- Travel and Places
Tower of London
The Tower of London - A Dark and Sinister Place?
The Tower of London is one of the capital's best known and most popular visitor attractions, as well as a World Heritage site.
The Tower has had a dark and sinister reputation, although it was used as a palace for a while, it's also been a prison, a place of torture and of execution - notably by beheading with an axe. It's no wonder that many people have seen ghosts in the Tower.
Nowadays, visitors can see the places where executions took place, the Crown Jewels and the famous Yeoman Warders, nicknamed Beefeaters.
History of the Tower of London - - The Tower is Almost 1000 Years Old
Originally built by William the Conqueror to subdue and intimidate the local population, the oldest part of this medieval fortress dates from 1078. It was built to withstand attack and siege. The White Tower, in the centre of the fortification, has walls that are 15 feet thick at the bottom tapering to 11 feet in width at the top.
Although used by royalty as a residence, the Tower also has a dark and bloody history. It was here that the little princes were said to have been murdered on the orders of their uncle, Richard III. The building where their dead bodies were discovered was called the Garden Tower but thereafter was known as the Bloody Tower. In the same period Richard's brother, the Duke of Clarence, was tried and found guilty of treason. He was imprisoned in the Tower and died there. He was said to have been drowned in a vat of Malmsey.
Perhaps Henry VIII is most responsible for the Tower's infamous image. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was beheaded on Tower Green as was his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.
It wasn't only inconvenient wives that were executed in the Tower during Henry VIII's reign. Because he wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn and the Pope would not annul the marriage, he split from the Church of Rome. English priests were required to swear an Oath of Supremacy to the new Church of England and Henry's position as the head of it. Some refused. Amongst these were Thomas More and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, who were both imprisoned in the Tower and then executed. Thomas More was told that the King had decided to be merciful and More would not be hung, drawn and quartered as a traitor but instead would be beheaded. He said, "God forbid the King shall use any more such mercy on any of my friends."
Even Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chancellor and one of his closest advisors, became expendable in 1540. He had risen from humble beginnings, his father was a blacksmith, to become one of the highest in the land. This did not protect him, however. He was first imprisoned in the Tower and then beheaded there.
Executions and imprisonment in the Tower of London continued for about a further 200 years.
Read About the Tower of London... - The stories, history and legends
With such a long and important place in English history, there are so many interesting stories to be told about the Tower of London, some true, some legend, some mysterious and even creepy.
Historian Nigel Jones tells the story of the Tower of London through the centuries in this beautifully illustrated book, shown on the right.
Captain Blood and the Crown Jewels - The Story of His Daring Robbery
On 9th May 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood made his audacious attempt to steal the Crown Jewels kept in the Martin Tower on the inner wall of the Tower.
He had arranged to see the Jewels with his son and friend, Robert Perot. They overpowered the Jewel Housekeeper and then tied him up. Even so the keeper continued to struggle so they hit him and stabbed him.
The gang proceeded to take what they came for. They were not fussy about damaging the Crown Jewels either. Captain Blood crushed the Imperial State Crown and so that he could hide it under his cloak while his son started to saw the Sceptre in half. Robert Perot concealed the Orb his breeches.
They thought they were going to succeed with their daring robbery but the keeper's son returned unexpectedly and raised the alarm.
Captain Blood was arrested but somehow he managed to elude justice. For no apparent reason, King Charles II not only pardoned him but also him a pension. Very strange.
As a consequence of the attempted robbery, security was tightened, iron bars replaced the wooden ones around the Crown Jewels and visitors were no longer allowed to handle them.
Visit the Tower from your Armchair
This in-depth series explores the Tower's history using expert interviews, dramatic re-enactments and state-of-the-art CGI animation.
Watch the Ceremony of the Keys
The Ceremony of the Keys - A Ceremony Performed Daily for 700 Years
The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London has taken place every night for 700 years. It has taken place regardless of Civil War, plague, fire and World Wars.
For centuries the Tower was a royal palace and locking up was once essential for the protection of the reigning monarch and members of the court. Now, of course, there are the Crown Jewels to protect.
Interest Facts about the Ceremony of the Keys
* The Tower has served many functions over the centuries - Royal Palace, Royal Mint and home to the Crown Regalia - all of which made security a high priority. Thus, it was necessary to secure the building from dusk until dawn. Originally the Gentleman Porter would use an armed escort of soldiers to make his way through the grounds locking all possible entrances. These days the Chief Yeoman Warder is responsible.
* When the Duke of Wellington became Constable of the Tower in 1826 he altered the start time because it allowed the garrison some free time out on the town.
* The ceremony lasts just seven minutes. At precisely 21.53 the Chief Yeoman Warder, carrying the Keys of the Tower in one hand and a brass lantern in the other, collects his escort from the main body of the guard on duty within the Tower and proceeds to the entrance to secure the heavy wooden gates.
* The earliest known reference to the ceremony is contained in Regulations for the Officers and Servants Civil and Military which was issued by Mary Tudor on 12th October 1555.
* It is thought the ceremony is at least 700 years old and has certainly occurred every night without fail for many years. During the Second World War several bombs fell on the Tower. In September 1941 it is recorded that following a direct hit the ceremony had to be delayed by half an hour but it still went ahead.
* The lantern that the Chief Yeoman Warder carries to light his way was presented to the Tower as a token of friendship by the Honourable Artillery Company on 12th May 1919.
* Nobody is sure when the public were first allowed to watch the ceremony but these days it is allowed almost every night. However no one is admitted without a date stamped ticket.
* To attend you should apply to the Ceremony of the Keys Office, HM Tower of London, London EC3N 4AB. Get full information on applying for a ticket the Tower of London website.
A Yeoman Warder
The Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) - The Famous Guardians of the Tower of London
Once called the Yeomen of the Guard, originated as a Royal Bodyguard to Edward IV in the late 15th century. Today Yeoman Warders have all served at least 22 years in the British armed forces with an honourable record. Currently, warders have served in Northern Ireland, the Falklands War, Bosnia, the first and second Gulf wars and in Afghanistan so don't think they are a lot of old fogeys!
It is bad form to call them Beefeaters. Their nickname is said to come from when they served as royal bodyguards. One of their privileges was allowing them to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king's table.
A Yeoman Warder tour is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to the Tower. These take place every 30 minutes until 3.30pm in summer and 2.30pm in winter. Each tour takes about an hour and is included in the cost of admission.
Tower Green A Place of Execution
By rights, Tower Green should be one of the most haunted places in the fortress because it was here that executions took place. Now visitors can see an evocative memorial to the people who died here by order of the state. On it is inscribed:
"Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies."
A few privileged people were executed inside the Tower in private especially if they were popular with Londoners. For the rest, they had a public execution.
Two of King Henry VIII's unfortunate wives are the best-known of those beheaded here. They were Anne Boleyn, his second wife and Catherine Howard, his fifth wife. Perhaps the King still had some love left for Anne Boleyn as she was executed by the clean stroke of an expert swordsman specially imported from France.
The other famous woman to be executed on Tower Green was Lady Jane Grey, aged only sixteen. She was unfortunate enough to be a pawn in the hands of people who put her on the throne after the death of Henry VIII's son, who became King Edward VI on the death of his father. Succession should have passed to Henry's daughter, Mary, a devout Roman Catholic. Poor Lady Jane Grey was Queen for just nine days. She and some of her supporters were tried and found guilty of high treason, the penalty for which was death. Lady Jane Grey went to her death with great dignity. Before she knelt in front of the block, she said to the crowd:
"Good people, I am come hither to die, and by a law I am condemned to the same. The fact, indeed, against the Queen's highness was unlawful, and the consenting thereunto by me: but touching the procurement and desire thereof by me or on my behalf, I do wash my hands thereof in innocency, before God, and the face of you, good Christian people, this day."
Kneeling with her head on the block, Lady Jane said, "Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit."
Lady Jane Grey - Queen for Nine Days
Ghosts at the Tower of London - A Place Haunted by Tragedy
With its long history as a royal palace, a prison and a place of execution, it is natural that legends of ghosts would abound.
* In the middle of the 13th century, the ghost of Thomas Ã Becket was seen while the inner curtain wall was being built. His ghost is said to have struck it with his cross, so destroying it. Of course, this could be just an excuse for shoddy workmanship thought up by inventive, medieval cowboy builders!
* Of all the deaths at the Tower of London, that of the little princes is probably the most infamous. Said to have been murdered in 1483 at the instigation of their uncle, Richard III, they were aged just 9 and 12. Sightings of them have occasionally occurred in the Bloody Tower. Witnesses say they were dressed in white nightshirts and simply stand holding hands before fading from sight.
* The most traumatic ghost for witnesses must be that of the 70-year-old Countess of Salisbury - "The last of the Plantagenets" - executed by Henry VIII for political reasons. Instead of going meekly to her death on the block, she tried to flee from the executioner. He chased her and repeatedly struck her with his axe until she was dead. Witnesses say they have seen this grisly drama replayed with a shadow of the axe hanging over the area.
* Another of the most famous deaths was that of Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn. She has been seen by many people who have described her as headless and going from the Queen's House to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula leading a procession of dignitaries down the aisle to the site of her final burial place under the chapel's altar.
* The Tower of Salt is probably the scariest place in the Tower of London. Dogs won't go in and Yeoman of the Guard (Beefeaters) don't like to go in after dusk since one of them was nearly strangled by something unseen.
* Another woman executed during the Tudor period was Lady Jane Grey who was last seen in 1957 by two Guardsmen on the anniversary of her execution, exactly 403 years after her death. The two witnesses described a white shape "forming itself on the battlements".
* A rifleman claimed, at his court-martial, the reason he was found unconscious at his post was that a white figure approached him. He issued the traditional three challenges of "Who goes there?" and, on receiving no answer, he attacked the figure with his bayonet which went straight through. Two witnesses said they had witnessed the incident from the Bloody Tower so he was acquitted. Personally, I would like to know if the witnesses were his good friends before believing this story.
* Ghosts at the Tower of London are not restricted to humans. In January 1815 a sentry saw a bear coming out of a doorway of the Martin Tower. He attacked it with his bayonet which, like the incident described above, went right through. He was also found unconscious and died, two days later, of fright, it is said.
* A recent haunting appeared to have been captured in a photograph when a photographer on a shoot for a magazine became increasingly uneasy when flashes went off unexpectedly and bulbs blew for no reason. He was horrified to discover later when they were developed that many were blank and one contained an unexplainable ball of white light which seemed to explode in the centre of the picture. The photographer was convinced that there was a supernatural explanation and vowed never to return to the Tower of London.
"Is not this house [the Tower of London] as nigh heaven as my own?"— Sir Thomas More, imprisoned in the Tower and beheaded there in 1535
Raven on Tower Green
We Must Keep the Ravens...
There is a legend that says the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. Just to be on the safe side, they are looked after very carefully and one of the posts in the Tower of London is that of Ravenmaster.
John Flamsteed, the king's astronomer, complained that the ravens impeded the work of his observatory in the White Tower. Charles II dismissed his complaints and is said to have been the first monarch to insist that the ravens of the Tower should be protected.
To keep the ravens at home in the Tower, they have one wing clipped. This isn't a foolproof system, though, and sometimes they go missing. Just as bad, some of them are miscreants who have to be fired. One was dismissed for eating television aerials and another was last seen outside an East End pub.
Just to make sure the number of ravens never falls below the required number, there are seven ravens - in other words the necessary six plus a spare. Their lodgings are to be found next to the Wakefield Tower.
You might think they are perfectly safe and accustomed to visitors. In fact, they can and do bite if people get too close - don't forget they can't escape a perceived threat by flying away. For this reason, visitors are warned not to approach them nor to try to feed them.
The Two Princes in the Tower
King Richard III and the Tower of London - Was Richard a Ruthless Murderer?
Was King Richard III a bloodstained murderer or the victim of Tudor black propaganda to justify Henry VII (formerly Henry Tudor) seizing the throne?
If you've read Shakespeare's Richard III, you will know that he is supposed to have drowned his brother, the Duke of Clarence, in a butt of Malmsey wine. Unfortunately, it appears Richard had no alibi because, not only was he in the Tower of London at the time of the murder, he also benefited from the death.
The most heinous of Richard's alleged crimes is the murder of his young nephews, now known as 'the Princes in the Tower'. Their father and Richard's brother, King Edward IV died April 1483 leaving his 12-year-old son as his successor to the throne. Richard declared himself protector of the realm until the boy came of age.
At that time, the coronation procession set out from the Tower to Westminster Abbey so the two young brothers stayed there, it was supposed, in the Royal Apartments. Just three months later, however, it was Richard who was crowned king, not his nephew. The two boys seem to have mysteriously disappeared, it was said.
Almost 200 years later in 1674, the skeletons of two boys of the right ages were discovered during building works.
For centuries, there has been a debate about the guilt or innocence of Richard III. He was a popular king, especially in the north of England, and brought in some valuable reforms. How does this square with the character of a child murderer? Unfortunately, it's too late for CSI to magically provide us with the solution to this centuries old mystery.
Have You Visited the Tower of London?
Have you visited it or would you like to visit it one day?
© 2008 Carol Fisher