The Tower of London History
The Tower of London, built in 1078, served as a royal residence and sanctuary. It was a fortress, armory, barracks, prison, and a place of torture and execution. It held exotic animals, and it secured the Crown Jewels and the Royal Mint.
The fortress offered its raven birds protection for hundreds of years because legend still dictates that if the Tower’s ravens leave, there will be dire consequences. The birds are nurtured on the grounds today.
Some of the sovereigns that were prisoners, depending on their crime, had full run of the fortress and enjoyed comfortable quarters and meals prepared to their liking.
Condemned Prisoners at the Tower of London
Edward I initially commissioned a waterway, later called Traitors’ Gate, to enter the Tower by the Thames. Eventually, prisoners came through this gate after passing the heads of the executed displayed on London Bridge spikes.
Ironically, if a prisoner was condemned, execution at the Tower of London was almost a privilege because decapitation was usually quick and the convicted avoided the jeers of the crowd outside the walls.
Among the famous prisoners at the Tower was Anne Boleyn who was accused of infidelity when she couldn’t produce an heir for Henry VIII, and she was beheaded in 1536.
Another prisoner, Guy Fawkes, had planned to assassinate King James I and blow up the House of Lords. He was found in the basement of Westminster Palace, below Parliament, guarding a door to a room filled with gunpowder. He was tortured and ultimately found guilty of high treason. He was sentenced to death by hanging and then drawn and quartered. He avoided this death by jumping off the gallows and breaking his neck.
In 1483, two young princes aged twelve and ten years old arrived at the Tower after their father King Edward IV had died. The twelve-year-old was the rightful king until their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester who became King Richard III, had removed their titles and imprisoned them after finding them illegitimate. Eventually, the princes disappeared, and years later two children’s skeletons were found in the Tower, but their identity remained unconfirmed.
The White Tower
The White Tower was built as a royal residence and intimidation for England’s enemies. Today, It houses the Royal Armour as well as replica torture tools like the rack, to stretch a prisoner; manacles, to hang him/her by the arms; and the scavenger’s daughter, a compression device. An executioners block and ax that may have been used in the last beheading in the 1700s is still on display.
Tower of London Royal Beasts
Collecting exotic animals began in the 1200s and continued for 600 years. The kings and queens had gathered and received animals as gifts. An example of these 60 species included bears, lions, monkeys, zebras, and alligators. Not only did these animals provide entertainment and status, but they instilled fear.
The Jewel House and The Crown Jewels
Guards protect the Royal Collection of Crown Jewels that hold strong cultural and religious significance for the British Monarchy. The Crown Jewels consist of 23,578 gemstones and are used today for the coronation that has taken place in Westminster Abbey since 1066. The Queen also wears the Crown Jewels at the State Opening of Parliament. Her crown alone weighs about three pounds and she practices wearing it in the privacy of her residence.
Tower of London Ravens
Ravens have resided at the Tower for centuries because legend states: “Should the ravens ever leave, the White Tower would crumble.” With clipped wings and a diet of carcasses and blood, most of them stay.
The Beefeaters or Yeomen Warders
The Tower of London is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a powerful symbol of England’s monarchy. The fortress walls could tell harrowing stories about torture and executions of the innocent and guilty, but they could also tell tales about majesty and honor.
The Yeomen Warders, or the Beefeaters, who have guarded the Tower since 1509, will transport you back to earlier times by bringing the fortress to life through their narratives and tours. If you like a good story, you won’t be disappointed.