Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress – Tower of London
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London; is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames
in central London
Despite the Tower of London’s grim reputation as a place of torture and death, within these walls you will also discover the history of a royal palace, an armory and a powerful fortress. Don’t miss the Royal Beasts’s exhibition and learn about the wild and wonderful animals that have inhabited the Tower, making it the first Zoo in London
Also discover the priceless Crown Jewels which were newly displayed to the public in 2012, or join an iconic Beefeater on a tour and hear their bloody tales, even stand where famous heads have rolled, try learning the legend of the Tower’s ravens, storm the battlements and get to grips with swords, armor and much more!
The Tower of London was built at the beginning of the 11th century by William the conqueror. The tower was expanded during the 13th century into the fortified complex that we know today.
The Tower’s most popular attraction today, is its famous collection of Crown Jewels.
Tower of London
Construction of the Tower of London was initiated in 1070 by William the Conqueror, shortly after his victory at Hastings in 1066.
The Tower was built to enforce the power of the king over the newly conquered region.
The fortress, strategically located at the Thames River, was originally not more than a temporary wooden building which was replaced later by the White Tower. Over time, the complex was expanded into a massive stronghold with about 20 towers in total.
Today the Tower of London is best known for its Crown Jewels, but it used to be notorious for the many political opponents of the kings that were locked, tortured and even killed, in the Tower.
The Tower was also a royal residence: several kings lived here, especially during turbulent times when the donjon seemed a lot safer than the palace in Westminster.
The White Tower
The oldest part of the fortress is the so-called White Tower, which was completed in 1097. This keep was long the tallest building in London at 27.4 meters tall. Its walls measure a span, covering 4.6 meters wide.
The Tower was whitewashed during the reign of Henry III, which gave the tower’s facade its white appearance. Ever since then, the tower has been known as White Tower. This building has four domed turrets at each corner.
Three of them have a square shape with the other being round, due to its spiral staircase.
The round turret was also long used as an observatory.
Other noteworthy Towers
The Tower of London was significantly expanded in the 13th century, during the reign of Henry III, when two defensive walls were built around the White Tower.
The inner wall had thirteen towers and the outer wall another six.
The towers were mostly used to imprison political opponents.
Some of the most famous prisoners locked in the Tower were two princes, the sons of king Edward IV. After Edward’s death, the children were locked in the Bloody Tower by their uncle, who would later ascend the throne as king Richard III.
The princes were never seen again and were probably killed by guards.
St. Thomas Tower
The St. Thomas Tower is located close to the Bloody Tower. Here, prisoners were brought into the fortress by boat through the Traitor’s gate.
Important prisoners were often locked in the Beauchamp Tower, sometimes with their servants. An inscription on the wall of the tower is believed to refer to Lady Jane Grey, who, nine days after she was crowned Queen, was executed on Tower Green, an open terrain in the Tower of London.
Thomas More was imprisoned in the Bell Tower of Byward Tower until his execution, after he refused to accept king Henry VIII as head of the Anglican church. Even Queen Elisabeth I was confined here for some time.
The main entrance of the Tower of London is at the Byward Tower, where you’ll find the so-called Beefeaters or Yeoman Warders.
Dressed in historic clothes, they not only guard the tower, but also give guided tours of the fortress.
One of the about 40 Yeoman Warders is known as the Ravenmaster. Ravenmaster is famous for being responsible for the many ravens that have been living here for centuries.
Legend has it that the Tower and the kingdom will fall if the ravens leave. Hence, King Charles II placed the birds under royal protection and the wings of the ravens are clipped to prevent them from flying away.
Although only recently opened to the public, the most famous tourist attraction in the Tower of London is the collection of Crown Jewels that has been on display here since the 17th century, dating back to during the reign of Charles II.
Most of the jewels were created around the year 1660, when the monarchy was reinstated. The majority of the older crown jewels were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.
The jewels can be found in the Jewel House, which is part of the Waterloo Barracks just north of the White Tower. Some of the highlights of the collection are the 530 carat First Star of Africa, which is set in the Imperial State Crown
Other noteworthy highlights include the Scepter of the Cross; the Imperial State Crown with more than 2800 diamonds and the famous Koh-I-Noor, a 105 carat diamond.
A building history
Medieval Towers – Refuge and a base for the royal powers.
In the early years, William the Conqueror began to build the Tower of London. Successive monarchs added to the fortress over the coming centuries.
Here at Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Tower of London, you’ll get to discover the history of the construction of the Tower and its role as fortress, palace and prison.
Royal residence or a Royal prison
King Henry VIII began work on the royal residential buildings that were first started by his father Henry VII, but on a much grander scale.
He commissioned a large range of timber-framed lodgings, primarily for the comfort and enjoyment of his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
But alas, they were rarely used and from this point on, the Tower ceased to be an established royal residence.
More blood was spilt as Henry VIII’s decision to break with Rome swelled the Tower’s population of religious and political prisoners. From the 1530s onwards, the country had to adjust itself to their monarch’s new role as the Supreme Head of the new, Protestant Church of England
Civil war and restorations
The Tower was long fought over during the civil war and restoration.
It later became the Office of Ordnance.
Charles I loses the Tower
Charles I’s reign ushered in a long and bloody civil war between the King and Parliament. Once again the Tower was one of the King’s most important assets.
Londoners feared he would use it to dominate them but, in the end, the Tower was won by the Parliamentarians and it remained in their hands for the entire Civil War. Losing the Tower and London as a whole was a fatal blow to the King’s forces and a crucial factor in Charles’s defeat.
Cromwell destroys the Crown Jewels
After the execution of Charles I, the parliament organised a great sale of the King’s possessions.
Orders were issued to take the Crown Jewels and “cause the same to be totally broken, and that they melt down all the gold and silver, and sell the jewels to the best advantage of the Commonwealth”.
Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector, installed the Tower’s first permanent garrison, which succeeding monarchs used to quell trouble in the city.
The Office of Ordnance
With the restoration of the monarchy, Charles II planned ambitious defenses for the Tower but they were never built.
The Tower’s use as a state prison declined and instead it became the headquarters of the Office of Ordnance which provided military supplies and equipment. Most of the castle was taken over with munitions stores and offices. The new Crown Jewels went on display – and a day in the year of 1671 left them narrowly escaped of being stolen.
Keeping up repairs
Maintenance rather than new building work characterized most of the 18th century; the existing fortifications were intermittently repaired.
Efforts were made to prevent the moat silting up, with little success during that time. However, a new gateway and drawbridge were created at the east end of the outer southern curtain wall, giving access from the Outer Ward to the wharf.
From Fortress to Historic monument
The Tower becomes an historic monument and tourist attraction.
The drained moat in 1845
The Duke of Wellington was Constable of the Tower from 1826 to 1852.
Under his invigorating leadership the increasingly smelly and sluggish moat was drained and converted into a dry ditch.
The Waterloo Barracks
The Grand Storehouse was destroyed by a huge fire, in 1841.
After which, the Duke arranged to clear the rubble and started work on a huge new barracks to accommodate a thousand men. On 14 June 1845 the Duke laid the initial foundation stone on the barracks named after his greatest victory – Waterloo.
The Chartist threat
1840s in London was the scene of rallies and disturbances by Chartists demanding electoral reform.
The Tower once again exerted its traditional role of state power over the people, probably for the last time.
More defenses were constructed, including a huge brick and stone bastion that finally succumbed to a Second World War bomb, but the Chartist attack never materialized.
The departing institutions
It was also at the beginning of this century that many of the Tower’s historic institutions departed.
The Royal Mint was the first to move out of the castle in, followed by the Menagerie, which then grew to become London Zoo.
The Office of Ordnance was next to leave and finally, the Record Office relocated in 1858.
An increasing interest in the history and archaeology of the Tower led to a process of “re-medievalisation” in an attempt to remove the unsightly offices, storerooms, taverns, and barracks and restore the fortress to its original medieval appearance
The new “Medieval” Tower
The way the Tower looks today is largely thanks to a 19th-century fascination with England’s turbulent and sometimes gruesome history.
In the 1850s, the architect Anthony Salvin, a leading figure in the Gothic Revival, was commissioned to restore the fortress to a more appropriately “Medieval”’ style, making it more pleasing to the Victorian eye – and imagination.
Salvin first transformed the Beauchamp Tower to make it suitable for the public display of prisoners’ graffiti, refacing the exterior walls and replacing windows, doorways and battlements.
Further commissions included restoring the Salt Tower and making alterations to the Chapel of St John – in the White Tower, 1864.
Salvin then restored the Wakefield Tower, so that it could house the Crown Jewels, which remained there until 1967, and built the bridge between it and St Thomas’s Tower.
Among these of which he also restored, so that the Jewel House Keeper could live there.
In the drive to complete the perfect “Medieval” castle, his successor, John Taylor, controversially destroyed important original buildings to create uninterrupted views of the White Tower and to build a new southern inner curtain wall on the site of the old medieval palace.
Tower as tourist attraction
Visitor numbers increased dramatically in the 19th century as now, it was not just privileged sightseers who were paying for a guided tour as early as the 1590s, but many ordinary people who simply enjoyed a day out at the Tower.
In 1838 three of the old animal cages from the Menagerie were used to make a ticket office at the eastern entrance where visitors could buy refreshments and a guidebook and by the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, over half a million people were visiting the Tower each year.
A modern Tower
The Tower of London in the 20th and 21st centuries.
First and second world wars
Between 1914 and 1916 several spies were held and subsequently executed at the Tower of London, including Franz Buschmann.
The last execution at the Tower of the German Josef Jakobs took place in 1941, the same year that Hitler’s Deputy Führer, Rudolf Hess, was held there briefly – one of the last state prisoners at the Tower.
During the Second World War, bomb damage was considerable and a number of buildings were destroyed, including the mid-19th-century North Bastion, which was hit directly.
From then on, the moat was used for allotments and vegetable growing while The Crown Jewels were removed and shifted to another place of safety.
21st century Tower
Today, the Tower of London is one of the world’s major tourist attractions and a World Heritage Site which attracts over two million visitors each year, from all over the world.
Presently, there is a team of building conservators maintains the fabric of the buildings.
This team of conservators have been carrying out repairs on the White Tower and have also cleaned the exterior while removing pollution that had been damaging the building.
More sights to see, too little time there was to be…
There’s plenty more to see in the Tower of London, such as the Royal Armories, which includes the personal armory of King Henry VIII, one of the world’s largest.
The medieval palace in the Tower of London’s compound, is also open to visitors and there are often reenactments of historic events in the fortress.
Is the Tower haunted?
Ghost stories and legends from the Tower of London
King James I’s cousin was imprisoned and possibly murdered at the Tower.
She reputedly resides in The Queen’s House, considered one of the most haunted buildings at the Tower of London.
Arbella’s old haunts
The Queen’s House, Tower of London.
Arbella Stuart’s ghost is thought by some to be resident in The Queen’s House on Tower Green at the Tower of London. The Governor of the Tower who lived in The Queen’s House tells of some strange occurrences at night.
Strange … but true?
Is there any evidence to support the stories?
In Arabella’s story of woe, records show that Arbella Stuart married William Seymour; Lady Jane Grey’s nephew, – without King James I’s permission.
This marriage of heirs to the throne was regarded as a threat; Arbella was put under house arrest in Lambeth, while William was sent to the Tower.
Arbella, being spirited and rebellious – escaped and disguised as a man plotted to get William released too so that they could travel to France. William was smuggled out of the Tower, but unfortunately missed their rendezvous.
Poor Arbella had to set sail alone, but she was recognized and sent back, this time to the Tower. William made it to France, and gained freedom, but he never saw Arbella again.
She died at the Tower in what is now The Queen’s House, in 1615.
A grizzly ghost
Is there a phantom bear at the Tower?
Legend has it that many years ago a huge ghostly bear appeared by the Martin Tower, scaring a guard so badly that he dropped dead of shock!
The bear’s old haunts
Other than the original incident reported near the Martin Tower, no further sightings – or fatalities – have been reported…
Strange … but true?
Is there any evidence to support the story of a grizzly ghost?
Bears at the Tower
At least two bears have lived at the Tower, and both were the first of their kind to be seen in England. Henry III was given a polar bear in 1251 as a gift from the king of Norway. The bear was given a long chain so that it could fish in the Thames River.
The second was when the Hudson Bay Company gave a grizzly bear to George III. The bear was called “Old Martin” and after many years at the Tower he moved to the new London Zoo in Regent’s Park, where he eventually died in 1838.
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