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Tower of London

Updated on May 14, 2015
The Tower of London by night
The Tower of London by night | Source

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.

The White Tower - the oldest part of the Tower of London -
The White Tower - the oldest part of the Tower of London - | Source

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

The Imperial State Crown part of the Crown Jewels  in the Tower of London
The Imperial State Crown part of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London | Source

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

The Tower
The Tower

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

Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) in the Tower of London
Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) in the Tower of London | Source

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.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII, executed on Tower Green
Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII, executed on Tower Green | Source

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

The young Lady Jane Grey, queen for just nine days, was beheaded in the Tower of London
The young Lady Jane Grey, queen for just nine days, was beheaded in the Tower of London | Source

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 à 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

A Tower of London raven sitting on a sign showing the dates of famous executions on Tower Green
A Tower of London raven sitting on a sign showing the dates of famous executions on Tower Green | Source

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

The Two Princes in the Tower who King Richard III was accused of murdering
The Two Princes in the Tower who King Richard III was accused of murdering | Source

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?

See results

© 2008 Carol Fisher

Any Comments about the Tower of London?

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    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      4 years ago from France

      In the middle of reading Wolf Hall so this hub popped up at just the right moment. Tower of London seems dark and spooky when you read about what went on in there.

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      4 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      I absolutely agree with you. There was no reason for Richard to murder the princes. They had been declared illegitimate and so his claim to the throne was secure. The person with a motive to murder them was the usurper Henry Tudor who won the Battle of Bosworth.

    • pkmcruk profile image


      4 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Really fascinating read and very well constructed. Fid Good King Richard (III) murder the Princes in The Tower? Absolutely not! He was the loser in the battle for the Kingdom and as is so often the case the victors wrote the history aided by Shakespeare with his portrayal of Richard.

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 

      6 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      I would love to go to London someday, but I don't think it is going to happen in this lifetime. I enjoyed this lens so much. It was very informative and interesting to read.


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @anonymous: does any one know what the tower of londons nickname is?

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      what was its nickame

    • jillbrowne lm profile image

      jillbrowne lm 

      6 years ago

      One of the neatest places to visit. Thanks!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      My favorite thing about the tower of London is that the ghosts there aren't real. Think about people say that the ghosts make different cries when ghosts don't have any vocal chords to talk or make noise without moving, hitting, or knocking on something

    • Mystico profile image


      6 years ago

      The place is certainly a palace of infamy!

    • mjtaylor lm profile image

      mjtaylor lm 

      6 years ago

      Love it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've always wanted to visit here and be around centuries of history. I just hope it's not haunted at night!

    • Bella Stella profile image

      Bella Stella 

      7 years ago

      This is a really beautiful lens! Congratulations for the good work. I have been in London but I did not visit the Tower due to limited time⦠Now, I regret for it!

      I am currently trying to complete a project with the museums of Greece. I would appreciate it if you stopped there for a while leaving your opinion comments and it would be very important for me if you liked it. Here is my lens .

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      We did the ceremony of the keys - can't recommend it enough and the typical dry humour was brilliant.

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Brilliant lens, I think you covered everything. I did see a few weeks ago several YouTube videos of a tour of the tower, where the Beefeater was extremely funny in his remarks to the audience. Blessed by an angel and well deserved.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hiiiiiiiii, This is Really a nice lens.. Thanks for sharing a great lens about Tower of London.... I too have a lens about some of the places in London.... You can find my lens here

    • PaulaMorgan profile image

      Paula Morgan 

      7 years ago from Sydney Australia

      I love the tower of London

    • SunShine80 LM profile image

      SunShine80 LM 

      7 years ago

      Great lens. I remember my visits to the Tower well - though, I might add all my visits were made as a paying guest!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Well done. Thanks.

    • Louis Wery profile image

      Louis Wery 

      7 years ago from Sarasota, Florida USA

      Very good exploration of the history of the Tower of London. Well illustrated. Blessed...

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a gruesome past of the amazing tower that by no means deserve this spooky history and reputation associated by it. It looks like a magnificent tower and the depiction in this lens is very creative and interesting.

    • dwnovacek profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent Lens! There's so much here that I didn't know about the Tower of London. Now, i'm anxious to pay it a visit someday. Thank you so much!

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Have been there several times but your lens really brought out its significance in history. A place of executions really.

    • Rochie profile image


      9 years ago

      better than the guid book! thanks

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow! What a visit I've had today to the Tower of London. Loved every minute of it too. ;)

    • CoolFoto profile image


      9 years ago

      Yes my husband and I visited Tower of London on our last trip about 5 years ago. Congrats on Barker Award!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      9 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Congratulations on Barker's Best, well deserved!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Really wonderful page. Congrats on winning Barkers Best.

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 

      9 years ago

      Congratulations on winning Bard's Best. Lots of fascinating history at the Tower of London.

    • religions7 profile image


      9 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • Stazjia profile imageAUTHOR

      Carol Fisher 

      9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      [in reply to Vladi] I'm so sorry, Vladi, I'll research again to see if I can find anything about a ghostly cat in the Tower and add it to the ghost storie if there is one.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      What better to win the Barkers Best? Congratulations ....

    • VladimirCat profile image


      9 years ago from Australia

      No Tower, anywhere, is complete without a ghostly cat. Bears? Boring. Congratulations to you for winning the Barkers Best even if there are no mysterious black felines howling in the walls or drinking the antomillado.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Congratulations on the Barkers Best Award - well deserved

    • Lewister profile image


      9 years ago from Texas

      Love this guy!! Which is why it was chosen as our first Barker's Best over at the Carnival of Squid. Feel free to add the badge to the lens and keep up the great work!

    • dc64 lm profile image

      dc64 lm 

      9 years ago

      Oh so amazing! Love the pictures, the history, the stories, the haunting tales. Fabulous job, and I appreciate the research that went into such an extensive lens.

    • VBright profile image


      10 years ago

      Lovely! I am very into the Paranormal, so I had known about the 'spirits" of the tower, but the rest of the lens is fascinating too!

    • debnet profile image


      10 years ago from England

      Whoops! Forgot to say, lensrolled to;

      Cornish Pasties

      Fish & Chips

      'Only Fools & Horses' Another Great Britcom

      Pub Grub


    • debnet profile image


      10 years ago from England

      Very well researched and presented. Excellent lens! 5 towering stars for you!

    • KimGiancaterino profile image


      10 years ago

      Fabulous... another gem in your travel lens collection. (The rack looks awfully painful!) Welcome to All Things Travel. Squid Angel Blessed.


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