Tower of London
Tower of London is a whole complex of buildings. During its long history the complex has performed a variety of functions – it was an arsenal, a royal palace, a prison, an observatory and even a mint. These days, the Tower of London is above all known for the fact that its walls keep the jewels of the British crown. The construction of the White Tower was started in 1078 by order of William the Conqueror. Over the centuries, the fortress has grown and expanded, and new buildings have appeared in it. Then a moat with water was dug around it. White Tower in the center of the fortress seems to have a square shape, but in fact all of its sides have the same length. During its long history the Tower of London has seen many famous prisoners and horrible crimes. Nowadays, the Tower of London is a popular tourist destination that attracts visitors by the jewelry collection of the British Crown and a large collection of weapons and armor.
Where's Tower of London located?
To be a little more exact it is on the banks of the Thames on the left bank, slightly on the east of the city. It is right next to the famous Tower Bridge, the famous London Tower Bridge.
How to Get
Address: Tower Hill, London EC3N 4AB
Metro: Tower Hill – 0.1 miles (straight line)
London Bridge (Northern, Jubilee)
Buses: 8, 9, 11, 15, 15B, 22B, 25, 133 and 501.
Winter (1 November 2018 – 28 February 2019)
Tuesday – Saturday 9.00am – 4.30pm
Sunday – Monday 10.00am – 4.30pm
Last admission: 4.00pm
Summer (1 March 2019 – 31 October 2019)
Tuesday – Saturday 9.00am – 5.30pm
Sunday – Monday 10.00am – 5.30pm
Last admission: 5.00pm
Founded nearly a millennium ago, The Tower of London has been expanded upon over the centuries by many a king and queen. The first foundations were laid in 1078 and the castle has been constantly improved and extended.
The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe. The origins of the Tower begin with the Norman invasion of England. William, Duke of Normandy met King Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14 October 1066. The Duke’s Norman warriors won the battle, and William was crowned king on Christmas Day.
William was a foreigner in a land he did not yet firmly control. He needed a stronghold to keep the rebellious citizens of London in line. The site William chose for his castle was the very same site upon which Claudius, the Roman Emperor, had built a fortress more than a thousand years before, and traces of the old Roman walls can still be seen within the Tower grounds.
The addition of other smaller towers, extra buildings, walls and walkways, gradually transformed the original building into the splendid example of a castle, fortress, prison, palace and finally museum that we enjoy today.
The Tower began as a simple timber and stone enclosure. The original structure was completed by the addition of a ditch and palisade along the north and west sides. Within this enclosure, a stone structure was built. This stone building came to be called The Great Tower.
Around the year 1240 King Henry III made the Tower of London his home. He whitewashed the Great Tower, widened the grounds to include a church, and added a great hall and other buildings. The Normans called the tower ‘La Tour Blanche’ (White Tower) on account of its whitewashed exterior.
The White Tower formed the basis of a residential palace and fortress suited for a king or queen, and the Tower of London became an all-purpose complex.
Originally the caps at the top of the White Tower’s four turrets were conical, but were replaced by the present onion-shaped ones in the sixteenth century. Henry III began to use the Tower as a prison, but at the same time he continued to use it as a palace where he entertained important guests. Many of these guests came with gifts of animals for the king. These gifts were kept near the drawbridge where Henry built Lion Tower; a royal zoo where visitors would be greeted by roaring beasts.
THE TOWER RAVENS
Today it houses the keeper of the Royal Ravens. The Tower of London ravens are flightless birds due to the fact their wings are clipped. This tradition relates to a superstition from the time of Charles II that when there are no longer ravens at the Tower both the White Tower and the Commonwealth of England will fall.
The Tower was a dynamic project for the monarchs of England. Kings and queens built upon the Tower over the centuries, adding walls and smaller towers (thirteen inner and six outer) and finally encircling the entire complex within a moat fed by the River Thames.
Today the official title of the Tower is still ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London‘ although there isn’t actually a single Tower of London. It is not quite known when the name was first used but through the ages ‘Tower of London’ has become the accepted term of description for the entire complex.
In part two of this series of articles on the Tower of London we’ll take a closer look at the history of the Tower, and some of the famous (and infamous) events that have transpired within its walls.
The Tower of London is not one structure but a complex of buildings begun during the time of William the Conqueror. Originally built as a fortress to keep hostile Londoners at bay it was also used to keep watch for enemies approaching along the River Thames. It has been used as a palace, a library, a mint, a treasury, a bank, an arsenal and an observatory, but is most famous as a prison.
There are several towers within the Tower of London, the oldest and most conspicuous being the White Tower, so named during the 13th-century when Henry III had it whitewashed. This is the central keep built by William the Conqueror and completed by his sons William Rufus and Henry I.
The walls of the White Tower are 15 feet thick and it stands 90 feet high. One of the four corner turrets housed the first royal observatory. The White Tower currently contains the Chapel of St John, where the Royal Family and their court worshipped and where knights of the Order of Bath spent a vigil the night before a king or queen was crowned. The White Tower also contains an exhibition of arms, armour and torture instruments.
The Middle Tower was built in the 13th century and its arched entrance was defended by a portcullis. The Bloody Tower was originally known as the Garden Tower. The name Bloody Tower can be traced back to 1571. It was here that the ‘Princes in the Tower’, Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were supposedly murdered in 1483 on orders from their uncle Richard III.
Many years later, during the reign of Charles II, two sets of bones of young boys were found under a stairway. The bodies were presumed to be those of the Princes in the Tower and were re-buried in Westminster Abbey. Since then the tower was dubbed the ‘Bloody Tower ‘.
In 1603 Sir Walter Raleigh became a prisoner here, and during his internment he wrote his History of the World. He was released in 1616 and died in 1618 when James I had him beheaded.
The Wakefield Tower is where Henry VI was brutally murdered in 1471, during the time of the ‘Wars of the Roses’. The pious king was stabbed to death while praying in a small chapel. The Wakefield Tower housed the Crown Jewels from 1879-1967.
Important prisoners were usually kept in Beauchamp Tower, where the interior walls are covered with graffiti carved by the prisoners. The most elaborate carving is a memorial to the five Dudley brothers, one of whom was Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of Lady Jane Grey. Both were executed in 1554.
The Tower Green is where two of Henry VIII’s queens and several other people were beheaded. It was a rare honour to be beheaded inside the tower walls; most people were executed outside on Tower Hill, so the crowds who enjoyed such events could get a better view.
The Traitor’s Gate was originally known as Water Gate but the name was changed when it began to be used as a landing place for boats bearing important political prisoners. For some unfortunate prisoners, their view of the water gate was their last glimpse of the outside world before execution.
German spies were executed in the courtyards during the two World Wars, and in 1941 Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess was imprisoned in the Tower.
The Jewel House is where you’ll find the Crown Jewels, a collection of gold, silver, precious stones and other royal regalia. The Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula is the oldest royal chapel in England. It is in this chapel that most of those who died on Tower Hill and six of the seven executed on Tower Green were laid to rest under flagstones without ceremony.
Between the Chapel and Tower Green is a small paved area where a scaffold was erected for beheadings. The six people beheaded on the site were three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey.
The Queens House built around 1530 by Henry VIII. It takes its name from the Victorian myth that it was built by Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife and mother of Elizabeth I. In actual fact, Anne spent the last 18 days of her life in the Queen’s Lodgings, an extension of the royal apartments which have since been torn down. On 19 May 1536 Queen Anne was taken from her lodgings and beheaded on Tower Green for alleged infidelity.
Queen’s House is used now as the Council Chamber and it is here that Guy Fawkes was interrogated before being tortured on the rack in the White Tower and signing a confession incriminating his fellow conspirators in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Adjoining the Council Chamber is a room in which William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, was once a prisoner.
The Martin Tower was built by Henry III and is famous as the scene of Colonel Thomas Blood’s attempt to steal the crown jewels in 1671. Colonel Blood and his accomplices were interrupted in the act and taken prisoner.
The Salt Tower was built by Henry III around 1235. Later it was used as a prison for Jesuits. It also contains a number of carved inscriptions, the most notable one being a complicated diagram for casting horoscopes cut into the stone wall. In several places on the walls you can see a pierced heart, hand and foot, signifying the wounds of Christ with a cross and an H, a symbol used by Jesuits.
The Bell Tower was built in the 13th century. In the past when the bell at its top was rung in alarm, drawbridges were raised, the portcullises were dropped and gates were shut. The only time the bell is now rung is in the evening to warn visitors that it is time to leave. Prisoners were kept in the tower.
One of the most famous prisoners in the Bell Tower was Sir Thomas More, who was at one time a close friend of Henry VIII. More refused to acknowledge the validity of Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon or acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church. In consequence he was imprisoned in 1534. He was executed in July 1535 and buried in St Peter’s Chapel.
Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) was imprisoned here in 1554 by her half-sister Mary I on suspicion of being concerned in a plot against the throne.
Facts & Figuries
Fortress indeed! It would be quite difficult trying to get through the walls of the Tower, if you were so inclined. They’re a whopping 15 feet thick. To put that in perspective, just think about how tall you are, and then maybe double or even triple that number.
The Tower of London houses an extensive display of royal armour including several sets worn by Henry VIII. Some of the armour is beautifully decorated with gold leaf making it a wonderful mix of engineering and art. The armour cost the equivalent of a private jet in todays money and weighs about the same as all the kit worn by a modern combat soldier.
Other Attractions Nearby
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Where are British Royal Family jewels displayed or stored and who takes care of them? The Crown Jewels, such as the Imperial State Crown, when unused or not exposed, are stored in the Jewel House and in the Martin Tower, both in the Tower of London. There, also are located swords, mantles, scepters and royal orbs, besides the Coronation Spoon. All of these pieces are cared for by the Court Jeweler, receiving cleanings from specialist curators of the British Museum when necessary. The Royal Collection Trust, established by Queen Elizabeth II in 1993, is responsible for maintaining the inventory, and Historic Royal Palaces is responsible for mounting exhibits with this inventory in the Palaces. The George IV, State Diadem, when not used, is exhibited at the Queen's Gallery at Buckingham Palace. Because it is considered an important jewel, although it is part of the Queen's personal collection, it is also taken care of by the Court Jeweler. The regalia of the Prince of Wales, created especially for the investiture of Prince Charles in 1969 (since his great-uncle, the Duke of Windsor, had taken the previous regalia, containing the coronet of George, with him to the exile), belongs to the Honours of the Principality of Wales. It was on display at the National Museum of Wales from 1974 to 2011, when it was moved to the St James's Palace in London, where it is stored. The other two coronets, from Frederick (prior to George’s, made in 1728) and George (made in 1902), are in the Tower of London. Elizabeth II's personal jewels, including 98 brooches, 46 necklaces, 37 bracelets, 34 pairs of earrings, 15 rings, 14 watches and 5 pendants, inherited or acquired during her lifetime, are housed in Buckingham Palace itself in vaults. They are hardly exposed as they are part of the Queen's personal collection and are in full use. Occasionally, they receive expert care.