The Tower of London
The Tower of London has a long and rich history filled with celebration, joy, tragedy and bloodshed. The Tower’s history began with William the Conqueror (1066-87) who believed that he had a claim to the English throne after the death of his relative Edward the Confessor. William was the Duke of Normandy and he sailed across to England and defeated King Harold Godwinson, brother in law to Edward the Confessor at the battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror recognised the need to fortify London and create strongholds which would help to protect against threats against his rule. It is believed that one of these strong holds was the first construction at the Tower of London – The White Tower. There are little details about the building of the famous White Tower but it was believed to have been completed by 1100.
Over the centuries additions were made to the Tower of London, with separate buildings being built close to the White Tower. In 1238 Henry III began the building of the massive walls around the north, east and western sides of the Tower which were reinforced by nine towers with the whole structure being surrounded by a great moat.
The Tower of London was used as a fortress and stronghold for protection but it was also at varied times a place in which the King and his court could reside. It also acted as a prison and the first prisoner to be held in the Tower of London was Ranulf Flambard in 1100. In addition to a prison and a place to stay the Tower held many various and exotic animals over the centuries including lions, a polar bear, an elephant and ostriches!
As well as acting as a semi zoo the Tower in the seventeenth century began to hold ravens. There is a legend that stated if the ravens left the Tower of London would fall. The legend states that Charles II believed in this story so much that he insisted that six ravens be kept within the great walls of the Tower at all times. Today the Tower holds seven ravens (one spare just in case!) and they are cared for by the resident Raven master.
The Tower holds the mysteries and tragedies of many lives including the disappearance of 12 year old Edward VI and his brother 10 year old Richard, sons of Edward IV. After Edward IV’s death, Richard III claimed the throne and sent both young boys to the Tower of London where they were mysteriously never heard of again. It is believed that both boys were murdered, but by who? And how?
The Tudors have a rich and long history with the Tower of London and two of Henry VIII’s wives would lose their lives (and their heads) within the tower walls. Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife would be sent to the tower on May 2nd 1536 to be charged with adultery, incest and treason and would lose her head and her life on May 19th. Henry VIII’s fifth wife Katherine Howard would also be sent to the Tower for committing adultery and she too would be beheaded on the 13th of February 1542. As well as two of Henry’s wives many other famous people would lose their lives at the Tower including Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford, sister in law to Anne Boleyn and lady in waiting to Katherine Howard. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, Lady Jane Grey who was Queen for just nine days, and Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, courtier and favourite of Elizabeth I. Although not losing their life at the Tower, the Tower held many famous and important prisoners including The Duke of Northumberland, The Dukes of Norfolk, Sir Thomas More, Bishop Fisher of Rochester and even Elizabeth I!
The whole structure of the Tower of London is absolutely magnificent and impressively large. There are twenty Towers within the Tower of London as well as many other buildings and points of interest. There are many beautiful and at times spooky parts of the Tower to visit and I would strongly suggest that it would take at least a full day to see everything properly within the great Tower’s walls. I could talk about each part of the Tower individually but instead I have selected just a few parts of the Tower to discuss and that I would strongly recommend visiting:
The Beauchamp Tower
The Beauchamp Tower was built as part of the inner defensive wall by Henry III and Edward I. It was not originally built as a prison but over the years quickly became one. The Tower received its name from Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick who was imprisoned within the Tower at the later part of the 14th century. When you enter the Beauchamp Tower and walk the vast and rather spooky rooms you can see carvings and inscriptions written over the walls. These words and images are a haunting reminder of all those held within the Beauchamp Tower.
Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula
The Chapel Royal is a magnificent place of worship built within the walls of the Tower of London. Although a relatively small chapel (compared to some) it is a place of beauty and serenity. Within the beautiful interior of The Chapel Royal are buried the bodies of many famous and tragic figures including, Anne Boleyn the second wife of Henry VIII and Katherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII who were both beheaded within the Tower. The Chapel Royal still acts as a place of worship for all the people that live within the walls of the Tower today.
Built for Edward I between 1275 and 1279, Traitors’ Gate is located along the river Thames and allowed barges to be moored next to the great gateway so that one could enter the Tower via the river. Contrary to popular belief Anne Boleyn, upon her arrival at the Tower of London after her arrest did not enter via Traitors’ Gate.
The White Tower
The most magnificent and recognisable building within the Tower of London is clearly the White Tower. Standing at the centre of the Tower of London it is a magnificent structure which immediately captures the attention of anyone that enters the great walls of the Tower. The White Tower had many functions including acting as a stronghold to protect the King, a place of residency where the King could stay and live, a place to entertain and most of all it was built to impress and to show the great strength and power of the English Kings. The Tower contains a massive basement and three grand and impressive rooms, one being a stunning chapel. There are many breath taking displays within the White Tower including weapons and armour which was used during medieval battles.
Dolman, B, Holmes, S, Impey, E and Spooner, J. 2009, Historic Royal Palaces Experience the Tower of London, Historic Royal Palaces, Surrey.
Historic Royal Palaces 2011, ‘Tower of London’, viewed 25th October 2011, <http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/>
Luminarium 2011, ‘Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature’, viewed 25th October 2011, <http://www.luminarium.org/renlit/>