Tower of London, seen from the river, with a view of
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly
known as the Tower of London (and historically simply as
The Tower), is a historic monument in central London, on
the north bank of the River Thames.
Tales from the Tower of London By Daniel Diehl, Mark P.
brooding grey walls of the Tower of London circumscribe one of the most
recognisable buildings on the planet. Over its thousand-year history the Tower
stood as a symbol of the English monarchy and served as both a palace and a
It is located within the
London Borough of Tower Hamlets and is separated from the
eastern edge of the City of London by the open space known as
The Tower of London is often identified with the White Tower,
the original stark square fortress built by William the
Conqueror in 1078. However, the tower as a whole is a complex of
several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive
walls and a moat.
The tower's primary function was a fortress, a royal palace,
and a prison (particularly for high status and royal prisoners,
such as the Princes in the Tower and the future Queen Elizabeth
I). This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower"
(meaning "imprisoned"). It has also served as a place of
execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, the Royal
Mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303,
the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
The Tower is located at the eastern boundary of the City of
London financial district, adjacent to the River Thames and
Tower Bridge. Between the river and the Tower is Tower Wharf, a
freely accessible walkway with excellent views of the river,
tower and bridge, together with HMS Belfast and London City Hall
on the opposite bank.
The nearest public transport locations are:
- Tower Hill tube station (London Underground District and
- Tower Gateway DLR station (Docklands Light Railway);
- Fenchurch Street railway station (National Rail);
- Tower Millennium Pier (river cruise boats);
- St Katherine's Dock (Thames Clipper commuter boats).
At the centre of the Tower of London stands the Norman White
Tower. It is 90 feet (27 m) high and the walls vary from 15 feet
(4.5 m) thick at the base to almost 11 feet (3.3 m) in the upper
parts. Above the battlements rise four turrets; three of them
are square, but the one on the northeast is circular. This
turret once contained the first royal observatory. Henry III had
the exterior of the building whitewashed in 1240, which is how
the tower got its name.
The White Tower is situated in the Inner Ward, defended by a
massive curtain wall, which has thirteen towers:
- Bloody Tower (or the Garden Tower), so named after a
legend that the Princes in the Tower were murdered there.
- Bell Tower
- Beauchamp Tower (pronounced 'Beecham')
- Deveraux Tower
- Flint Tower
- Bowyer Tower
- Brick Tower
- Martin Tower
- Constable Tower
- Broad Arrow Tower
- Salt Tower
- Lanthorn Tower
- Wakefield Tower
The entrance to the Inner Ward is on the south side under the
Bloody Tower. Outside of this is the Outer Ward, defended by a
second massive curtain wall, flanked by six towers facing the
- Byward Tower
- St Thomas's Tower, built between 1275-1279 by Edward I
to provide additional royal accommodation for the King.
- Cradle Tower
- Develin Tower
- Middle Tower
- Well Tower
On the north face of the outer wall are three semicircular
bastions. A Ditch or Moat, now dry, encircles the whole, crossed
at the south-western angle by a stone bridge, leading to the
Byward Tower from the Middle Tower - a gateway which had
formerly an outwork, called the Lion Tower.
The water entrance to the Tower is often referred to as
Traitor's Gate because prisoners accused of treason such as
Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More passed through it.
Traitor's Gate cuts through St Thomas's Tower and replaced Henry
III's watergate in the Bloody Tower behind it. Behind Traitors
Gate in the pool was an engine used to raise water to a cistern
located on the roof of the White Tower. The engine was
originally powered by the force of the tide or by horsepower and
eventually by steam power; this was adapted around 1724 to drive
machinery for boring gun barrels. It was removed in the 1860s.
The Tudor Timber Framing seen above the great arch of Traitor's
Gate dates from 1532 and was restored in the 19th century.
Tower of London - White Tower
The Tower today is principally a tourist attraction. Besides
the buildings themselves, the British Crown Jewels, a fine
armour collection from the Royal Armouries, and a remnant of the
wall of the Roman fortress are on display.
The tower is manned by the Yeomen Warders (known as
Beefeaters), who act as tour guides, provide security, and
are a tourist attraction in their own right. Every evening, the
warders participate in the Ceremony of the Keys as the Tower is
secured for the night.
The Tower of London was founded in 1078 when William the
Conqueror ordered the White Tower to be built inside the
southeast angle of the city walls, adjacent to the Thames.
This was as much to protect the Normans from the people of the
City of London as to protect London from outside invaders.
William ordered the tower to be built of Caen stone, which he
had specially imported from France. He appointed Gundulf, Bishop
of Rochester, as the architect.
Some writers, such as William Shakespeare in his play Richard
III, have ascribed an earlier origin to the Tower of London and
have stated that it was built by Julius Caesar. This supposed
Roman origin is a myth, however, as is the story that the mortar
used in its construction was tempered by the blood of beasts.
Tower of London -- from manuscript of poems by Charles,
Duke of Orleans (1391-1465); commemorating his imprisonment there
In the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart enclosed the
White Tower with a curtain wall and had a moat dug around it
filled with water from the Thames. The moat was not successful
until Henry III, in the 13th century, employed a Dutch
moat-building technique. This king greatly strengthened the
curtain wall, breaking down the city wall to the east, to extend
the circuit, despite the protests of the citizens of London and
even supernatural warnings, according to chronicler Matthew
Paris. Henry III transformed the tower into a major royal
residence and had palatial buildings constructed within the
The fortification was completed between 1275 and 1285 by
Edward I, who built the outer curtain wall, completely enclosing
the inner wall and thus creating a concentric double defence. He
filled in the moat and built a new moat around the new outer
The tower remained a royal residence until the time of Oliver
Cromwell, who demolished the old palatial buildings.
The Royal Menagerie is first referenced during the reign of Henry III. In 1251, the sheriffs were ordered to pay four pence a day towards the upkeep for the King's polar bear; the bear attracted a great deal of attention from Londoners when it went fishing in the Thames. In 1254, the sheriffs were ordered to subsidise the construction of an elephant house at the Tower. The exact location of the medieval menagerie is unknown, although the lions were kept in the barbican known as Lion Tower. The royal collection was swelled by diplomatic gifts including three leopards from the Holy Roman Emperor. By the 18th century, the menagerie was open to the public; admission cost three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog to be fed to the lions. The last of the animals left in 1835, relocated to Regents Park, after one of the lions was accused of biting a soldier. The Keeper of the Royal Menagerie was entitled to use the Lion Tower as a house for life. Consequentially, even though the animals had long since left the building, the Lion Tower was not demolished until the last keeper's death in 1853.
It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens
in residence at the tower for centuries. It was said that
Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John
Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer.
However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of
the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London,
the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom would fall
(the London Stone has a similar legend). Charles, following the
time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not
prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory
moved to Greenwich.
Tower of London -- Ravens
The earliest known reference to a tower raven is a picture in
the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1885.
This and scattered subsequent references to the tower ravens,
both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to
early twentieth century place them near the monument
commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as
the “scaffold.” This strongly suggests that the ravens, which
are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to
dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told
by the Yeomen Warders to tourists.
There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the
tower by the Earls of Dunraven,
perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god
Bran. However wild
ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around
meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps,
could have roosted at the tower in earlier times.
The legend that Britain will fall if the ravens leave the
tower appears to date from fall of 1944, and to come from the
Stag Brewery in London, where ravens were used as mascots and
perhaps unofficial spotters for enemy bombers.
No one can remember the tower without ravens, though during
the Second World War most of them perished through shock during
bombing raids – the sole survivor being a bird called 'Grip'.
However, before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January
1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in
There are currently nine ravens, whose wings are clipped to
prevent them from flying away, and they are cared for by the
Ravenmaster, a duty given to one of the Yeomen Warders. The
ravens' names/gender/age are (as of November 2006):
- Gwylum (male, 18 years old)
- Thor (male, 15 years old)
- Hugin (female, 11 years old)
- Munin (female, 11 years old)
- Branwen (female, 3 years old)
- Bran (male, 3 years old)
- Gundulf (male, 1 year old)
- Baldrick (male, 1 year old)
- Fleur (female, 4 years old)
The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was
called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44.
In 2006, ahead of the H5N1 avian influenza scare, the ravens
were moved indoors; as of July 2006, they are once again free to
roam about the grounds within the tower complex.
The Tower of London was used as a prison for those of high
rank and for religious dissidents.
The first prisoner was Ranulf Flambard in 1100 who, as Bishop
of Durham, was found guilty of extortion. He had been
responsible for various improvements to the design of the tower
after the first architect Gundulf moved back to Rochester. He
escaped from the White Tower by climbing down a rope, which had
been smuggled into his cell in a wine casket.
Other prisoners include:
- Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr (c. 1200 – March 1, 1244) a
Welsh prince, the eldest but illegitimate son of Llywelyn
the Great ("Llywelyn Fawr"). He fell to his death whilst
trying to escape from a cell in the Tower.
- John Balliol King of Scotland - after being forced to
abdicate the crown of Scotland by Edward I he was imprisoned
in the Tower from 1296 to 1299.
- David II King of Scotland
- John II King of France
- Henry Laurens, the third President of the Continental
Congress of Colonial America.
- Charles I de Valois, Duke of Orléans was one of the many
French noblemen wounded in the Battle of Agincourt on
October 25, 1415. Captured and taken to England as a
hostage, he remained in captivity for twenty-five years, at
various places including Wallingford Castle. Charles is
remembered as an accomplished poet owing to the more than
five hundred extant poems he produced, most written when a
- Henry VI of England was imprisoned in the Tower, where
he was murdered on 21 May 1471. Popular legend has accused
Richard, Duke of Gloucester of his murder. Each year on the
anniversary of Henry VI's death, the Provosts of Eton
College and King's College, Cambridge, lay roses and lilies
on the altar which stands where he died.
- Edward V of England and his brother Richard of
Shrewsbury, also known as the Princes in the Tower.
- Margaret of Anjou, consort of Henry VI.
- Sir William de la Pole. A distant relative of King Henry
VIII, he was incarcerated at the Tower for 37 years
(1502-1539) for allegedly plotting against Henry VII, thus
becoming the longest-serving prisoner.
- Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and his steward
Sir John Thynne
- The future Queen Elizabeth I, imprisoned for two months
in 1554 for her alleged involvement in Wyatt's Rebellion.
- John Gerard, S.J., an English Jesuit priest operating
undercover during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, when
Catholics were being persecuted. He was captured and
tortured and incarcerated in the Salt Tower before making a
daring escape by rope across the moat.
- Sir Walter Raleigh spent thirteen years (1603-1616)
imprisoned at the Tower but was able to live in relative
comfort in the Bloody Tower with his wife and two children.
For some of the time he even grew tobacco on Tower Green,
just outside his apartment. While imprisoned, he wrote
The History of the World.
- Nicolas Woodcock. He was a sailor that had worked for
the Muscovy Company on voyages of exploration and
exploitation (walruses and whales) in the early 17th
century. He spent sixteen months (1612-13) in the "gatehouse
and tower" for leading a ship from San Sebastián on a
whaling voyage to Spitsbergen in 1612.
- Niall Garve O'Donnell, an Irish nobleman, a one-time
ally of the English against his cousin, Red Hugh O'Donnell.
- Guy Fawkes, famous for his part in the Gunpowder Plot,
was brought to the Tower to be interrogated by a council of
the King's Ministers. However, he was not executed at the
tower. When he confessed, he was sentenced to be hanged,
drawn and quartered in the Old Palace Yard at Westminster;
however, he escaped his fate by jumping off the scaffold at
the gallows which in turn broke his neck and killed him.
- Johan Anders Jägerhorn, a Swedish officer from Finland,
Lord Edward FitzGerald's friend, participating in the Irish
independence movement. He spent two years in the Tower
(1799-1801), but was released because of Russian interests.
- Lord George Gordon, instigator of the Gordon Riots in
1780, spent 6 months in the Tower while awaiting trial on
the charge of high treason.
- Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the German Nazi Party, the
last State prisoner to be held in the tower, in May 1941.
- The Kray twins, the last prisoners to be held, for a few
days in 1952, for failing to report for national service.
The Tower of London as surveyed in 1597
Inside the torture chambers of the tower various implements
of torture were used such as the Scavenger’s daughter, a kind of
compression device, and the Rack, also known as the Duke of
Anne Askew is the only woman on record to have been tortured
in the tower, after being taken there in 1546 on a charge of
heresy. Sir Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of
London, was ordered to torture Anne in an attempt to force her
to name other Protestants. Anne was put on the Rack. Kingston
was so impressed with the way Anne behaved that he refused to
carry on torturing her, and Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor had to
Lower-class criminals were usually executed by hanging at one
of the public execution sites outside the Tower. High-profile
convicts, such as Thomas More, were publicly beheaded on Tower
Hill. Seven nobles (five of them ladies) were beheaded privately
on Tower Green, inside the complex, and then buried in the
"Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula" (Latin for "in chains,"
making him an appropriate patron saint for prisoners) next to
the Green. Some of the nobles who were executed outside the
Tower are also buried in that chapel. (External link to Chapel
webpage) The names of the seven beheaded on Tower Green for
- William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings (1483)
- Anne Boleyn (1536)
- Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1541)
- Catherine Howard (1542)
- Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (1542)
- Lady Jane Grey (1554)
- Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1601)
George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of
England, was executed for treason in the Tower in February 1478,
but not by beheading (and probably not by being drowned in a
butt of Malmsey wine, despite what Shakespeare wrote).
Tower of London -- Traitors Gate
When Edward IV died, he left two young sons behind: the
Princes in the Tower. His brother Richard, the Duke of
Gloucester, was made Regent until the older of his two sons,
Edward V, should come of age. According to Thomas More's
History of Richard III, Richard hired men to kill them, and,
one night, the two Princes were smothered with their pillows.
Many years later, bones were found buried at the foot of a
stairway in the Tower, which are thought to be those of the
princes. Richard was crowned King Richard III of England.
The last execution at the Tower was that of German spy Josef
Jakobs on 14 August 1941 by firing squad formed from the Scots
The military use of the Tower as a fortification, like that
of other such castles, became obsolete with the introduction of
artillery, and the moat was drained in 1830. However the Tower
did serve as the headquarters of the Board of Ordnance until
1855, and the Tower was still occasionally used as a prison,
even through both World Wars. In 1780, the Tower held its only
American prisoner, former President of the Continental Congress,
Henry Laurens. In World War I, eleven German spies were shot in
the Tower. Irish rebel Roger Casement was imprisoned in the
Tower during his trial on treason charges in 1916.
In 1942, Adolf Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was imprisoned
in the tower for four days. During this time, RAF Wing Commander
George Salaman was placed in the same cell undercover,
impersonating a Luftwaffe officer, to spy on Hess. Although
acting in a covert manner and not held as a true inmate, Salaman
remains the last Englishman to be locked in the Tower of London.
The tower was used as a prison for German prisoners of war
throughout the conflict.
Waterloo Barracks, the location of the Crown Jewels, remained
in use as a base for the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City
of London Regiment) into the 1950s; during 1952, the Kray
twins were briefly held there for failing to report for national
service, making them among the last prisoners of the Tower; the
last British citizen held for any length of time was the
traitorous Army officer Norman Baillie-Stewart from 1933 to
Although it is no longer a royal residence, the Tower
officially remains a royal palace and maintains a permanent
guard: this is found by the unit forming the Queen's Guard at
Buckingham Palace. Two sentries are maintained during the hours
that the Tower is open, with one stationed outside the Jewel
House and one outside the Queen's House.
In 1974, there was a bomb explosion in the Mortar Room in the
White tower leaving one person dead and 41 injured. No one
claimed responsibility for the blast, however the police were
investigating suspicions that the IRA was behind it.
In 2007 Moira Cameron became the first female Beefeater in
history to go on duty at the Tower of London. Cameron beat five
men to the job as a Yeomen Warder.
Tower of London
- Aerial View
The Tower of London and its surrounding area has always had a
separate administration from the adjacent City of London. It was
under the jurisdiction of Constable of the Tower who also held
authority over the Tower liberties until 1894. In addition the
Constable was ex-officio Lord Lieutenant of the Tower
division of Middlesex until 1889 and head of the Tower Hamlets
Militia until 1871. Today the Tower is within the boundaries of
the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.
The Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since
1303, after they were stolen from Westminster Abbey. It is
thought that most, if not all, were recovered shortly
afterwards. After the coronation of Charles II, they were locked
away and shown for a viewing fee paid to a custodian. However,
this arrangement ended when Colonel Thomas Blood stole the Crown
Jewels after having bound and gagged the custodian. Thereafter,
the Crown Jewels were kept in a part of the Tower known as Jewel
House, where armed guards defended them. They were temporarily
taken out of the Tower during World War II and reportedly were
secretly kept in the basement vaults of the Sun Life Insurance
company in Montreal, Canada, along with the gold bullion of the
Bank of England; however, it has also been said that they were
kept in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle, or the Fort Knox
Bullion Depository in the United States. However the Windsor
Castle option is the most likely, since the Crown Jewels are not
supposed to leave the country.
The Tower of London is reputedly the most haunted building in
England. The ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for
treason against King Henry VIII, has allegedly been seen
haunting the chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula, where she is buried,
and walking around the White Tower carrying her head under her
arm. Other ghosts include Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret
Pole, and the Princes in the Tower. In January 1816 a sentry on
guard outside the Jewel House witnessed an inexplicable
apparition of a bear advancing towards him. Reportedly the
sentry died of fright a few days later
King Edward V and the Duke of York in the Tower of London, by Paul Delaroche
also known as the Princes in the Tower.
- The Tower of London, as a place of death, darkness and
treachery, is most famously evoked in William Shakespeare's
play, Richard III, where it forms the backdrop of Richard's
seizure of the throne and the scene of the notorious murder
of the Princes in the Tower, and other victims (see above).
A classic film version of this is Richard III (1955)
with Laurence Olivier in the title role. This story is also
reprised in the historical horror film Tower of London
(1939) and its 1962 remake.
- The Tower of London (1840) by William Harrison
Ainsworth though written in fictional form, contrives to
give a detailed account of the history and architecture of
- The Tower is the setting for Gilbert and Sullivan's 1888
light opera The Yeomen of the Guard.
- Apparitions of Anne Boleyn at the Tower are the theme of
the song "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm".