The Tower of London attracts more than 2 million visitors a year. It has been a royal residence, a royal mint, a fortress, a prison and a home for the Crown Jewels. It is a palace, a fortress and a castle that rests upon the banks of the river Thames. It was first built by William the Conqueror, a Saxon, after defeating the English King Harold in the battle of Hastings.
The Tower of London is a palace, a fortress and a castle all in one that rests upon the banks of the River Thames. It is a magnificent building with endless defensive fortifications looking over its surroundings. There is a large moat that once circulated fresh water from the Thames protecting the occupants. It was also used to empty the trash from the fortress into the river and out to sea. It is dry today and the fertile land was used during WWII to grow crops for the people of London. Today, the moat has been preserved so the visitor can get an idea of what it might have looked like as water flowed around the impressive castle.
The Tower of London was built upon some of the foundation of the ruins of Roman “Londinium”, the old Roman fortress created in 43AD and abandoned almost a five hundred years before when the Roman Empire collapsed. When you are visiting the Tower you can see some excavation showing the old Roman foundations nearby.
In the center of the fortress sits the White Tower, one of the first buildings constructed by William the Conqueror. He imported stone from Caen, France and required the newly defeated British to build it in the 1070s. By 1350, the Tower had taken on the form we know today.
In 1483, the two sons and heirs to the throne, Princes Edward and Richard, went missing while being held by their Uncle, the future King Richard III after the death of his brother King Edward IV. Two sets of small bones were found in 1674 while some reconstruction was going on in the White Tower. The bones were interred at Westminster Abbey even though there have been recent requests to study the bones to determine if they were the bones of the two princes.
However it was during the Tudor period that the Tower entered its bloodiest period ever. The Tower entered a dark period during the reign of Henry VIII. After breaking with the Church of Rome, King Henry VIII decreed himself head of the Church of England. Thus began a period of persecution for those who didn’t agree with the change in church leadership. The Tower’s cells and torture chambers were rarely empty of political and religious prisoners during this time. Former associates of King Henry VIII, former aide Sir Thomas Moore and Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, were both beheaded at the Tower. The last execution at the Tower was Josef Jakobs, a German spy who was captured after parachuting into the UK. He was shot sitting in a chair because his injuries kept him from standing.
One of the most interesting notes about the Tower is that it served as a zoo. There are records dating back to the reign King John in 1210 of having exotic animals. For over 600 years exotic animals were kept the Tower for the entertainment purposes of the royalty and their guests. There were monkeys, lions, tigers, bears, zebras, elephants and many other animals found in other countries and brought to England. In 1832, after several attacks, the animals left the grounds for the London Zoo.
The Tower of London was long used as a prison and even torture. One of the more interesting places during a visit to the Tower is the carvings that have been uncovered in the stone by those imprisoned at the Tower. Many of these people were rich and famous and included political, military and scientific prisoners, even royals.
Here is a short list of just some of those well-known people imprisoned:
• Robert, Duke of Normandy. Eldest son of William the Conqueror in 1206
• Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, a Welsh prince, the eldest but illegitimate son of Llywelyn the Great (“Llywelyn Fawr”) was imprisoned in 1241. He fell to his death in 1244 while trying to escape
• William Wallace was imprisoned for a short time before his execution in 1305.
• Richard II of England was imprisoned in 1399 before being taken to Pontefract Castle, where he was murdered.
• James I of Scotland, then heir to the Scottish throne, was kidnapped while travelling to France in 1406 and imprisoned in the Tower until 1408 before being transferred to Nottingham Castle.
• Henry VI of England was imprisoned in the Tower after his capture at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 and was murdered there on 21 May 1471. Each year on the anniversary of Henry VI’s death, the Provosts of Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, lay roses and lilies on the altar that stands where he died.
• George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, brother of King Edward IV of England, imprisoned in 1477 for treason and privately executed there in 1478.
• Edward V of England and his brother Richard of Shrewsbury, also known as the Princes in the Tower were sent to the tower by their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester in 1483 “for their own protection” after the death of their father and then, according to popular belief, ordered their deaths.
• Sir William de la Pole. A distant relative of King Henry VIII, he was incarcerated at the Tower for 37 years (1502–1539) for allegedly plotting against Henry VII, thus becoming the longest-held prisoner.
• Thomas More was imprisoned on 17 April 1534. He was executed on 6 July 1535 and his body was buried at the Tower of London.
• Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, was imprisoned on 2 May 1536 on charges of High Treason: adultery, incest, and witchcraft. She remained a prisoner until 19 May 1536 when she was beheaded by a French swordsman on Tower Green.
• Thomas Cromwell was imprisoned by Henry VIII in 1540 before his execution.
• Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, was imprisoned in 1542 before her execution.
• Anne Askew, Protestant reformer, was imprisoned and tortured for heresy in 1546 before being burnt at the stake.
• Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was imprisoned in 1553 before being sent to Oxford in 1554 to be burnt at the stake for heresy.
• Lady Jane Grey, uncrowned Queen of England and her husband Guilford Dudley were imprisoned in the tower from 1553 until 12 February 1554, when they were beheaded by order of Queen Mary I.
• The future Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned for two months in 1554 for her alleged involvement in Wyatt’s Rebellion.
• Sir Walter Raleigh spent thirteen years (1603–1616) imprisoned at the Tower but was able to live in relative comfort in the Bloody Tower with his wife and two children. For some of the time he even grew tobacco on Tower Green, just outside his apartment. While imprisoned, he wrote The History of the World.
• Guy Fawkes, famous for his part in the Gunpowder Plot, was brought to the Tower in 1605 to be interrogated by a council of the King’s Ministers. When he confessed to treason, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster; however, he escaped his fate by jumping off the scaffold at the gallows which in turn broke his neck and killed him.
• William Penn, Quaker and future founder of Pennsylvania, was imprisoned for seven months in 1668-69 for pamphleteering.
• Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi Party, the last state prisoner to be held in the Tower, in May 1941.
Tower Green is a famous spot where two Queens, two lords and two ladies were beheaded as traitors. It was unusual to be executed within the Tower rather than on Tower Hill. The “privileged” executions of controversial people were easier to control within the fortress; away from the public. Scaffoldings were built for each execution, and not always in the same place. Tower Hill is an elevated spot northwest of the Tower of London within easy walking distance of the main gate.
Monarchs most closely associated associated with the Tower:
• William the Conqueror
• Henry III
• Edward I
• Edward III
• Richard II
• Henry VI
• Richard III
• Henry VIII
• Queen Mary I
• Queen Elizabeth I
The Tower of London is an all-day event. While it cost money to enter the grounds, the Beefeater tours are free. There are re-enactments, food and places to rest and many different sites to see. You can stand in line to see the crown jewels – old and new. You can see the old areas were people were imprisoned, even tortured. The old residential areas are open for review and there are lots of monuments erected where events happened inside the compound. The White Tower is now an armaments museum with lots of great weapons and war gear that was formerly used by England’s Kings. There are great views of the River Thames and The Tower Bridge. It is a great place to spend a day and a must see in London.