Tower of London
A fortress, royal palace and an infamous prison
The Tower of London
Tower of London is one of the most visited castles and tourist attraction in Britain with 2.86 million visitors in 2018. With such popularity and often referred as a “fortress, royal palace and an infamous prison”, I had wondered of its continued significance and how much of the past history or traditions the Tower continues to exhibit. My thoughts were spurred on as I retrace my footsteps on the royal palaces as part of my 3rd instalment in London Series, MyCityMyTown, retracing my footsteps – Royal Palaces and Royal Parks which this article represents.
What I know about the Tower of London
I had always known that the Tower was historically important, built by the Normans after the 1066 invasion and it was once occupied by reigning monarchs. In 1988 it was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Given it’s historical importance and it’s popularity, the Tower offers various activities throughout the day to entertain visitors, both young and old. As a visitor on previous occasions, I had gone along with the flow, joining in the activities and observing without really giving it much thought. I don’t think I had even seen ALL of the towers and castle grounds! So, my re-visit on this occasion was an opportunity to see, explore, discover and learn more of this castle.
Therefore, both questions, the significance of the Tower and how much of the past history or traditions it continues to exhibit are important and goes to the root of the “why’s” I should visit the Tower of London. I hope that you would also think the same and consider this article as support to your visit, as The Best Guide to What You Need to Know about the Tower of London.
What I discovered about the Tower
In a nutshell, my visit was a whole new world of discovery! It was all too much to ignore and for me to try to condense it into one post will not do justice to English history and to this monument or to you, as a visitor to the Tower of London. Therefore, I address the Tower’s historical significance in Part I of What you need to know about the Tower of London. This may seem like taking a step into history but I think it is a much needed one to help you fully immerse yourself in the context of the Tower’s 1,000 years of history. I shall address “How much of it’s traditions the Tower continues to exhibit” in Part II, which will be published in a future article.
My visit to the Tower of London was yet another perfect opportunity for me to use the HRP annual membership and not pay an entry fee.
Tower of London as a “fortress, royal palace and an infamous prison”
The Tower of London has been many things during its life. Today, a visit to the Tower of London along River Thames allows a visitor to discover its many layers of history. I shall limit my contribution to the areas famously attributed to the castle as a “fortress, royal palace and an infamous prison”.
My starting point was to look at the Tower’s significance today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and trace it’s history to understand what factors contributed to its recognition as an iconic monument.
1 | The Tower of London is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Tower of London is of Outstanding Universal Value and gained its recognition as a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. Through my research, I discovered that this 11th century fortress is the most complete castle still remaining in Europe. The Tower reflects the last military conquest of England, thus symbolic of royal power since 1066. It’s imposing architecture, it’s strategic sitting on River Thames and it’s many layers of history stood for protection and control of the City of London as well as the gateway to the new Norman kingdom. The Tower resembles fostering of closer ties with Europe, language and culture.
As a symbol of royal power, the Tower of London has an interesting history that goes way back to medieval England.
2 | The Tower of London is a historical landmark
The primary significance of the Tower of London as a UNESCO Site is that it is a historical landmark with an interesting history that goes way back to the Norman conquest in 1066. 1066 is a popular date/year in Britain’s history and a date/year that is hard to forget. It marks the end of Anglo-Saxon rule and the last successful invasion by force of England, hence the “beginning” of England as we know today.
This historic castle was constructed in the wake of the Norman conquest by William the Conqueror. Since then, the Tower has dominated the pages of English history and London’s skyline. Let’s take a look at how it came about.
My Timeless Footsteps says: Join one of the Beefeater Tours which is FREE. They run for 45 minutes and is filled with facts, gory details and humour. More details in Useful information below.
2.1 | The Norman Conquest and the Story of the Tower of London
According to history, castles were at the heart of William of Normandy’s strategy to conquer England. As he captured towns, villages and strategic points, he built castles to secure his acquisitions and as means to provide defensive structures to guard against the Saxons. His conquest can be traced by the castles he built in Pevensey (his first capture), then Dover and Hastings. William won the Battle of Hastings by defeating King Harold, which ended the Anglo Saxon rule of England.
As a victor of the Battle of Hastings meant that William had invaded a country with a population of 2 to 3 million people with only 10,000 men. William had to move very swiftly to take control of England. To gain full control of England, William realised that he first must have control of the City of London, which was a major power centre that held the purse strings of the country.
My Timeless Footsteps says: To learn more of its history while you walk, get an audio guide.
To gain control of the City of London, William negotiated a deal with the leaders of the City – if he was accepted as King of England, he would give the City certain rights that would allow them to function independently as a state within a state. The City leaders accepted the deal. William of Normandy was crowned King William 1st of England in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. Having been crowned the King, William wanted to make a statement to the people of England that he is here to stay.
3 | The Tower of London is a fortress
To make that statement, King William ordered the construction of a fortress on a huge mound at the eastern side of the City of London, both to protect London and to show Norman military strength. This fortress would become the Tower of London. William built three fortresses, Baynard’s Castle, Montfichet Castle and the White Tower. Baynard and Montfichet are long gone.
3.1 | The White Tower – The beginning of a fortress
The White Tower is the same White Tower that you see today in the centre of the Tower grounds, with grey turrets and flag pole. Construction of the White Tower began in 1078 and was completed in 1097, eight years after Williams death in Rouen. The White Tower is so named because in those Middle Ages days, it would have been whitewashed to give it a clean, shining and gleaming appearance.
Visiting the White Tower is an opportunity to witness the sophisticated architecture of the 11th century. It represents the Normans cutting edge military building technology of its time. If you are into details, you will note the depth of the walls, giving this incredible monument the uniqueness as a secure fortress to protect the residents of the castle and deter any invasion.
My Timeless Footsteps says: Admission to the White Tower is included in your entry ticket to the Tower of London. Purchase your ticket here.
3.2 | The Story of the fortress – Tower of London as a Fortress
Over the following centuries, a vast complex of twenty separate towers were added, primarily by Henry III in the 1200’s. This phase of extension to the Tower is said to be up to the middle wall, identified by the white drain pipes. The third and final phase of extension is said to be by King Edward in the 1300’s which is the outer wall. This extension can be identified by the black drain pipes. Edward added the moat which became heavily polluted and was drained in the 19th century. These additions included a perimeter wall connecting each tower encircling the castle.
These later additions also displays an intricate architecture. You can notice these on areas surrounding the doorways and the narrow stairs. As you visit each tower, it does give you a feel of Tudor times.
The map below shows the layout of the Tower of London, 21 towers and main structures.
As a fortress, the Tower became the most secure castle of the land.
4 | The Tower of London as a Royal Palace
The next significance of the Tower of London is that it has always been and still is a Royal Palace. It was and still is the most secure castle in the land. It had protected the royal family in times of war and during rebellions. The White Tower was built not only as a symbol of Norman strength, a fortress but also as a grand palace and served as a royal residence in its early history.
4.1 | Norman Fireplaces
It had four fireplaces to provide sufficient warmth to the residents – like the one in the picture below.
The White Tower has four floors – the ground, the first, the second and the third. The first, second and the third floors were designed the same with a large room to the west, and a smaller room in the northeast.
4.2 | A place of Christian worship
As a place of royal residence, King William wanted a place of a Christian worship to be built in the White Tower. Religion was an important part of his royal image, so, a private chapel, St John’s Chapel, was built on the second floor. The Chapel was used for private worship by the royal family for about 900 years and the tower community as well.
The beautiful Romanesque Chapel of St John is the finest of Norman church architecture that exist today. The Chapel is vaulted with a plain arch, four massive columns on either side and four in the apse. Arches are supported by thick, round piers. Its decorations are simple carvings of scallop and leaf designs.
Although the Chapel was built for William the Conqueror, it was not completed before his death. His son, William II was the first royal to use it. In 1240, King Henry III added stained glass windows depicting the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity. The chapel was also provided with a gold-painted cross in Henry’s reign. The Chapels current unadorned appearance is reminiscent of how it may have looked in the Norman era.
4.3 | The Tower was the starting point of a Royal procession
The Tower of London was significant as a Royal Palace as early as the 14th century right through to King Charles II (1630-1685) where a royal procession on the coronation of the king was held from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. In addition to being a Royal Palace, it became a menagerie, a treasury, an armoury, and more famously, a prison.
4.4 | A menagerie
The very first zoo is said to be housed at the Tower of London. For over 600 years, the Tower was home to wild and exotic animals given as royal gifts. The Tower menagerie included lions, polar bear, elephants and tigers.
4.5 | Royal Mint
The Tower of London was both a treasury and home for the Royal Mint. The Mint made the coins of the realm for over 500 years. The coins were minted from the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) who installed it in a dedicated area within the Tower walls in c1279 until 1810. The area became famously known as Mint Street.
As one can imagine, back in the day, working at the Mint was a deadly business. It involved using toxic chemicals and working with fiery furnaces to melt the metal. Coins were all made by hand. Health and safety of the workers was not a priority. Loss of fingers and eyes were common. The coins carried the face of the monarch and if anyone were to tamper, forge or shave off the silver from the edges of the coin were punished for treason.
My Timeless Footsteps says: Join one of the Beefeater Tours which is FREE. They run for 45 minutes and is filled with facts, gory details and humour. More details in Useful information below.
5 | The White Tower at the Tower of London is An Armoury
Over the years, the Royal Palace became to be used as a storage facility. The Royal Armoury began life occupying buildings within the Tower, storing arms and artillery even as early as the existence of the White Tower itself. However, the first recorded items to the Tower Armouries was in 1498. Today, you can visit, admire and explore the magnificent collection of royal arms and historical artefacts of armouries in the White Tower. A long flight of spiral staircase from the third floor to the basement takes you to the Storehouse.
My Timeless Footsteps says: The spiral staircase has a lot of steps and rather narrow at some curves. Not wheelchair accessible.
Below are just a few photos to give you an idea of what it looks like.
All images © mytimelessfootsteps | Image by Georgina_Daniel
Learn more on the history of the Royal Armouries here
My Timeless Footsteps says: Admission to the Royal Armouries in the White Tower is included in your entry ticket to the Tower of London. You can purchase your ticket here.
6 | The Tower of London is home to the Crown Jewels
As the most secure castle in the land, the fortress as well as a royal palace, The Tower of London was the one place best suited to protect the Crown Jewels. The Tower of London is home to The Jewel House which now guards the Crown Jewels.
6.1 | The Jewel House
The Jewel House is a 14th century vault in the Waterloo block. This Jewel House also known as Jewel Tower, was built between 1365 and 1366 which means it is around 653 years old. Initially built to house King Edward III’s jewels and treasures, the Jewel House carried the passionate tag as the “King’s Privy Wardrobe”.
Today, the Jewel House stands to protect a collection of 23,578 gemstones which are still used in ceremonies such as the State Opening of Parliament. The Crown Jewels signify the royal authority to lead and protect the nation.
If you are passionate about history, a visit to the Jewel House will not disappoint. Your visit will take you through three different rooms of exhibition where you will see the Coronation Spoon which is said to originate during the second half of the 11th century, the Sword of Spiritual Justice (Royal Collection Trust; read more here) that is identified as being from the early 17th century (read more here), the Plymouth Fountain from c. 1640 (read more here) and many, many more. My favourite, without a doubt was the Koh-i-Noor (see below). Be prepared to be dazzled!
Koh-i-Noor is a Persian word and means “mountain of light” – it is the most famous diamond in the world and in human history.
There is controversy over the ownership of the Koh-i-Noor – India would like to have it back. For a full historical background to this controversy, you may wish to purchase Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
Photographs are not allowed for obvious reasons of security, so I have below pictures and information from the Historic Royal Palaces.
6.2 | Some of the Royal Collection which I viewed
This exquisite spoon is an 11th century Coronation spoon used in the anointing of the monarch with holy oil. It was returned to Charles II by the man who bought it in the sell-off, who wished to get back into the new king’s good books. Thanks to him, this medieval spoon survives, alone among the sacred regalia.
Image: The ‘new’ (1661) eagle-shaped Ampulla , which contains the fragrant holy oil used to anoint the new monarch, and the ancient Coronation Spoon. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
The Coronation Regalia is a powerful symbol. It is a group of precious and highly symbolic objects used since 1661 to crown sovereigns of England.
These objects shown in this image were made after the restoration of the monarchy, for the coronation of Charles II in 1661. Many were used for the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.
Image: Charles II Coronation Regalia, Royal Collection Trust / © HM Queen Elizabeth II 2017
St Edward’s Crown
The most important and sacred Crown
St Edward’s Crown is the most important and sacred of all the crowns. It is only used at the moment of crowning itself. This solid gold crown was made for the coronation of Charles II to replace the medieval crown melted down in 1649. This original crown was thought to date back to the 11th-century saint-king Edward the Confessor.
From 1661 to the early 20th century, this crown was only ever adorned with hired gems, which were returned after the coronation.
In 1911, St Edward’s Crown was permanently set with semi-precious stones for the coronation of George V.
Image: St Edward’s Crown, 1661. The magnificent solid gold frame makes it a very heavy and tiring crown to wear, even briefly, as it weighs 2.23kg (nearly 5lbs). © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates
The Imperial State Crown
Although this is one of the newer items in the regalia, the Imperial State Crown (1937) contains some of the most historic jewels in the collection, which have attracted many legends.
For example, the ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’, set into the cross at the front of the crown is actually a balas or spinel, a semi-precious stone said to be the same stone owned by Pedro the Cruel, King of Castile, before he gave it to Edward, Prince of Wales (known as the Black Prince) in 1367 as a reward for helping him defeat a rival in battle.
The Imperial State Crown is the crown that the monarch wears as they leave Westminster Abbey after the coronation. It is also used on formal occasions, most notably the State Opening of Parliament.
The Imperial State Crown contains 2,868 diamonds, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, 269 pearls and 4 rubies!
Image: © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2001/Prudence Cuming Associates
Lovely gems of the show
The Crown Jewels contain some of the world’s most exceptional diamonds, shown here with the blue Stuart Sapphire.
This sapphire was reputedly smuggled out of the country by James II when he fled in 1688. It now adorns the back of the Imperial State Crown (1937).
The magnificent Cullinan I (top left, 530.2 carats) is the world’s largest top quality white cut diamond. The huge uncut stone was discovered in South Africa in 1905, and was cut to create nine major stones and 96 smaller brilliants in all. Cullinan II (bottom right, 317.4 carats), the second largest stone, is now set into the front band of the Imperial State Crown.
The history of the Koh-i-Nûr (or ‘Mountain of Light’) diamond is steeped in myth and anecdote. Discovered in 15th-century India, it was passed from ill-fated male hand to hand, until it earned a reputation of bringing bad luck to men. It was presented to Queen Victoria in 1849. It now adorns the front of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Crown (1837)
Image: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Info unedited from: https://hrp.org.uk/
My Timeless Footsteps says: The entry ticket to the Tower of London includes entry to the Jewel House. It is reasonably priced at £24.75 and is valid for one day – take a look here.
My Timeless Footsteps suggests: Plan your visit to the Jewel House, either first thing in the morning, or towards the end of the day. Anything in between, you may encounter a queue. The Exhibition is on ground level, no stairs whatsoever! Possibly wheelchair accessible.
My Timeless Footsteps says: Plan your visit and make the most of your day. Read more on 5 Reasons Why Travel Planning is Important and Pretravel Planning-25 Top Tips for a Stress-free Vacation
Visiting the Jewel House is definitely a highlight and I would highly recommend that you do too. There is more a reason to do so if you were visiting the Tower of London as once in a lifetime occasion/bucket list experience. You would not want to miss walking in the footsteps of history at the Jewel House. Do not let the queue put you off from visiting the Jewel House – just plan your visit and make the most of your day.
So far, I have listed the significance of the Tower of London as a fortress and as a palace. Now come along with me and discover why it is more famously known for stories of those who have gone beyond the walls and never came out – a Prison and a place of torture.
7 | Tower of London as a Prison and a place of Torture – Discover the stories behind the walls of the Tower of London
Besides being a mighty fortress, and a palace, the Tower of London was an infamous prison, a place of torture and executions. The Tower of London was a symbol of fear. Many men and women, including royals and the famous, rich and poor who entered the walls were never returned to the outside world. Ghosts of many are said to haunt the castle corridors. With over 1000 years of history, there are many stories to be told. Here are just a few.
7.1 | The Bloody Tower
The Bloody Tower is one of the twenty-one towers that makes up the Tower of London Castle. It was constructed between 1238 and 1272, during the first phase of modifications under King Henry III. It has a basement just like many of the towers during that era. The Bloody Tower is infamous for the many torture that took place in the “torture basement” and for the deaths as well as royal tragedy.
My Timeless Footsteps says: The torture basement is signposted but can be easily missed. The entrance is narrow, dark and a few steps down, you will come to face the torture devices. For some it can give the chills. Stands displayed is the RACK torture device and information on SCAVENGER’S DAUGHTER which is another form of torture. Both are extreme. **Personally, I will not recommend for children to visit this basement.
The Bloody Tower was originally known as the Garden Tower because the upper storey opens up to the Constable’s Garden which was later transformed to a parade ground. It is unclear how the tower inherited the name “Bloody” but it is suspected following the murder of Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses in 1471 while some say it was from Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland who committed suicide within its walls, in 1585.
7.1.1 | The famous prisoner at the Bloody Tower
The most famous prisoner of the Bloody Tower was Sir Walter Raleigh. He was an Englishman, an officer, an explorer and a poet who fell from grace and was imprisoned by James I.
Sir Walter Raleigh was denied his liberty but not his comfort. He was assigned two rooms on the second floor of the Bloody Tower. His family could visit and he could grow plants. He was in captivity for thirteen years. During his imprisonment he wrote a book, “History of the World” which was published in 1614. Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded four years later in 1618 at the Old Palace Yard, Palace of Westminster.
Walter Raleigh, © akg-images / De Agostini Picture Library
Now, after 400 years since his execution, a visit to the Bloody Tower reveals a complex and a brilliant man, who famously introduced “potato” to English tables, and less famously, tobacco. It all appears that he was just an adventurous man whose spirit was crushed by imprisonment.
7.1.2 | Murder and Mystery at the Bloody Tower
Despite the many prisoners who had seen their last days in the Bloody Tower, I think by far the saddest and most gruesome of events that made the Bloody Tower infamous was the mysterious disappearance of the two young princes.
The two Princes, Edward V and his younger brother, Richard Duke of York – sons to King Edward IV were under the guardianship of their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester who was their Lord Protector. They were brought to the Tower of London and was confined to the walls of the Bloody Tower. According to the Yeoman Warder tour I joined, the Princes may have watched from the top floor windows of the Bloody Tower the Coronation procession of their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester, proclaimed as King Richard III when it should have been Edward V, the older prince. The two Princes were last seen alive in June 1483. Mystery surrounds their disappearance.
The two Princes, Edward V and his younger brother, Richard Duke of York – sons to King Edward IV . The two Princes were last seen alive in June 1483. Mystery surrounds their disappearance.
Photo credit hrp.org.uk
It is said that their disappearance is so because they were murdered in the late summer of 1483. However, there are conflicting theories as to who ordered their murders.
According to the traditionalists theory, it is believed that the Princes were killed on their uncle Richard’s orders. On the other hand, the revisionists argue that his successor, Henry VII had equal cause to remove the two Princes, as they stood as much in his path to the throne as they did in Richard’s. (Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 by the Lancastrian Henry Tudor, who ascended to the throne as King Henry VII.
About two-hundred years or so later since the disappearance of the Princes from the Bloody Tower, skeletons were discovered behind the stairs leading to the White Tower in 1674. These were later removed to the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey at the command of Charles II.
My Timeless Footsteps says: There are inundated stories of the Tower being haunted by the many poor souls who lost their lives here. One such story/legend is that the Bloody Tower is haunted by the ghosts of the two princes. It was reported back in the 15th century where the Tower Guards spotted shadows of two small figures gliding down the stairs in white night shirts. The figures were said to stand silently, hand in hand, before fading back into the stones of the Bloody Tower.
The skeletons were re-examined in 1933. It proved to be those of two boys aged about 12 and 10, the same ages as the Princes when they disappeared. The disappearance of the Princes still remains a cold case as to who was responsible for their death. I have not delve deeper into this mystery but it has certainly captivated my interest and hope to research further in the future.
7.2 | The Tower of London as State Prison
Although the Tower of London was not built to serve as a prison, for over 800 years, men and women were sent to the Tower. Some stayed for only a few days, others for many years, uncertain of their fate. The Tower became a state prison, especially under the Tudors. We already know the fate of Sir Walter Raleigh and the tragedy of the Princes at the Bloody Tower. The Queens House was used for royals and high-ranking prisoners. Even in the 20th century, German spies were brought here and shot.
7.3 | The Queen’s House Prisoners
Notable prisoners of the Queen’s House were Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn, and Guy Fawkes. The Queen’s House was built in 1530s during the reign of Henry VIII and is said that he probably built it for his second queen, Anne Boleyn who resided there before her coronation in 1533. Ironically, she also stayed there before her execution in 1536. Her lodgings is said to have become uninhabitable and was torn down. The Queen’s House that we see today was built in the 1540s.
The architecture of the Queen’s House is completely different to the rest of the Tower buildings made of bricks and stones. This Tudor style, half-timbered house is said to be one of the oldest of Tudor houses remaining in Britain. The Queen’s House is presently home to the Resident Governor of the Tower of London and guarded by the Royal Guard.
My Timeless Footsteps says: The beauty of this old architecture for me is that, I don’t find architecture of such delight anymore, with such care and skill and “heart” to details. I am glad that this “old” is preserved not as a museum but as living “breathing” and an on-going place.
7.3.1 | Lady Jane Grey
Lady Jane Grey was queen for nine days – the shortest reign in British history. She was just seventeen years old when she was executed at the Tower Green.
Lady Jane Grey on her Procession to the Tower
Jane was wearing a green velvet dress embroidered in gold, with a long train carried by her mother.
Her headdress was white, heavily decorated with jewels, and on her neck a chinclout (a type of scarf) ‘of black velvet, striped with small chains of gold, garnished with small pearls, small rubies and small diamonds … furred with sables and having thereat a chain of gold enamelled green, garnished with certain pearls.’
Lady Jane Grey (1536-54) after a painting by Herbert Norris, © Lebrecht Music & Arts/Alamy Stock Photo
7.3.2 | Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes was one of thirteen conspirators who wanted to blow-up Parliament. He was found hiding in the cellars of the Parliament surrounded by 36 barrels of gunpowder. Fawkes was imprisoned and tortured in the Queen’s House at the Tower of London.
Fawkes and the other plotters suffered a grisly traitor’s death: they were hanged, drawn and quartered, with their body parts then displayed throughout London as a warning to others.
Image by artist Sue Kerr, Courtesy of St Peter’s Foundation, reproduced by kind permission
The Fifth of November
The conspiracy to blow-up Parliament became famously known as the Gunpowder Plot. The very night the plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has become known as Bonfire Night.
To commemorate the failure of Guy Fawkes, Bonfire Night in the UK is celebrated on every 5th of November, with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire. As it is celebrated outdoors, there are soups, sausages, baked potatoes and the traditional Parkin cake available. Parkin Cake, is a sticky cake containing a mix of oatmeal, ginger, treacle and syrup.
7.3.3 | Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 as the second wife of King Henry VIII. They were married for three years and three months. She could not give Henry a son, an heir to his throne. Anne is often known as ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’. She was accused of adultery and was executed at Tower Green. She is buried at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
Anne has left no voice of her own, so no-one really knows how she felt and why she became queen-was she a ruthless schemer like her enemies make her out to be or was she a tragic consequence of politics.
Portrait credit to © National Portrait Gallery, London
There is a plaque dedicated to Anne Boleyn near the spot where she was executed. A permanent memorial is erected near the execution spot and dedicated to all those who were executed at the Tower Green.
It is hard to find even the simplest statements of Anne Boleyn during her life as Queen. Anne was literally wiped out of history books at least for the remainder of Henry VIII’s reign. All the portraits of Anne that exist now were created by her daughter, Elizabeth I during her reign. Unbiased descriptions of Anne were written after her death, though this is a rare find.
The ghost of Anne Boleyn is regarded as one of the most famous in Britain and has reportedly been seen many times at the Tower of London especially around Tower Green where she was executed. Anne is also regarded as “The most well travelled ghost in Britain” because she is regularly seen around Salle Church, Blickling Hall, Marwell Hall and Hever Castle – “often seen the way she was in life: happy, young and beautiful.” Read more on Anne Boleyn’s ghost sightings by the Haunted Rooms here
7.4 | The Beauchamp Tower
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland and his four sons – one of the sons was Guildford Dudley, the husband to Lady Jane Grey were imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower. (More on the Beauchamp Tower, below)
The Beauchamp Tower, Tower of London is next to the right of the Queen’s House. The Dudley’s were imprisoned here.
© mytimelessfootsteps | Image by Georgina_Daniel
7.5 | Other prisoners
You may wish to know more about the German spies and you can access information here and of the last person to be executed at the Tower was Josef Jakobs, also a German spy at the end of WWII.
8 | Discovery of Graffiti in the Beauchamp Tower
I discovered the Beauchamp Tower on my most recent visit as I retraced my footsteps in London. I have been to Tower of London many times before but had never visited this tower. It was built between 1275 – 1281 by King Edward I primarily to house prisoners. It was named after it’s first prisoner, Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
What is famous about this tower is the graffiti on the wall left by prisoners. These inscriptions were made during the 16th and 17th century when the religious and political turmoil was at a height and the prison was home to many high-ranking and important prisoners such as the Dudleys, William Tyrrel and Thomas Peverel. Some of these inscriptions are bold reflecting painstaking carving while others are thin and somewhat spidery. They are a few that seem to cluster in specific locations of the Tower.
All images © mytimelessfootsteps | by Georgina_Daniel
These sombre inscriptions represents thoughts of the prisoners and a powerful need to leave some form of record of their existence. A record, so they are not lost forever. It is an assertion of their beliefs and identity but above all, a strong will of defiance not to be cowed by political and religious tyranny. Some prisoners were held in gloomy cells, while others could move freely within the Tower grounds. Their treatment and fate depended on their social status and their crime.
My Timeless Footsteps says: When I visited, there were a number of people here so I could not take a closer look at the graffiti. I am intrigued by these inscriptions and am motivated to discover more on this part of history at the Tower of London.
One thing to bear in mind when visiting here is the narrow entrance and the narrow spiral stairway – there is only one of these, so visitors going up as well as those exiting the exhibition use it. If you are at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for the moment to get up – don’t! Don’t wait because you shall be waiting for a long time (like I did!) and others behind you will get ahead of you regardless of your politeness!
Entry to the permanent exhibition in the Beauchamp Tower is included in the entry ticket to the Tower of London. It is reasonably priced at £24.75 and is valid for one day – take a look here.
9 | Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula at Tower of London
The Parish church of St Peter ad Vincula in the Inner Ward of the Tower of London is a quaint and unique place of worship with an extraordinary history.
This Tudor chapel dates from 1520 but it is said that there had been a place of worship at this spot for over a thousand years, predating the White Tower itself. During the Victorian renovations in the 18th century the resting places of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey were discovered in the chancel, near the altar. This led to the chapel gaining its reputation as the “saddest spot on earth”. This discovery led to the permanent memorial for Anne Boleyn and others to be dedicated at Tower Green. The Chapel you see today is the result of extensive renovations carried out in 1970-71 and in 2014.
My Timeless Footsteps says: There is a certain warmth here despite its sad history. It is airy and seems to have the right amount of light coming through. I noticed not many visitors to the Tower came here possibly because it is tucked away from the other main/touristy parts of the grounds. I would highly recommend that you don’t miss it when you visit.
Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula is open to the public for worships and visits. You can book it for private functions such as baptisms and weddings. Sunday Services at the Chapel: 09:15 a.m. – Holy Communion | 11:00 a.m. – Mattins & Sermon.
10 | The Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London
The building that is the Fusilier Museum at the Tower of London is also home to the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers’ Regimental Headquarters and the Officer’s Mess, where formal dinners take place.
The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was formed on 20th June 1685, when King James II issued a Royal Warrant to raise an infantry force from the existing Tower of London Garrison. The first Commanding Officer was the Constable of the Tower. The Fusiliers’ intended role was to guard the guns at the Tower of London. The force later fought in Belgium and Spain, and in the American War of Independence.
Notable exhibits here are the:
- 12 Victoria Cross Medals won by the Regiment;
- The uniform and bearskin of King George V (a former Colonel-in-Chief of the Regiment);
- An Eagle Standard of the 82nd Regiment of the French Line captured by the Royal Fusiliers during the Napoleonic Wars.
Today, garrison duties are undertaken by the Yeoman Warders and a rota made of three London District regiments.
Entry to the Fusilier Museum is included in the entry ticket to the Tower of London. It is reasonably priced at £24.75 and is valid for one day – take a look here. However, you may wish to purchase combined tickets that allows a visit to several attractions over a few days. Personally, I find these combined tickets to be extremely good value for money and offers flexibility that I need over several days. Take a look at one such example for London, here.
11 | Other points of Interest at the Tower of London
St Thomas’s Tower is one of the three towers that forms the Medieval Palace. The other two are Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower. Built by Edward I between 1275-1279, it was formerly a royal residence. Richly decorated, comfortable and grand.
© mytimelessfootsteps | Image by Georgina_Daniel
Traitors’ Gate was originally called Water Gate. It was built in the late 1270s and was used by Edward I and other royals to get into St. Thomas’s Tower by water. The Tower began to be used as a prison, more so for prisoners accused of treason, who were brought to the Tower by water. The name “Traitor’s Gate” was first used in 1544.
© mytimelessfootsteps | Image by Georgina_Daniel
12 | Fun for Family & Kids
Explore and discover the 1,000 year old history of the Tower of London on a family fun day out together with your kids – There are activity trails and digital mission which you can complete with your kids. Activity Trails are filled with fun quizzes, activities, facts and illustrations – available throughout the year.
Digital missions are interactive adventures played on a mobile device. Kids can meet characters from history, solve problems by tackling a series of challenges which helps with exploring the Tower.
Thoughts so far…
The Tower of London has attracted much attention due to a mixture of its legends/myths of ghosts and the fearsome reputation it holds for inflicting torture on its prisoners. The prisoners who enter the walls of the Tower never really return to the outside world. However, according to history, torture was used only for relatively a short period of time during the Tudor era in the midst of political turmoil.
Although the Tower of London is no longer used as a prison, it is still a place that attracts much attention from tourists or local visitors because of its dark history and legends. It is now a secure “storage” unit for documents, armaments and jewels. However, this is only part of the story that makes Tower of London a #1 destination to visit. The more entertaining part lies in the 700 year old traditions of the castle itself which are fascinating and incredible. As a tourist/visitor to the Tower of London, you simply have to witness it at least once.
There is so much more to see and experience at the Tower of London where you would want to feel the money’s worth. For many visitors, the Tower of London is a must see attraction and you may not wish to spend a lot of time waiting in line to purchase tickets. To maximise your time as a visitor to the Tower of London, you could purchase your ticket/s online and avoid this wait. Prior to my Annual Membership with the Historic Royal Palaces, I often purchased these day tickets or combined tickets that allows a visit to several attractions over a few days. I do still look for combined tickets to attractions not covered by the membership. I find these combined tickets to be extremely good value for money and offers flexibility that I need over several days. Take a look at one such example for London, here.
13 | Traditions at the Tower of London
As a preserved heritage and a living fortress that is continuously adapting to changes in time, there are traditions here which have been observed for almost 700 years that you do not want to miss. The following are just snippets of the traditions observed at the Tower. A longer version in the form of Part II to the Tower of London series will be published soon in the coming months – it will be a fabulous one and you would not want to miss that! Stay tuned.
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13.1 | The Yeoman Warders aka Beefeaters
Yeoman Warders affectionately known as Beefeaters are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. They have been guarding the Tower of London from the time of Henry VIII. They are retired personnel of the Armed Forces comprising of thirty-seven men and women.
Yeoman Warders, popularly known as “Beefeaters”, you will find them within the Tower grounds in their everyday “undress” uniform in dark blue. This uniform was introduced in the 19th century. More on the Yeoman Warders in Part 2.
13.2 | The Ceremony of the Keys
One of the best known and colourful tradition at the Tower of London is The Ceremony of the Keys – the ceremonial locking and unlocking of the gates of the fortress, which has taken place nearly each night since the mid 1300s. The gates are locked as the clock strikes 10. You can attend and observe this ceremony if you wish – more on this in my next blog.
13.3 | The Constable’s Dues
The Constable’s Dues is one of the perks traditionally enjoyed by the Constable of the Tower. When a ship comes upstream to moor at Tower Wharf, the Captain must present the Constable with a barrel of wine – the Dues. Once delivered, the barrel is open and the wine enjoyed.
13.4 | Gun Salutes
The first recorded royal salutes was in 1533 to mark the coronation of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife. Since then, gun salutes have marked several royal occasions including 62-gun salutes fired for The Queen’s Birthday, 41-gun salutes fired at the State Opening of Parliament and for royal births – Prince George in 2013, Princess Charlotte in 2015 and Prince Louis in 2018.
14 | The Tower Guard
The Tower Guard are part of the Regiment on Guard at Buckingham Palace and St James’ Palace.
They are serving military personnel, and they work alongside the Yeoman Warders to protect the Crown Jewels and the security of the Tower of London.
When you visit the Tower of London, there are opportunities for you to observe their inspection, or watch them being posted, receiving orders and change every two hours.
The sentries are posted outside the Jewel House and the Queen’s House. The sentry outside the Queen’s House is a silent post – he does not stamp his feet or make loud noises because he could disturb the occupants. These sentries on duty could not smile even if they wanted to due to their strict protocol.
Ceremonies involving the Tower Guards at the Tower of London
There are three key ceremonies daily at the Tower where the The Tower Guard play a key role: Ceremonial Opening of the Tower in the morning at 09:00; the Ceremony of the Word which takes place at 15:00 where The Officer of The Guard and escort, march to the Byward Tower to collect the Word. The Word is the daily changing password for after-hours entry to the Tower of London, used by Tower staff, residents and the soldiers on duty; The Ceremony of the Keys is where a Guard escorts the Chief Yeoman Warder to secure the Tower at exactly seven minutes to 22:00 every night.
15 | Ravens at the Tower of London
According to legend/myth, the Tower of London is protected by six resident Ravens and if the Ravens ever left the Castle, the Kingdom will fall!
Legend has it that Charles II’s astronomer, John Flamstead complained that the Ravens were interfering with his observations from the White Tower. Charles II ordered the birds destruction, but then heard the prophecy that the Tower and the Kingdom would fall if the Ravens ever left. He changed his mind and ordered that the Ravens should stay, under royal protection.
However, there is no evidence of this story, and is considered as just another of the Tower’s intriguing myths. (More fun facts on the Tower Ravens in my next blog.
My Timeless Footsteps says: If you want to know more about the legend of the Tower Ravens, the “Yeoman Warder Raven Talks” takes place daily until 30th November at 11:00 and 13:30
16 | Walk along the Perimeter of the Tower of London for views of London’s Skyline
Finally, don’t forget to walk along the perimeter of the Tower for some amazing views of London’s skyline, even if the sign says, “No Entry”.
My final say…
No journey to England is ever complete, in my opinion, without a visit to at least one ancient castle. I highly recommend the Tower of London. As you can see, the Tower of London has been many things in its life – a rich, complex and diverse institution popularly known as a “fortress, a palace and a prison.” It’s role as a prison, the centre for torture and execution as do the ghost stories had and continues to intrigue and attract visitors from all over the globe. Some of the Tower’s traditions such as the Ceremony of the Keys, the need to maintain six ravens and the Yeoman Warders are still very much present today – more on this in Part 2.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this post on the historical significance of the Tower of London and agree that it is The Best Guide to What you Need to Know on this ancient castle. If you do, please leave a comment below, I would love to know what your views are. If it was not helpful, you can say that, too. Either way, I would love to hear from you.
Useful information for when you visit the Tower of London
Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB
Tickets & Prices:
Buying online is cheaper and convenient. Entry to Tower of London includes entry to the Crown Jewels Exhibition, the White Tower and the Beauchamp Tower.
Don’t fancy a DIY vacation? Hakuna matata! We all need different experiences and/or a combination of both – where someone takes care of everything. These guys are great at organising all-in-one package holidays/vacations. Take a look…
My walking route from Tower Hill Station to Tower of London
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