Tower of London
Note:The history of the Tower of London is very closely linked with the history of London itself, and since the Tower was started in 1066, it's a LONG history. I've tried to include historical facts as they pertain to the Tower - for more in-depth English history, see nodes on the individual kings and queens (monarchs mentioned here are hardlinked), and nodes on major conflicts and battles (The War of the Roses is a good example). If you're not looking for the history stuff, I've included current information and travel information at the bottom of the write-up. Please feel free to /msg me if you find any typos, glaring errors, or omissions.
11th century: Foundation
In 1066, Duke William of Normandy (William the Conqueror) led the Norman invasion of England. Ensuring the security of London, a powerful city with a major port, was vitally important to William, and soon after being crowned, he ordered the construction of strongholds and fortresses to protect and control the city. These fortifications probably included the initial plans for the Tower of London. The White Tower was completed by 1100, the same year that the Tower’s first prisoner, Ranulf Flambard, was incarcerated; he escaped down a rope that someone smuggled him in a wine casket.
12th century: Expansion
The next main construction came during the reign of Richard I (1189-99), at the hands of his Chancellor, William Longchamp. Longchamp was left in control of the kingdom while Richard I was on a crusade to the Holy Land, and it was during this time that Longchamp planned enlargements for the Tower. The area covered by the Tower was doubled, as a new ditch was added, new sections of wall incorporated, and the new Bell Tower constructed.
13th century: Fortification
In Richard's absence, his brother John challenged Longchamp for the right to rule. There was not much new construction under King John's reign (1199-1216), as John had to deal with a great deal of opposition to his power. In 1215, France had begun an invasion of England, and it was during this invasion that John died, leaving the throne in the hands of Henry III (1216-1272).
The French were overcome a few months after Henry III took the crown, leaving time for further improvements to the Tower. As Henry was only 9 years old at the beginning of his reign, his regents oversaw an expansion in the Inmost Ward, which houses the royal residence. The kitchen and great hall were also developed, and Wakefield Tower and Lanthorn Tower were constructed along the waterfront. In 1236 and 1238, Henry had conflicts with the country’s barons, and during both periods, he took shelter in the Tower. This illuminated a major defensive problem, as the barriers on the north, east, and west sides were nothing more than some segments of wall that Longchamp had built, parts of the wall from the original Roman city, and an empty moat. After the 1238 conflict ended, Henry ordered the construction of a new wall and moat along the northern, eastern, and western sides of the Tower to compensate for the weak defenses. The new wall, which doubled the area of the Tower and added nine new defensive towers, also surrounded the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, making the chapel a part of the Tower.
Edward I (1272-1307) took the throne in 1272, and also took over his father's wish for stronger defenses at the Tower. This included construction of Beauchamp Tower, and the creation of another new wall that would completely surround the wall built during Henry III's reign. His son, Edward II (1307-1327), oversaw little development at the Tower, but he made use of the Tower as a place of refuge during further conflict with the barons.
14th century: Refuge
By this time, the Tower was gaining some uses other than as a residence and fortress. Edward I had built a structure to accommodate the Royal Mint, and had started to keep official records at the Tower. It also served as a zoo for the King's animals, and as a treasury for the Crown Jewels, which had been relocated to the Tower in 1303.
Edward III (1327-77) directed a few projects at the Tower – he had a new gatehouse built, had the upper portions of the Bloody Tower renovated, and expanded the Tower Wharf further east. After Edward III, Richard II (1377-99) ruled during a period of turmoil; as such, there was little work done on the Tower. Richard took refuge in the Tower many times, and was forced to renounce his crown there during a conflict with the barons.
15th century: Murder and Intrigue
During the War of the Roses, the Tower had two very distinct identities. While it was the site for lavish entertainment and celebrations of victorious Kings, it was also growing into its infamous role as prison and execution site. Henry VI was executed there in 1471, and George, Duke of Clarence, drowned in a barrel of wine in 1478. However, the strangest incident from this period is the disappearance of Edward V and his brother Richard, the Princes in the Tower. After the death of Edward IV (the princes' father), the two princes were housed in the Tower. The boys' uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was in charge of their protection, serving as young Edward's regent. However, the princes disappeared from the Tower, and Richard, who is believed to have planned the princes' murder, was crowned Richard III.
16th century: The Tudors, and beheadings galore
Henry VII (1485-1509), the first Tudor King, built the Tower's last permanent royal residences, while his son Henry VIII (1509-1547), built more lodging around Anne Boleyn's coronation in 1533. However, the Tower's main role during the Tudor rule was not as a residence, but as a prison for religious and political prisoners. Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher of Rochester were executed in 1535 for not acknowledging Henry VIII as head of the English Church. Following them, Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII's second wife) was executed with her brother and four others on Tower Green. In July of 1540, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and former Chief Minister of the King, was executed, and Catherine Howard, another of Henry VIII's wives, was beheaded two years later near on Tower Green.
During the next several years, more high ranking people were imprisoned and executed. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, and his allies were killed in 1552, under the reign of Edward VI (1547-1553). Lady Jane Grey was executed during the reign of Mary I (1553-1558). Jane had been named Queen after the death of Edward VI to create a Protestant succession, but Mary made a claim to the throne and had Jane executed in 1554. Also during Mary's reign, her sister Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower and was questioned about possible plots against Mary; she would later be crowned Elizabeth I (1558-1603) after Mary's death. There were further religious prisoners during Elizabeth's rule, as many people who opposed the Church of England were locked up. Notably, the last execution on Tower Green, that of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, took place in February of 1601.
17th and 18th century: A monarchy overthrown and restored
James I (1603-1625) supervised modifications to the Lieutenant's house (now called the Queen's House), the addition of animals to the royal menagerie, and the construction of new dens for the royal lions. His successor, Charles I (1625-1649), ruled during a civil war, as Parliament rose against the monarchy in 1642. The people of London feared that Charles would use the Tower to control the city. However, parliamentarians managed to gain control of the Tower, defeating Charles and overthrowing the monarchy. During this time, parliamentary commander Oliver Cromwell established a permanent defense force at the Tower - there is still a guard presence near the Queen's House and the Waterloo Barracks.
In 1660, Charles II (1660-1685) regained the monarchy, and the role of the Tower became more of a military establishment as the number of prisoners decreased. Public display of the Crown Jewels began, and while there were many plans for more defensive improvements, not many of these plans were completed. During the late 17th century and the 18th century, the Tower was controlled by the Office of Ordnance, which provided military supplies and had made the Tower its headquarters during Charles II's reign. The Ordnance put up armament storage and other functional buildings; the only storehouse still standing is the New Armouries.
19th century: Completion
The 1800's saw the conversion of the Tower's appearance to mostly what it is today. The Royal Mint, Menagerie, and Record Office moved to other facilities outside the Tower, and the Office of Ordnance was succeeded by the War Office, allowing the removal of the munitions stores from the Tower. The newly unoccupied areas led to a period of refurbishment for the Tower, and in 1852, architect Anthony Salvin began restoring the Tower back to its original appearance as a medieval fortress. Salvin oversaw work on Beauchamp Tower, Salt Tower, White Tower, St. Thomas's Tower, and Bloody Tower, and had two houses built on Tower Green. In the 1870's, John Taylor took over the restoration project, concentrating on Cradle Tower, Develin Tower, Lanthorn Tower, and sections of the wall. At the same time, more visitors started coming to the Tower, prompting the construction of a ticket office.
20th century: Welcoming tourists
During World War I, the Tower returned to its function as a prison, as eleven spies were held and executed there between 1914 and 1916. There were more prisoners during World War II; Rudolf Hess was confined at the Tower in May of 1941, and spy Joseph Jakobs was executed there on August 14 of that same year. There was also some bomb damage to the Tower during the war; the North Bastion was directly hit, the Hospital Block was damaged in an air raid, and the Main Guard was destroyed. The Tower was closed to the public at this time, and the Crown Jewels were moved to a secret location (they have since been returned to the Tower). The Tower re-opened after the war, and has become one of London's main attractions, providing a living history lesson to over 2.5 million visitors each year.
The Tower Today
The Tower of London is more than a tourist attraction; it is a small community, a home to about 150 people. The Tower’s residents are primarily the Yeoman Warders (also known as Beefeaters) and their families. Their full title is actually "Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary," and they must be Senior Non-Commanding Officers from the Army, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, or Royal Navy with an honorable service record of at least 22 years. In addition to the Yeoman Warders, there is a military guard at the Tower that is trained with the divisions that guard Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace. The guard and the Yeoman Warders participate in the nightly Ceremony of the Keys, which is open to the public by an advance application. During this ceremony, the Tower's outer gates are locked, and the keys given to the Resident Governor of the Tower. The Tower also houses a governor, chaplain, and a doctor.
The ravens at the Tower of London have been a tradition since the days of Charles II. Charles, having been told that the Tower and the kingdom would fall if the ravens ever left the Tower, decreed that six ravens would be kept at the Tower. To ensure that the ravens won't fly away, their wings are clipped - this procedure does not hurt the birds. One of the Yeoman Warders serves as the Raven Master, and he is responsible for the care and feeding of the revered birds. Indeed, the ravens are very well fed, receiving raw meat and blood-soaked crackers daily, a weekly egg, and whatever scraps from the Tower mess hall they can get.
A note from me: I've been to London a number of times, and I've visited the Tower every time. It is a truly fascinating place, providing many hours of entertainment. First-time visitors should by all means take one of the tours offered by the Yeoman Warders. These tours are very thorough, and the Yeoman Warders are incredibly knowledgeable about their surroundings. They are also more than willing to answer any questions one might have about the Tower. After the tour, you can walk around the grounds at your leisure. I wholeheartedly recommend the Crown Jewels, which are astounding (just don't take any pictures; there is a bag of confiscated film at the entrance as a warning). You can also go inside many of the structures, which contain exhibits and artifacts.
Main parts of the Tower include:
Jewel House/Crown Jewels - Collection of crowns, jewels, and other royal regalia
White Tower - The oldest tower; contains displays from the Royal Armouries, including instruments of torture
Traitors' Gate - Gate under St. Thomas's Tower, so named because of the prisoners who were escorted through this gate from the Thames.
Medieval Palace - Reconstructed rooms show what the royal residence looked like during Edward I's reign.
Tower Green - The site of the Tower's infamous beheadings; adjacent to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula
Bloody Tower - Site where many people were imprisoned, including the Princes in the Tower
Beauchamp Tower - Housed high-ranking prisoners
The Tower of London is right near Tower Bridge (very aptly named), and is not a bad walk from St Paul's Cathedral, the London Dungeon, and Fleet Street (for any Sweeney Todd fans out there).
Underground: Circle/District lines to Tower Hill.
Follow signs to the main entrance of the Tower
March 1 - October 31
Monday - Saturday: 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Sunday: 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Last admission: 5:00 PM
November 1 - February 28
Tuesday - Saturday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Sunday - Monday: 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Last admission: 4:00 PM
Students (with ID) and senior citizens (60+): £8.75
Children under 16: £7.50
Children under 5: Free
Family ticket: £34.00 (up to 2 adults and 3 children)
Historic Royal Palaces Website: http://www.hrp.org.uk/