three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions. By the end of the century, that had increased to 9 pence. [168] [175] A particularly famous inhabitant was Old Martin, a large grizzly bear given to George III by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1811. [176] [177] An 1800 inventory also listed a tiger, leopards, a hyena, a large baboon, various types of monkeys, wolves and "other animals". [178] By 1822, however, the collection included only a grizzly bear, an elephant and some birds. Additional animals were then introduced. [179] In 1828 there were over 280 representing at least 60 species as the new keeper Alfred Copps was actively acquiring animals. [180]

    After the death of George IV in 1830, a decision was made to close down the Menagerie on the orders of the Duke of Wellington. [181] In 1831, most of the stock was moved to the London Zoo which had opened in 1828. [182] This decision was made after an incident, although sources vary as to the specifics: either a lion was accused of biting a soldier, [183] [184] or a sailor, Ensign Seymour, had been bitten by a monkey. [168] [185] The last of the animals left in 1835, relocated to Regent's Park. The Menagerie buildings were removed in 1852 but the Keeper of the Royal Menagerie was entitled to use the Lion Tower as a house for life. Consequently, even though the animals had long since left the building, the tower was not demolished until the death of Copps, the last keeper, in 1853. [183]

    In 1999, physical evidence of lion cages was found, one being 2x3 metres (6.5x10 feet) in size, very small for a lion that can grow to be 2.5 meters (approximately 8 feet) long. [169] In 2008, the skulls of two male Barbary lions (now extinct in the wild) from northwest Africa were found in the moat area of the Tower. Radiocarbon tests dated them from 1280–1385 and 1420–1480. [167] In 2011, an exhibition was hosted at the Tower with fine wire sculptures by Kendra Haste. [186]

    Anne Boleyn was beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VIII her ghost supposedly haunts the Church of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower, where she is buried, and has been said to walk around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm. [187] This haunting is commemorated in the 1934 comic song "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm". Other reported ghosts include Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, and the Princes in the Tower. [188] In January 1816, a sentry on guard outside the Jewel House claimed to have witnessed an apparition of a bear advancing towards him, and reportedly died of fright a few days later. [188] In October 1817, a tubular, glowing apparition was claimed to have been seen in the Jewel House by the Keeper of the Crown Jewels, Edmund Lenthal Swifte. He said that the apparition hovered over the shoulder of his wife, leading her to exclaim: "Oh, Christ! It has seized me!" Other nameless and formless terrors have been reported, more recently, by night staff at the Tower. [189]

    4 Tower of London History Facts Never to be Forgotten

    It is no secret that I love history and these Tower of London history facts need to be remembered. The Tower of London England is a formidable part of a sorted history. Let’s dive into the fascinating history of the Tower of London. These 4 facts stood out to me when I visited England this past year. I found this architectural masterpiece the most fascinating tourist attraction in London. Please join me for a trip through history and a very bloody past. Planning to visit Europe soon check out when the best time to visit is.

    1. Built as A Palace and Fortress

    The tower of London is well over a 1000 years old, built around 1070 and is still standing tall. The White Tower was built by William the Conquer in 1078 and is where it gets its name. The Tower has been a prison for most of its life. In Ireland, prisons are called gaols, the Cork County Gaol is quite fascinating also. Yet it was originally a palace for the Royals. The tower is actually a series of several buildings that are surrounded by two rings of brick walls and a moat. A formidable fortress built to protect the Royals in its heyday. Today it is still one of the Queen’s residence, should she decide to stay there.

    2. Royal Heads Rolled

    The tower has a bloody history and was the site of many well-known executions. Only those of high rank or those who had a very strong popular vote received a tower execution. Three queens lost their heads on the Tower Green. Two of the queens were wives of King Henry VIII. Adultery was the accused crime for both but they were probably innocent. King Henry’s second wife Anne Boylyn was only in her mid-30s. Katherine Howard was his fifth wife and barely in her 20’s.

    Teen Queen

    The third queen was Lady Jane Grey only 16 years old when she lost her head. Lady Jan Grey was queen for only 9 days. She was the unfortunate result of a failed coup by her father in law Duke of Northumberland. Sir Walter Raleigh are just a few of the more famous beheadings. The picture above is of the glass pillow memorial. Dedicated to those who the state condemned to death. The glass pillow was placed on the very spot where the executions took place. To make the memorial interactive the creator placed the following quote around the memorial.

    ‘Gentle visitor pause awhile: where you stand death cut away the light of many days: here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life: may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage: under there restless skies.’

    Brian Catling, creator of the execution site memorial.
    The Executioners

    They did not always hire the best executioners, sometimes the executioners missed. The story of Lady Margret Pole Countess of Salisbury is a gruesome tale as the execution took several swings to complete the job. Also, it is not known if Lady Margret struggled or if the executioner was drunk. The story goes that Margret claimed innocence of her crime. Margret spent a year and a half in the tower awaiting her known fate. Found on her cell wall was the poem below. If in fact this poem was carved into her cell than Margret was wronged by the law and her executioner.

    ‘For traitors on the block should die
    I am no traitor, no, not I!
    My faithfulness stands fast and so,
    towards the block I shall not go!
    Nor make one step, as you shall see
    Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!’

    Margret Pole

    3. Ominous Ravens

    For centuries the tower has had ravens, according to legend there must always be 6 ravens. Legend says that Charles II astronomer John Flemsteed was complaining that the ravens were interfering with his observations from the white tower. King Charles II ordered the ravens destroyed. His advisors informed him that if the Ravens were ever removed from the Tower, the kingdom would fall. There is no evidence or facts to this story it is just another piece of the fascinating history of the London Tower. Due to Charles II superstitious nature, he ordered the ravens to remain under royal protection. The Raven’s presence prevents great harm to the Tower and the nation. Ever since that time, Ravens (at least 6) have been kept at the Tower.

    4. Home of the Oldest Military Ceremony in the World

    Have you ever heard of the ceremony of the keys? It is one of the worlds oldest ceremonies still in use. This ceremony dates back to furious King Edward III in the 1300s. He instituted the locking and unlocking of the gates because he walked in one night completely unchallenged. After imprisoning the constable of the tower he improved the tower’s security. The gates have been locked at sunset and unlocked the next morning at sunrise for over 7 centuries. Tower of London history facts are too numerous to mention here.

    Final Thoughts

    Visiting the Tower of London is highly suggested. I am a history buff and I love to visit places steeped in history. The Tower of London does not disappoint when it comes to history. This one makes my top 10 list. Get your tickets at the Tower Office or order online in advance. I suggest taking advantage of the great tours that combined sites to save you money. They also give you a tour guide who will be very knowledgeable about each site. Check out the Tower of London and Thames River Sightseeing Cruise. The Tower Bridge and Tower of London Stroll with a Local Guide is my favorite at just south of $20 you have a local guide for both the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.

    Thank you for reading my article I hope that you found it useful and informative. Consider sharing it with others who might enjoy learning historical facts about the Tower of London.

    Read about 11 must-see attractions in London that you don’t want to miss.


    Midlife Milestones participates with several well-known affiliate companies. You may find affiliate links throughout this post, when you click on them I may receive a small compensation. Using my links does not cost you anything and you are helping support me and my blog. I appreciate any and all support I receive from my readers. If you have questions please see my disclosure and/or policy pages. Thank you in advance for supporting Midlife Milestones.

    Tammy Staley

    Tammy and her husband live in the great lake state of Michigan. She has raised two young men the oldest is in college and the youngest will graduate this year. During the day Tammy works as a bakery manager and spends her evenings as a travel blogger for Mid-Life Milestones. In her free time you can find her bargain shopping and visiting local attractions. She also loves to craft in her spare time and enjoys learning new skills.


    A fun and informative post. I love learning things about history from all parts of the world, but I do admit to a certain special love of British history, especially from the medieval ages but also the Tudor age. I had no idea about the ravens in the tower, that is pretty neat.

    Thank you for your kind words! I am glad you enjoyed my article, it is nice to find a kindred spirit!

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    The main executed

    William Hastings

    Executed by decapitation on 13 June 1483

    William Hastings fought to secure the throne for Edward IV. He was appointed Lord Chamberlain in 1461. When King Edward died in 1483, he was a faithful and loyal supporter of Edward V's young son, Edward V, known to be one of the little princes of the Tower. He was arrested by Edward's brother, Richard, under the title of treason. The two little princes were declared illegitimate, and their uncle and protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was declared king and crowned under the name of Richard III. The two little princes were never seen again. William Hastings was executed without trial.

    Anne Boleyn

    Executed by decapitation on May 19, 1536

    Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (1507-1536) was the second wife of King Henry VIII. The latter divorced from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and broke with the Catholic Church. As a result, he was excommunicated out of love for this woman. Afterwards he grew tired of his wife and fell in love with Jane Seymour. As a result, he arrested Anne Boleyn under the charge of treason, adultery and incest with her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. Anne Boleyn entered the Tower of London through the Traitors' gate where she was greeted by William Kingston, the guardian of the tower. She asked if she should be taken to a dungeon but was assured that she would be imprisoned in the royal apartments where she had spent her time before her coronation. Death by the ax was a terrifying prospect. The executioners often recovered several times before the head was finally cut off. This is what happened to Anne who was given the opportunity to be beheaded with a sword. When she spoke of her execution she referred to the comforting fact that she "only had a small neck".

    Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

    Executed by decapitation on 27 May 1541

    Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1473-1541) was the last direct descendant of the Plantagenet line, descended from King Edward III. The countess made the mistake of appearing with Catherine of Aragon against the king who declared him a traitor. She was arrested two years before her execution, ill-treated and neglected during her detention. She has never been tried. She was small, frail and sick, but proud. So, on the day of her execution, she had to be dragged to the block. on the spot she refused to lay her head on it and struggled with all her strength. The inexperienced executioner fractured his shoulder rather than his neck. She jumped from the log and the executioner had to pursue her with her ax in her hand. She was struck eleven times that the head was not detached. There were 150 witnesses of his execution that day. Margaret Pole was 68 years old.

    Catherine Howard

    Executed by decapitation on 13 February 1542

    Catherine Howard was the fifth wife of King Henry VIII, the cousin of Anne Boleyn. Particularly pretty, Henry was at her painstaking care, covering her with gifts and making a public display of great love. She had led a permissive life in the household of her grandmother, the Dowager Dowager of Norfolk, an uneducated and neglected woman. After her marriage to Henry VIII, who was a disgusting and obese old man, she had an affair with the handsome young Thomas Culpepper, a bond that was discovered. King Henry was devastated. Catherine was arrested at Hampton Court for adultery and tried in vain to rejoin the king. She was shrieked in her apartments. Her lover was executed, her head still buried in a pike when she too passed under the London Bridge before entering the Tower of London by the door of the traitors. The legend says that Catherine's last words were: "I die as queen, but I would rather die as a Culpepper's wife." She was then only 18 years old.

    Jane Boleyn, Viscountess of Rochford

    Executed by decapitation on 13 February 1542

    Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (1505-1542) was the wife of George Boleyn, the brother of Queen Anne Boleyn, who was executed on her incest with her sister. Jane Rochford was a wicked and jealous woman. Her husband George Boleyn was elderly and unhappy. Ella played a decisive role in the arrest of her sister-in-law, Anne and her husband George Boleyn, proving damaging evidence against Thomas Cromwell. His allegations were completely false, but were detained against Anne. She became a Private House Lady to Catherine Howard. During her lifetime Jane Rochford was intrigued and encouraged the young queen to maintain her relationship with Thomas Culpepper, she had helped organize secret meetings. However, her responsibility was discovered and Jane Rochford was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was interrogated and lost her mental health. A new law allowing the execution of madmen was adopted on this occasion to condemn her to death. She confessed before her death: "God makes me undergo shame as a punishment for having contributed to the death of my husband, and I falsely accused him of loving incestuously his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn. to die".

    It was executed immediately after Catherine Howard.

    Lady Jane Grey

    Executed by decapitation on 12 February 1554

    Lady Jane Gray, Queen of England (1537-1554) was Queen of England for only nine days, from Monday, July 10, 1553 to Wednesday, July 19, 1553. Edward V, a devout Protestant and the only son of Henry VIII, of tuberculosis and left the throne to "Lady Jane and his male heirs". Unfortunately for her, she was a puppet in the hands of her parents, the powerful Dudley family. She was proclaimed Queen of England and brought with her husband Guildford Dudley of Syon House to the Royal Apartments at the Tower of London. On July 19, 1553, Queen Jane was deposed, raising no objection - Catholic Princess Mary being the legitimate heir. Lady Jane Gray and her husband were imprisoned in the Tower. On February 12, 1554, they were executed at the Tower of London. Lady Jane watched as her husband moved from the Beauchamp Tower to her death at Tower Hill a few hours before her own execution on Tower Green. Jane's death warrant was signed by Queen Mary who will later be known as "Bloody Mary" for her persecution of the Protestants. Lady Jane Gray was only 17 years old at the time of her death.

    Robert Devereux, 2 nd Earl of Essex

    Executed by decapitation on 25 February 1601

    Robert Devereux (1566-1601) was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. He was handsome, witty, arrogant and ambitious, and the Queen was full of praise for this man. He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, a position which he could not secure. His relationship with the Queen deteriorated little by little and he tried a political coup. He led a rebellion against the Queen and wanted to take control of the city of London on February 8, 1601. He was arrested and sentenced for treason. Dressed in black, but with a shiny red waistcoat, Essex was executed at the Tower of London on February 25, 1601. More than 100 people attended the execution, and three blows of the ax were necessary to blow up the head of Essex.

    Watch the video: FULL TOUR The Tower of London historic castle. LONDON MUSEUMS