Category: Virtual Tour

The Ceremony of the Keys

The Ceremony of the Keys is the traditional locking up of the Tower of London by night. It is one of the oldest and most colorful ceremonies of its kind, having taken place for the last 700 years in much the same form as it is seen today.

Tower of London at Night [Flickr: Nan Palmero]

Every night at exactly seven minutes to 10 o’clock the Chief Warder emerges from the Byward Tower wearing his long red coat and Tudor bonnet, carrying in one hand a candle lantern and in the other hand the Queens Keys. With solemn tread he moves along Water Lane, to Traitors Gate where his escort provided by one of the regiments of Foot Guards awaits him. He hands the lantern to an escorting soldier and the party moves to the outer gate. En route all guards and sentries salute the Queens Keys. After locking the outer gate the Chief Warder and escort retrace their steps. The great oak gates of the Middle and Byward Towers are locked in turn. They now return along Water lane towards Traitors Gate where in the shadows of the Bloody Tower archway a sentry waits.

When the party approaches the sentry challenges, “Who goes there?” The Chief Warder answers: “The Keys.” “Whose Keys?” the sentry demands. “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.” “Pass Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well” is the sentry’s final rejoinder.

The party then proceeds through the Bloody Tower archway and up towards the steps where the main guard is drawn up. The Chief Warder and escort halt at the foot of the steps and the officer in charge gives the command to present arms. The Chief Warder moves two paces forward, raises his Tudor bonnet high in the air and calls “God preserve Queen Elizabeth.” The guard answers “Amen” just as the clock chimes ten and the bugler sounds Last Post. The Chief Warder takes the keys to the Queens House and the guard is dismissed.

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The Martin Tower

Charles II

Built by Henry III this tower is famous as the scene of Colonel Thomas Bloods fruitless attempt to steal the Crown Jewels. After the Restoration, the newly-made regalia was kept in the Martin Tower (known at the time as the Jewel Tower) in sole custody of the Deputy Keeper of the Jewels, a man named Talbot Edwards who lived with his family in the tower.

Blood, disguised as a clergyman, became very friendly with Edwards, even to the point of proposing a marriage between the old mans’ daughter and a supposed nephew of his. Early on a May morning in 1671, the colonel appeared by appointment with his “nephew” and a friend to arrange the marriage. While awaiting the ladies, Blood suggested that his friends might see the Crown Jewels. As soon as the chamber was opened Edwards was attacked and badly injured. Blood hid the State Crown beneath his cloak; one accomplice slipped the Orb into his breeches, while the other began filing the sceptre in half to make it more portable. They were then unexpectedly disturbed by Edward’s son returning from abroad and a running fight followed during which all three were captured.

The Outer Wall seen from outside the complex shows the rarely viewed backend of the Tower; notice the cross-shaped “loopholes” in the fortress walls for weapons. The two round buildings beyond are believed to be: Bowyer Tower at left and Flint Tower at right.

Blood eventually obtained an audience with Charles II to whom he remarked that “it was a gallant attempt.” Charles — with uncharacteristic leniency — immediately pardoned Blood, granted him a pension and promised that his Irish estates, seized at the Restoration, would be restored.

Edwards, on the other hand, was granted 200 pounds by the Exchequer and his son was given 100 pounds. The old man, however, was forced to sell off his expectation for half its value, and he died of his injuries soon afterwards.

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The Salt Tower

Henry III

This tower, yet another built by Henry III, about 1235 was used in later days as a prison for Jesuits. It contains a number of interesting inscriptions, the most notable being a complicated diagram cut in stone for casting horoscopes. The inscription records that “Hew Draper of Brystow made this sphere the 30 daye of Maye anno 1561”. Draper was imprisoned for attempted witchcraft in 1561.

The Salt Tower

In several places on the walls a pierced heart, hand, and foot have been carved. This symbol signifies the wounds of Christ. As in other towers where the Jesuits were imprisoned. the monogram I.H.S, with a cross above the H, occurs in several places — the sign made by the Society of Jesus.

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The Crown Jewels

The Crown Jewels are what most visitors to the Tower of London come to see. This incomparable collection of crowns, orbs, swords, sceptres and other regalia, and gold and silver plate was refashioned in 1661 after parliament had ordered the original gold and precious metals to be melted down for coinage in 1649.

The Imperial State Crown worn by monarchs at their coronations is set with jewels of great antiquity and historical significance. The oldest is Edward the Confessor’s sapphire, believed to have been worn by him in a ring and now mounted in the cross patee above the monde. The great gem above the rim is the ancient balas-ruby, known as the Black Prince’s ruby, which is said to have been given to him by Pedro the Cruel of Castile.

From the intersections of the arches hang four superb drop pearls, the so-called Queen Elizabeth’s Ear-rings, but there is no evidence that she ever wore them in this way. Set in the rim at the back of the crown is the Stuart sapphire. It is probably much older than its name implies but is known to have been in the possession of James II when he fled to France after his deposition. It was formerly mounted in the rim, at the front, but was displaced by the Second Star of Africa cut from the Cullinan diamond. In addition to these jewels, the Imperial State Crown contains over 3,000 diamonds and pearls, as well as fine sapphires, emeralds, and rubies.

The Crown Jewels have in the past resided in both the White Tower and in the Martin Tower. Today they have their home in Jewel House which is a part of the Waterloo Barracks

The Royal Sceptre with the Cross is a rod of chased gold, with the peerless Star of Africa cut from the Cullinnan diamond held in a heart-shaped mount. Above this is a superb amethyst with a diamond-encrusted cross set with an emerald.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s Crown was made for her coronation as queen consort in 1937. This graceful crown is set with diamonds, dominated by the famous Koh-i-noor. Its Indian name means “Mountain of Light” and the jewel has a long and turbulent history. Tradition says that its male owners will suffer misfortune, but women who possess it will rule the world.

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The Queen’s House

Anne Boleyn

The Queens House was built about 1530, probably for Queen Anne Boleyn, but she lived there only as a prisoner for 18 days awaiting her execution. The second queen of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth  I, she was beheaded on Tower Green by a French executioner for alleged infidelity; it is said she felt the French more skilled at the task of beheading. As a princess interned at the Bell Tower, Elizabeth I was permitted to dine here. Despite the presence of these and future Queens, the building was known until 1880 as the Lieutenant’s Lodgings.

Views of the left and right sides of the L-shaped complex of the Queen’s House

It is a very fine example of half-timbered Tudor architecture. Within a few years of completion, a floor was inserted at second storey level in the lofty hall making what is known as the Council Chamber. The chamber has a magnificent 16 century rafted ceiling and contains an elaborate tablet commemorating the Gunpowder Plot erected in 1608 by the then Governor, Sir William Waad. In this room Guy Fawkes was interrogated and after torture on the rack in the White Tower, signed a confession incriminating his fellow conspirators.

Adjoining the Council Chamber is a room in which William Penn, the famous Quaker who founded the state of Pennsylvania, was once a prisoner. And in modern times the notorious Rudolph Hess, Nazi leader and German deserter during World War II, was imprisoned here.

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The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula

The historic Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula (St. Peter in Chains) is the oldest chapel royal in England. In this little chapel most of those who died on Tower Hill and six of the seven executed on Tower Green, were laid to rest under flagstones without ceremony.

The Site of Block is demarcated in front of the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula. (Part of the Jewel House can be see to its right). [Greeley/Gilmore]

Site of Block

Between the Chapel and Tower Green is a small paved area. A scaffold was erected here for the beheading of those whose public execution on Tower Hill might have incited the people to riot. The names of the six tragic figures who died on this fateful spot are inscribed on the board. They include three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey. Elizabeth Ist supposed suitor, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex was also executed here.

A well-used block and axe. Although there can be found many cut-marks in the block, two are deepest — the one used for practice, and the one used for actual execution.  [Both: R.Radliff]

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The Beauchamp Tower

Henry III and his son, Edward I, are to be attributed to the creation of the Beauchamp Tower. Henry III is responsible for many of the towers and structures in the Tower of London, with eight wall towers built during the latter part of his reign. It was during Edward’s reconstruction of the western section that he replaced a twin-towered gatehouse built by Henry with the Beauchamp Tower around 1275-81.

Architecturally, the large amount of brick used, as opposed to solely that of stone, was innovative at its time for castle construction. The tower takes its name from Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, imprisoned 1397-99 by Richard II. The three-story structure was used often for prisoners of high rank.

Of special interest are the inscriptions carved on the stone walls here by prisoners. The most elaborate is a memorial to the five brothers Dudley, one of whom was Lord Guildford Dudley, husband of Lady Jane Grey. These unhappy pair were executed in 1554.

Tower Green

On the west side of the White Tower is the Tower Green, which is bounded on the north by the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, and on the south by the Queen’s House. On the west green stands the Beauchamp Tower.

The Ravens and the Legend

There have always been ravens at the Tower of London, and some are usually seen strutting about Tower Green. They are unfriendly and it is unwise to touch or feed them. Their wings are clipped so that they cannot fly away. A curious superstition dating from the time of Charles II prophesises that when there are no longer ravens in the Tower both the White Tower and the British Commonwealth will fall.

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The Arms and Armour 2

In the adjoining Sixteenth-century Room, fine arms and armour date from that century, but exclude English products. Most conspicuous is the massive suit of German armour made around 1540 for a man nearly seven feet tall. From the middle of the century is the splendid Lion Armour embossed with lions masks and damascened in gold.

Lion Armour, Tournament Gallery [Brian J. McMorrow]

Armor of Charles I

On the top floor, the Tudor Room is devoted mainly to the armours made in the royal workshops at Greenwich which Henry VIII established about 1514. They include four armours made for the king himself — one engraved and silver-plated — and others made at Greenwich for Tudor courtiers. There is an armour made for one of Elizabeth I’s favorites, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, another for William Somerset, Earl of Worcester, another for Sir John Smythe, who vainly championed the use of the long bow many years after its inevitable super-session by firearms.

In the adjoining Stuart Room are beautiful little armours made in France and England for the Stuart kings and princes and the London-made harquebus armour of James II. They are the focus of a display devoted to the 17th century — the last period before armour ceased to be used. Separate displays are devoted to the armour, arms and accoutrements of the richly equipped bodyguards, the light and heavy cavalry, and the infantry. The armour of the pikemen was the last to be worn by foot soldiers before the increased efficiency of firearms made its use impractical.

Mortars at the Tower of London

In the basement is the Mortar Room, where the bronze mortars on view include one of the bores used for fireworks at the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748. At the far end of the room is the entrance to the sun-crypt of the Chapel of St John, where a carved and gilt figure of the Lion of St Mark, a trophy from Corfu, is flanked by a number of the finest small cannon from the armouries collection.

In the adjacent Cannon Room the walls are hung with relics of Henry VIII’s army and a great array of armour and weapons returned to the Tower after the Civil War. Here also is the greater part of the Armouries collection of cannon, including several from the ships of Henry VIII’s navy.

The New Armouries comprise a red brick building close to the White Tower. On the ground floor is a representative collection of armour and arms of Africa and the Orient. It is dominated by an armour for an elephant, probably captured at the battle of Plassey in 1757.

Armour of King James II (1686) – [Royal Armouries collections]

One Japanese armour on view was presented to James I by the governor of Edo in 1613. Many of the later sporting firearms on the first floor are of the highest quality. The flintlock guns include ones given by Louis XIV to the first Duke of Richmond, another was sent by Napoleon to Charles IV of Spain, and a third with matching powder flask, pair of pistols and stirrups, was made to the order of Elizabeth, Empress of Russia.

Here also are the Reverend Alexander Forsyth’s own models of the percussion lock he invented after years of experiment in the Tower. Superseding the flintlock, it completely revolutionised firearms development and, consequently, the science of war.

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The Arms and Armour 1

The White Tower and the New Armouries contain the national collection of arms and armour. As the most important fortress in the kingdom, the Tower must have held armour and arms from the time it was first built, but in their present form the Armouries date from the time of Henry VIII. The collection — one of the greatest in the world — illustrates the development of arms and armour from the Middle Ages to 1914.

One of the armours worn
by Henry VIII

The White Tower is entered through the Tournament Room. The display here is devoted entirely to armour specially designed for use in warlike exercise. This collection includes the tilt armour for the German form of joust known as the Scharfrennen, in which sharp lances were used, and the splendid Brocas helm. The armour was made about 1490 in Germany for use at the court of Emperor Maximillian I; the tilt helm was probably made in England in the same period.

In tournaments mounted men ran different courses against each other, each course requiring armour of a special design. Men also fought against one another on foot and this required armour of yet another pattern. The Armouries contain three foot-combat armours made for Henry VIII; the first dates to about 1512 and the second about 1515 when he was slim and active. The third one was made in 1540 when he was forty-nine and very portly. The middle armour is remarkable in that all the plates fit together, over flanges, thus enabling his height of six-feet one-inch to be accurately determined.

In the adjacent room the collection of hunting and sporting arms includes crossbows and firearms. Here can be traced the technical advances in firearm mechanisms, from the matchlock, the snaphance and the wheel lock to the flintlock. The development of decorative techniques is also evident. Craftsmen applied or inlaid precious metals, ivory, bone and even mother-of-pearl to enhance the wood they carved and chiselled with such consummate skill; the contemporary artistic styles from the 15th to the 19th centuries can thus be compared.

An especially interesting exhibit is the elegant silver-decorated sporting gun made in Dundee in 1614. It came from the personal gun-room of Louis XIII of France. Another unique exhibit is the Scottish gun made entirely of engraved brass for Charles I when he was a young man. Through the Chapel of St John is the Mediaeval Room which is now devoted to the earliest arms and armour in the Tower. The exhibits are mostly of the late 14th and 15th centuries and include a superb Italian visored bascinet with its original neck protection of mail. There is also one of the few Gothic horse armours surviving. It was probably made to order for Waldemar VI of Anhalt-Zerbst (1450-1508).

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Chapel of St. John the Evangelist

On the first floor of the White Tower is the exquisite Chapel of St John the Evangelist where the royal family and the court worshipped and where the knights of the Order of the Bath spent their vigil the night before a coronation. It is one of the most perfect specimens of Norman architecture in Great Britain.

Chapel of
St. John the Evangelist

Roman influence can also be found in the White Tower’s basement where there is two-millennium-old well. The White Tower also contains one of the finest collections of arms and armour in the world.

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