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TOWER OF LONDON, EC3N 4AB

GETTING THERE

Postcode: EC3N 4AB

Lat/Long:  51.5080N 0.0787W

Notes:  Located in central London use of public transport is strongly recommended. The Tower is in the immediate vicinity of Tower Hill Underground Station.

WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?

A major museum and tourist destination, the Tower of London has extensive medieval and Roman remains alongside multiple museums and exhibits. Some quite significant areas, such as the Queen’s House (where Guy Fawkes was interrogated), are not open to the public.

VISIT OFFICIAL SITE (Opens in new window)

The Tower of London is operated by Historic Royal Palaces.

Development of the Tower of London. Starting as a small enclosure within a corner of the Roman walls, the area enclosed by the castle was expanded significantly during the reign of Richard I. Later Henry III, shaken by his perception of the weak defences when sheltering there during the Second Barons War, expanded the site further. His son, Edward I, expanded the site to its current shape.

Middle and Byward Towers. These two towers were added by Edward I during his major upgrades to the castle. The former was so called because it was positioned after a semi-circular barbican (now destroyed).

Barbican. The barbican at the Tower has long since been destroyed but it is believed it was similar to the one seen above at Goodrich Castle near the Welsh border.It is almost certain that it was constructed by the same team who were most probably loaned by Edward I to William de Valence, Earl of Pembroke to assist with the upgrading of his fortification at Goodrich.

St Thomas Tower and Traitors Gate. St Thomas Tower, built above the watergate access to the Tower, is more famously known as Traitor’s Gate. In reality many visitors, prisoners or otherwise, used the entrance as the River was the highway of medieval London.

Edward I Artillery Bastions. Edward I built the new curtain wall adding artillery towers into the design.

The Governor’s House. Guy Fawkes was held and tortured here. No public access.

Bloody Tower. Allegedly where the Princes in the Tower were held and possibly murdered.

England > Greater London TOWER OF LONDON

A Norman fortress built to overawe and dominate a hostile populace, the Tower of London evolved to become a bastion of Royal authority within the capital city. In its thousand year history it has witnessed the murder and incarceration of Kings, execution of Queens and became a prison infamous for torture.  

HISTORY OF THE TOWER OF LONDON


The Initial Castle


London was founded by the Romans in the first century AD and by 1066 it was the economic heartland of England and the centre of Anglo-Saxon power. William invaded in October that year and, after defeating King Harold at the Battle of Hastings, he advanced on London. Expecting to meeting resistance he started a series of castle building on the approaches into the City and laid waste to the surrounding countryside as a demonstration of Norman power; the message was received for the City's aldermen sent a delegation to submit to William and invited him to become King. In advance of his arrival in the City, William deployed an advance force ahead of him to prepare a fortress within the City – this may well have been the start of work on the Tower of London.  


William's coronation was held on Christmas Day 1066. He clearly doubted that the City had truly submitted to him for he arrived with a nervous armed retinue which mistook the cheers of support within Westminster Abbey as an uprising and subsequently set the surrounding buildings on fire. William completed the coronation ceremony, allegedly shaking with fear, and afterwards made a hasty retreat to Barking Castle in Essex whilst his strongholds within the City were prepared.


The Normans commenced construction of two castles within the City. Possibly built on the site of an earlier fortification - and certainly re-using part of the Roman City walls that had been built in AD 200 - Baynard's Castle was positioned on the waterfront near Blackfriars by Ralph Baynard, (later) Earl of Essex. The second fortification is what would become the Tower of London and was built by William's men in the South East corner of the Roman City Walls. Re-using these defences (by then over 800 years old but still standing to a good height) on two sides, the remainder of the new castle enclosure was protected by a new ditch and wooden palisade. There was also a third fortification built - Montfichet's Tower - but the date is uncertain and may not have been part of the initial Norman defences. It was constructed at some point in the late eleventh century on Ludgate Hill within the parameter of an old Roman Fort and guarding the access west over the River Fleet (then a substantial waterway).


The White Tower


Within a few years of William’s invasion, work had started on the White Tower. Under the direction of Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester forced English labour was raised from the surrounding countryside to build the new structure. Caen stone was imported from Normandy to give the Tower a unique appearance and whilst today it seems a relatively low structure compared to London's world famous skyline, in the eleventh century it stood tall above all else. Due to its palatial function the Tower had many windows - potentially making it a weak fortification against a well equipped army - but it was built to dominate the subjects of London rather than repel such a force.


Expansion


The castle was expanded significantly during the reign of Richard I (the Lionheart). During his absence on the Third Crusade he left William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely as Chancellor of England. He sought to cement Royal power and there was no more visible sign of this than expanding the Tower of London. Retaining the Roman Wall on the South and East sides, he expanded the remainder of the structure building the Bell Tower and enclosed the newly expanded bailey with a stone wall. The upgrades were timely as Prince John (later King John) rebelled against his brother and attempted to seize the throne. He besieged the Tower ultimately taking it due to lack of supplies. The rebellion came to an end in 1194 when Richard returned but just five years later the Lionheart was dead and John became King. John seems to have been the first monarch to keep lions in the Tower.


The First Barons War


John's reign was marred by the loss of all of his families former continental possessions followed by tensions with his Barons. During this period London's other two castles - Baynard and Montfichet Tower - were both owned by senior magnates rather than by the Crown. The former was in the hands of Robert FitzWalter whilst the latter was the property of Robert Montfichet. Both rebelled against John with their London fortifications burnt by the King in January 1213. However John’s relationship with his Barons continued to deteriorate and when Magna Carta failed to secure a lasting settlement, the First Barons War (1215-17) commenced.


Henry III


John's death at Newark Castle in October 1216 took the impetus out of the war as few of the Barons had any issues with his 9 year old successor, Henry III. Nevertheless during the course of his reign, the relations with the senior Barons continued to be turbulent. Henry sought shelter in the Tower in 1238 and noticed the weakness of the defences. This prompted a major building programme which extended the curtain wall in all directions bar the south (which was confined by the River Thames). Nine new towers were added to this defensive wall and a water filled moat was dug around the parameter by John Le Fossur, a Flemish engineer. To the delight of Londoners, who were alarmed at this massive expansion of the Tower, the new gatehouse collapsed shortly after being built.


Edward I


After the reigns of John and Henry III, the English monarchy had been severely weakened. With Henry's death in 1272, Edward I succeeded to the throne who had already earned his military credentials through victory against the rebel Barons at the Battle of Evesham (1265) and during a crusade. His reign was characterised by restoring the power and credibility of the monarchy. Whereas his father had expanded the Tower to provide a safe haven, Edward I wanted to make a statement of his power. Henry's expanded curtain wall now became an inner defence as John Le Fossur's moat was filled in and a new curtain wall built expanding the parameter of the castle further. A new moat, larger than before, was dug and successfully flooded. An elaborate half moon barbican was built to control access and would later host the Tower's zoo.


A Royal Prison


The Tower had long been used as a prison but during the reign of Edward III (1327-77) it held a number of important prisoners. In 1346, in support of the French who were suffering from the English King's continental campaign, David II of Scotland invaded Northern England. Engaged at the Battle of Neville's Cross in October the same year, his forces were routed and he was captured. Greater still was the victory at Battle of Poiters in 1356. Here Edward, (Black) Prince of Wales led his forces to victory including the capture of King John II of France. Neither King was held exclusively in the Tower - John's residences included Windsor and Berkhamsted whilst David stayed at Windsor and Oldiham Castles - but for ceremonial purposes both King's were periodically paraded here.


The Peasant's Revolt


The Black Death had hit England in 1340s decimating the population and causing a myriad of social and economic issues. The legacy of this, coupled with high taxation to fund the war in France, led to the Peasants' Revolt in 1381. On 14 June of that year, having rampaged through the City of London, the 14 year old King Richard II rode out to meet them. The gates of the Tower were not secured behind him and a mob, around 400 strong, stormed the stronghold. The garrison was not harmed but the rebels sought out the leaders of Richard's Government. Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury was dragged from the White Tower's chapel, taken to Tower Hill and beheaded. The young Henry Bolingbroke, whose father (John of Gaunt) was one of the rebel's key targets, was saved when a soldier hid him in a wardrobe. Whilst the rebellion would be defused by the actions of the young King, he perhaps had reason to regret the survival of his cousin Henry; in 1399 he would overthrow Richard with the deposed King held briefly at the Tower - where he was required to abdicate - before being moved to Pontefract Castle where he was murdered.


Wars of the Roses


The weak and ineffective rule of Henry VI, third Lancastrian King, led to the ambitious Richard, Duke of York to make a bid for the throne. Whilst he was killed at the Battle of Wakefield (1460) his son - Edward, Earl of March - continued the challenge and successfully defeated the Lancastrians at the Battles of Mortimer's Cross and Towton in 1461. Henry VI was defeated with Edward becoming King (Edward IV) and although Henry VI escaped from the latter, he was eventually captured and imprisoned in the Tower. He was briefly restored in 1470-1 but defeat of the Lancastrians at the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury saw Edward IV re-claim his throne. At Tewkesbury Henry's son - Edward, Prince of Wales - had been killed leaving no benefit in keeping the old King alive. Henry VI was murdered within the Tower allegedly whilst at prayer.


The death of Henry VI was not the only Royal murder during this bitter Civil War. In 1483 Edward IV died leaving his 12 year old son, Edward V, to succeed him under the protection of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. But Richard had designs on the throne himself and declared the boy King and his 9 year brother as illegitimate. The disinherited boys were held in the Tower and disappeared from history, their fates unknown but presumed murdered. In 1674, during repair work in the Tower of London, the skeletons of two boys were found in the White Tower and are presumed to be the Princes in the Tower.  


The Tudors


The victory of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) heralded the start of the Tudor era. Henry VII added some Royal residential buildings at the Tower but it was his son, Henry VIII, who made somewhat grander additions. Nevertheless the Tudor era saw the facility become a notorious prison fuelled by the religious change of the Reformation. In particular Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher were both imprisoned here before their executions as were two of the King's six wives - Anne Boleyn (1536) and Catherine Howard (1542). When Mary I came to the throne and attempted to revert the country to Catholicism, numerous Protestants were held at the Tower including Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I). Despite her own experience, Elizabeth continued to use the Tower as a political prison as did James I. Guy Fawkes was held and tortured here during the latter’s reign.


The Civil War and Restoration


During the Civil War London supported Parliament and the Tower was soon in their hands playing no further part in the conflict. During the Commonwealth, during which Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector, the first permanent garrison was installed in the castle. However, after the restoration of Charles II, the Tower's use as a prison declined with it mostly becoming a munitions store.


Preservation


A purpose built barracks was built within the Tower's Inner Bailey in 1841 (which now houses the Crown Jewels) and at this time the moat, which was increasingly silting up, was drained and converted to a dry ditch. But although the garrison was maintained - and was used against the public in the Chartist riots of the 1840s - the site was becoming more of historical interest than military use. As early as 1838 tickets were being sold to tourists and by 1901 over half a million people were visiting each year.


World Wars


The Tower's role as a prison and place of execution was resurrected during both World Wars. Between 1914 and 1916 several spies were held there and some executed including Franz Buschmann. Likewise during World War II when Josef Jakobs was shot there. Rudolf Hess, Hitler's Deputy Fuhrer, was briefly held at the Tower and became one of its last prisoners.

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The Devlin Tower (centre) with Well and Cradle Towers visible to the left.