The Tower of London is a pivotal structure in the history of England. The White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1066, is the main edifice and demonstrated Norman power as a military fortress. Possibly the most significant building of the Norman Conquest, the White Tower symbolized the strength and endurance of the new order. Internationally, The Tower was at the cutting edge of military building technology. Built on the north bank of the River Thames, the Tower of London literally “towered” over its surroundings until the 19th century.
Tower of London Historical Facts
The Tower of London has a multifaceted and bloody history. Here are some of the most intriguing facts:
- Building and Expansion – In the 1220s, Henry III began a major expansion of the Royal Palace and buildings were added to the complex right up until the 16th century, most of which are now underground.
- Crown Jewels History – Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal The Jewels in 1671 and in 1841 the Crown Jewels were rescued from a fire.
- Gunpowder Plot – In 1605, Guy Fawkes was imprisoned and tortured at the Tower for the failed assassination attempt of James I.
- Peak Prison Usage – the 16th and 17th centuries led to the phrase “sent to the Tower” for its peak prison usage. Only 7 were executed with its walls before the WWI and WWII. The bulk of the executions were commonly held on Tower Hill, which is north of the Tower.
- Princes in the Tower – Prince Edward and Richard, Duke of York, sons of Edward IV, were imprisoned in the Tower by their uncle, Richard III. Richard had them declared illegitimate so he could steal the throne from Edward, who would have become king after his father’s death in 1483. The princes were never to be seen again and rumors of their murder spread. In 1674, a wooden box was discovered near the White Tower containing two small skeletons. The Church of England refused DNA testing so no one knows the fate of the princes to this day.
- Religious Renown – the Tower shaped the Reformation in England. Those Catholic and Protestant prisoners, who survived, recorded their experiences which defined the Tower of London as a place of torture and execution.
- Ronnie and Reggie Kray – these identical twins were the notorious gangsters of East End London and were held at the Tower in 1952.
- Royal Executions – in the 16th century, 3 English queens were executed at the Tower: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey but it was Elizabeth I who narrowly escaped her death.
- Royal Menagerie – For 600 years, wild and exotic creatures were caged by kings and queens at the Tower of London. The Duke of Wellington had the animals relocated to the London Zoo in 1832.
- The Tower is Breached – during the Peasants Revolt of 1381, was the one and only time the Tower of London was breached.
Tower of London Today
Officially Queen Elizabeth II’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the White Tower is the most intact 11th-century structure remaining in Europe (additions were made in the 13th and 14th century). The Tower has also served as a model throughout the United Kingdom. Many other castle keeps were built in stone, resembling the Tower, such as Colchester, Rochester, Hedingham, Norwich or Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight.
Attractions of the Tower of London
Tours are conducted Tuesday through Saturday and more than 2 million tourists roam inside its walls per year. Due to the remarkable things inside, it’s no wonder the Tower of London has such massive amounts of visitors.
- Ceremony of the Keys – a tradition of locking up the Tower of London for 700 years without fail. After all, the Crown Jewels and other valuables must be kept safe.
- Coins and Kings: The Royal Mint – discover the fascinating story of the Mint during the years it was based at the Tower (1279 – 1812), and how 5 key coins and the monarchs behind them changed history.
- Commemorative Poppies – there are 888,246 poppies installed in the Tower of London moat, one for each British fatality in WWI.
- Crown Jewels – a spectacular display of crowns, scepters, priceless diamonds, and unique gems. You can discover how these jewels are regularly used by The Queen.
- Fusilier Museum – rich with history about this British infantry regiment from its inception in 1685, the Constable of the Tower, and in the how they fought in the American War of Independence.
- Medieval Royal Palace – this luxurious addition to the Tower is credited to Henry III and for hundreds of years, Kings and Queens stayed in these rooms. It was also a place where children lived and played.
- Ravens at the Tower – Guardians of the Tower, it is said that if ever they leave the kingdom will fall. Seven reside at the Tower and respond only to the Raven Master so don’t get too close.
- Royal Armory – the central keep and oldest part of White Tower, much of the arsenal can be traced back to medieval kings of England. The display includes suits of armor, swords, shields, battle axes, and even cannons.
- Tower Green and Scaffold – also known as the Execution Site, prisoners died by the sword, hanging, and the axe, including some well-known queens of England.
- White Tower – The oldest structure and heart of the Tower of London, it is the one of the most famous castle keeps in the world. It houses a Romanesque Chapel, the 11th-century Chapel of St John the Evangelist, and the Royal Armory. On the top floor is a block and axe, believed to be used at the last public beheading on Tower Hill in 1747.
- Yeoman Warders – These ladies and gents will be your guides as you tour the Tower of London. They are the foremost authority on the Tower and you’ll learn even more of its secrets.
Your Tower of London Experience
If you have visited the Tower of London, what was your favorite experience? For those of you that have yet to take a tour, what do you look forward to the most? Log in and post your comments or tweet me at @BritWordaDay with your answers.