Category: Virtual Tour

The White Tower

The great central keep was built by William the Conqueror and finished by his sons and successors, William Rufus and Henry I. It is 90 feet high and is of massive construction, the walls varying from 15 feet thickness at the base to almost 11 feet in the upper parts. Above the battlements rise four turrets; three of them are square, but that on the northeast is circular. This turret once contained the first royal observatory.

White Tower, Tower of London

White Tower, Tower of London

The original single entrance was on the south side and it was reached by an external staircase. There were no doors at ground level. The walls on the upper floors were penetrated by narrow slits positioned in wide splays. On the southern side, four pairs of original double slits remain. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, all others were replaced by Sir Christopher Wren with the windows seen today.

Another view of the White Tower. The U-shaped extension of the tower is the part that contains the Chapel of St. John the Evangelist.

In the White Tower, the medieval kings of England lived with their families and their court. Here was the seat of government and here the laws of the land were made. The royal family lived in the top storey; the council chamber was on the floor below. In this chamber in 1399 Richard II  was forced to sign away his throne, and in 1483 Richard III summarily sentenced Lord Hastings to death.

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The Bloody Tower

Originally this was known as the Garden Tower for the constable’s garden that was by it. The square-shaped structure at one time served as a gateway to the Inner Ward. Its lowest level was built by Henry III and the other storeys were added later. It gained its present name in the 16th century because of the murderous deeds which took place in its dark rooms.

Richard III

Henry VII

The most notorious deed was the killing of the princes, Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. This occurred in 1483 supposedly on the orders of the Duke of Gloucester, afterward Richard III, but there are some who strongly oppose this view and name Henry Tudor, later Henry VII as the culprit.

The generally accepted version of the murder is that Elizabeth Woodville, widow of Edward IV, was forced to allow her sons to live in the Tower, ostensibly to enable the 13-year-old king to prepare for his coronation. Sir Robert Brackenbury was asked to take part in the murder but refused to help.

Thereupon Sir James Tyrrell was sent to the Tower with orders to force the Constable to surrender his keys for one night. Sir James agents found the two boys asleep. One was suffocated with a pillow while the other boy was stabbed to death. The murderers carried the bodies down the narrow stairway and buried them under a covering of rubble in the basement. They were later reburied by Sir Robert Brackenbury close to the White Tower, but all knowledge of the graves was lost. In 1674 skeletons of two boys were unearthed near the White Tower, and in the belief that the grave of the princes had been found the king ordered the bodies to be moved to Westminster Abbey.

With lights in its windows and darkness approaching, the Bloody Tower appears appropriately haunting. [Susan Harding]

Many other figures in history suffered imprisonment or death in the Bloody Tower. Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Ridley and Latimer who were condemned to death for heresy in 1555, were imprisoned in the Tower before being burned at the stake at Oxford.

Henry Percy died there in mysterious circumstances in 1585. The infamous Judge Jeffreys was a prisoner here as well. Sir Thomas Overbury, poet, and courtier, was a victim of court intrigue. His food is supposed to have been poisoned, and he is supposed to have swallowed enough poison to have killed 20 men before he died in 1613.

Tudor writing desk in the Bloody Tower at the Tower of London. The room is set out as it might well have been when Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned there. [Martinvl]

Sir Walter Raleigh spent most of his 13 years of imprisonment in the Bloody Tower, but he was able to perform many scientific experiments. He is credited with having discovered a method of distilling freshwater from saltwater. Also during his imprisonment, he wrote his vast History of the World which was published in 1614, four years before he was beheaded at Westminster.

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St. Thomas’s Tower and Traitors Gate

Traitor’s Gate as seen from the riverside. Behind the gate are a square and a round structure, Bloody and Wakefield Towers, respectively. To the left of both can be seen a brown structure with white windows that is the Queen’s House, further over the white Bell Tower peers over the trees, and, of course, at top right is part of the imposing White Tower. [Sylvain Goyette]

Further along Water Lane on the right is St Thomas’s Tower standing above Traitors Gate. The tower was built by Henry III and was named after Sir Thomas Becket  who had been Constable in 1162.

Traitors Gate was originally known as Water Gate but was later changed when it was used as the landing for the Crown’s enemies. All important prisoners entered the Tower through this gate. According to legend when Princess Elizabeth arrived on Palm Sunday 1554 she refused at first to land at the gate, angrily proclaiming that she was no traitor.

A sharp shower of rain, however, caused her to change her mind. Later when as Queen she visited the Tower she insisted on passing through Traitors Gate. “What was good enough for Elizabeth the Princess is good enough for Elizabeth the Queen”, she is supposed to have told the Constable.

St. Thomas’s Tower stands above the foreboding Traitor’s Gate below.

Traitor’s Gate

Tower of London Traitors Gate from Thames Riverboat cruise [RedNovember82]

The Wakefield Tower

Opposite Traitors Gate is the Wakefield Tower built in the early 13th century. Here the Crown Jewels were housed from 1870 until 1967. The tower has 2 chambers, the ground floor acting as a guardroom to the postern which led to the royal apartments above. These apartments were destroyed by Cromwell. The upper floor now contains a large and magnificent octagonal vaulted chamber in which there is an oratory.

Wakefield Tower was probably named after William de Wakefield, Kings Clerk, and holder of the custody of the Exchanges in 1334. In the 14th century, the State records were transferred to the Wakefield Tower from the White Tower, and in surveys of the period, the building is referred to as the Records Tower.

Henry VI died in the Wakefield Tower on May 21st, 1471. Henry VI, who was also the founder of Eton College, and of Kings College, Cambridge, is supposed to have been murdered on the orders of the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III.

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The Yeoman Warders

One of the most popular Tower attractions involves people: the Yeoman Warders to be exact. They were originally established in 1485 as King Henry VIII’s bodyguard. They are perhaps best known for their gorgeous scarlet and gold dress uniforms which date to 1552 and are worn on state occasions. They are usually seen at the Tower in the blue undress uniform granted to them by Queen Victoria in 1858.

Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London [Flickr: Paul Hudson]

The Yeomen Warders, also known as the beefeaters, are armed with a haberd or pike known as a partisan. The Chief Warder carries a staff surmounted by a silver model of the White Tower, while his second-in-command, the Yeoman Gaoler, possesses a ceremonial axe.

According to The London Encyclopedia, the popular name beefeaters may have been derived from their fondness for roast beef; however, it has also been suggested that it comes from the French buffetier. Moreover, the term may originally have been derogatory, used by the lower classes in sneering at the “pampered guards” who regularly ate beef, while they rarely had any.

An illustration from a turn-of-the-century playbook of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Yeoman of the Guard: beefeaters give way as a scrubbery maid passes through. Notice the partisans they are carrying and the silhouetted image of the White Tower at the top.

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The Bell Tower

The Bell Tower stands in the south-west corner of the Inner Ward. It was built in the 13th century and is so-called because of the belfry on top.

Visitors pass through the Middle Tower (at right), cross causeway over moat (grass area), and then enter through the Byward Tower (middle of photograph with two tubular structures at each end.) Behind and to the left of the Byward Tower, the Bell Tower can be viewed (round building with white belfry appearing at its uppermost right). At left, the fortress’s Outer Wall adjoins the Byward Tower. [R.Pierce]

In the past, when the bell was rung in alarm, drawbridges were raised, portcullises were dropped, and gates shut. The bell is still rung in the evening to warn visitors on the wharf it is time to leave.

Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More

Henry VIII

Among the most famous prisoners confined to the Bell Tower was Sir Thomas More imprisoned there in 1534.

More, at one time close friends with Henry VIII, refused to acknowledge the validity of the king’s divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon (thereby refusing to accept the Act of Succession) and to acknowledge him as supreme head of the Church. Catherine, it should be noted, was the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, known for financing the expeditions of Christopher Columbus.

Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I

Mary I

Mary I

More was executed in July 1535 and buried in St Peters Chapel.

Henry VIII’s penchant for imprisoning family was not lost on his children apparently. This involved two of his daughters (by two different mothers), both of whom would one day rule. Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I, was also imprisoned in the Bell Tower — sent there in 1554 by her half-sister Mary I on suspicion of being concerned in plots against the throne.

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The Byward Tower and The Outer Ward

The Byward Tower probably derives its name from by-the-ward, and gives access to the Outer Ward. It is here that the password is still demanded by the sentry at night. The Byward Tower archway leads to the Outer Ward. Ahead is Water Lane once ten feet lower than it is today. To the left is Mint Street. Here until 1810 stood the Royal Mint. Here too are the casemates where many of the Yeoman Warders live, and at one time there was a tavern with a golden chain as its sign on the site of No 1 Casemate.

Tower of London Main Entrance [Wikimedia]

Winding gear for a portcullis. [R.Radliff]

The Byward Tower was important as last stand in a series of defenses guarding the land entrance to the fortress. There were the twin towers of the Middle Tower, the drawbridge (no longer there) in the middle of the causeway, and (within the Byward Tower) one portcullis, the gates, and the second portcullis. Only one of the tower’s paintings, made about 1400 of a crucifixion scene, has survived the centuries. It is in a room not open to the public that lies above the gate hall and which contains the winding gear for one of the portcullis.

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Entering the Tower

Most visitors to the Tower will pass over Tower Hill. On the brow, within the railings of Trinity Square, once stood a permanent scaffold. The Tower is entered at the foot of Tower Hill near where used to stand the Bulwark Gate. It was here that prisoners were handed over to the Sheriff of London.

Beheading of John, Duke of North- umberland, 1553, Tower Hill

Beheading of John, Duke of North-umberland, 1553, Tower Hill [Bobcatnorth]

Lions at the Tower of London [endangeredliving.com]

Tower of London Lions in Moat [Wikimedia]

The Lion Tower

Here the royal menagerie was once housed. Henry I kept lions in the tower, hence its name. Henry II  was sent 3 leopards by Frederick III, and a white bear from the King of Norway, and later an elephant from Louis of France. James I is said to have entertained his guests to a bear baiting display in the Bear Pit. In 1834 the menagerie was sent to Regents Park where it formed the nucleus of the present London Zoo. The tower is no longer there, now serving as a restaurant for tourists.

The Middle Tower

The “Middle Tower” is the entrance to the Tower of London. It guards a passageway that goes across a dry moat. [Flickr: Bobcatnorth]

The Middle Tower

A short causeway leads to the Middle Tower built in the late 13th century. The archway, together with those of the Byward Tower and the Bloody Tower, were defended by portcullises, two of which remain.

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Beginnings and Structure

Roman Emperor Claudius, William the Conqueror

Roman Emperor Claudius, William the Conqueror

The Tower of London is the oldest palace, fortress and prison in Europe. The great fortress was created by William the Conqueror. The site he chose was the same one on which Claudius, the Roman Emperor, had built a fort more than a thousand years earlier; traces of the Roman wall can still be seen in the Tower.

Sketch of the Tower complex

Sketch of the Tower complex (probably about late 16th century)

As king succeeded king the fortress was enlarged by building walls and smaller towers around the central keep. Towards the end of the 12th century Richard I added to its might by encircling it with a moat fed by the River Thames. The moat was drained in 1830 whereupon many human bones were found.

The Tower of London is roughly square in shape with two lines of defensive walls enclosing the great White Tower. At intervals on the inner wall are thirteen smaller towers; this is the Inner Ward. The outer wall is defended by six towers on the river face, and by two semi-circular bastions at the northeast and northwest corners.

Roman ruins, possibly of a well. [R.Pierce]

Legge’s Mount, one of two bastions, marks the end of one side of the Outer Wall. The grass field is that of the Moat, long-ago drained of water. At the far end of the Moat one can make out the causeway leading to the Byward Tower. [R.Pierce]

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The Tower of London Area

Her Majesty’s Tower of London is situated in East London on the boundaries of the boroughs of Stepney and the City of London. Directly south, spanning the River Thames lies the famous Tower Bridge. To the east of the Tower are the St Katherine’s Docks. The Tower of London dominates the river approaches to the City of London and can be reached by Underground Tower Hill Circle and District lines, or by buses 42 and 78.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge is a source of never-ending fascination to visitors. Many who come to the Tower of London often wait a long time to see the roadway raised to allow an ocean-going ship to enter the Pool of London. Although the two bascules which carry the roadway each weigh over 1,000 tons, they can be raised in under two minutes. The Bridge was built between 1886 and 1894 by the City of London Corporation to link the southeastern suburbs with the city and eastern London. It cost over a million pounds.

Nearby is Tower Pier, embarkation point for the river launches which take tourists on short trips to places of interest. The river foreshore in front of the Tower of London, which is part of the Tower lands, is used as a pleasure beach by children. They have the late Lord Wakefield to thank for this open air delight. In 1934, when he was Sir Charles Wakefield, he obtained King George V’s sanction for the foreshore to be converted to a playground by spreading hundreds of tons of sand on the gravel beach. It was opened that year and has been popular ever since.

 

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