Facts About the Tower of London (with Photos)
The Tower of London is at the center of nearly all of the dramatic history of London. Many facts about London's people, executions, tragedies, and tyrannies that are seemingly unconnected to each other, have intertwined themselves in this old stone fortress. What are these facts about the Tower of London, and how do they all fit together? Following is a collection of my photos and facts journaling some of the most interesting details of the Tower's story.
Tower of London Architecture Facts
The Tower of London consists of:
- The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror to protect the Normans from those who lived in the surrounding villages. Standing 90 ft. high, this is the oldest portion of the Tower of London, and is identifiable by its four turrets --one of which has a circular stairway-- as well as its off-white corner "trim" in puzzle-piece brick-a-brack. St. John's chapel is the only part of the interior of the White Tower that has retained its original appearance, and is also one of the only beautifully preserved pieces of early Norman church architecture in existence today.
- The Inmost Ward, which was a luxurious dwelling quarter for King Henry the Third during the early 12th century.
Garden Tower Facts
- The Inner Ward is the space within the Inner Wall that circles around and contains the White Tower and the Inmost Ward. This wall has a total of thirteen towers. The largest of these towers, the Wakefield Tower, was the scene of the murder of King Henry the Sixth as he was praying. Other towers on this wall include Lanthorn, Salt, Broad Arrow, Constable, Martin (where the Crown Jewels were kept until 1842), Brick, Bowyer, Flint, Devereux, Beauchamp, Bell (which is the oldest tower), and the Bloody (or Garden) Tower.
- The Outer Ward is the space between the Inner Ward and the final outside wall (before the now dry moat). The Outer Wall completely contains the Inner Wall, and has five towers on it, all of which face the River Thames (Byward Tower, St. Thomas's Tower, Cradle Tower, Well Tower, and Develin Tower).
- The Jewel House is the well guarded residence of the Crown Jewels and many other valuable treasures of historical and royal importance. You'll want to step inside and view the glittering diadems if you have the time!
- The Royal Armories contain a large collection of (mostly Tudor) arms and armor, beautifully etched and fitted.
- The Torture Chambers were in the "basement" of the Tower's inner courtyard, under the court green. Now they have been turned into gift shops, but it is not hard to imagine the dank and earthy smell of the Tower of London torture chambers under the bright lawn.
- The Traitor's Gate is a low and barred entrance on the Thames River by which they rowed "traitors" (prisoners) into the fortress.
- The Tower Bridge starts at the Tower of London and crosses the Thames River.
Facts on Famous Tower of London Prisoners
The most memorable Tower prisoner was Queen Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry the Eighth. He decided he did not want her anymore because she could not give him the boy heir he desired. To divorce her, he accused Anne of adultery with one of his courtiers. Most accounts agree that Anne was innocent, but King Henry imprisoned and executed Anne anyway. The evidence of this was far below the just requirement of the testimony of one or two witnesses: a handkerchief dropped by Anne at a festival was picked up by a servant of the king, kissed reverently, and handed back to Anne. The king decided this was proof of adultery, and Anne was executed.
The most tragic Tower victim was the Protestant Lady Jane Grey. This story tells of another tyrannical, selfish monarch, Queen "Bloody" Mary, the first daughter of King Henry the Eighth, mentioned just before. Bloody Mary had just ascended the throne in spite of the former king's request that Lady Jane take the throne after him. The former king was the only son of King Henry, a boy king of a weak and sickly constitution but with Protestant loyalties. For nine days, Lady Jane Grey was considered Queen of England, but before her ascension to the throne, however, Mary had rallied enough supporters around her to convince Parliament to declare herself the Queen. The result was Mary sending Lady Jane Grey to the Tower, though Lady Jane had no intention of fighting for the disputed throne and would have much rather led a quiet life than be queen at all. Lady Jane Grey, a highly educated, devout Protestant Christian and innocent of all designs for the throne, was executed by beheading soon after.
Other interesting characters held in the Tower of London include:
- Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, a Welsh Prince, who fell to his death from his prison in the Tower.
- The Duke of Orléans, Charles I de Valois, who was an accomplished writer of 500 poems, all composed during his 25 year captivity after his part in the Battle of Agincourt.
- King David II and John Balliol of Scotland.
- Thomas More, executed and buried at the Tower.
- Henry Laurens, 3rd President of America's Continental Congress.
- Queen Elizabeth the First, (before she became queen) was imprisoned only two months because she was falsely thought to have been involved in a rebellion.
- Sir Walter Raleigh, imprisoned in comfort with his wife and two children, wrote a history book and kept a garden on Tower Green.
- Guy Fawkes, a silly man with a silly name, was captured for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, confessed to it, but escaped and fell to his death from the scaffold before he could be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
- The last national prisoner was a Nazi German deputy leader named Rudolf Hess, held in 1941.
- The last prisoners to be held in the Tower of London were the Kray Twins in 1954, held for only a few days because of their refusal to report to national service. I wonder if I would get to stay in the Tower of London if I did the same thing?
The Beefeaters and the Ravens
The Beefeaters are more officially known as the Yeomen Wardens, and over the years their duties have ranged from guarding prisoners to guarding jewels, from escorting and guarding prisoners to escorting and guarding tourists. Their stories and gruff jokes set them apart as a tourist attraction in their own right. The name "Beefeaters" was given because the Yeomen Wardens were always handed a slab of beef as payment for their service.
The Ravens are cared for by a designated Yeomen Warden, who builds a relationship with each raven from birth. Legend says that at least six ravens have to be kept in the Tower of London at all times, for if at any time the ravens depart from the Tower, the kingdom will fall. In all honesty, the ravens were probably originally a part of the Tower's infrastructure because of the abundance of raw or decaying flesh that the gruesome Tower housed at one time. The current ravens range from eighteen to two years old, and feed more on the scraps of fish and chips tossed out by the tourists than on anything else.
© 2010, 2013 Jane Grey