Tower of London

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Name: Tower of London
Location: London
Country: England
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The Tower of London  is included in our 16 days "Best Castles of Britain and Ireland" tour. Visit our site.
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Castle building was an essential part of the Norman Conquest; when Duke William of Normandy invaded England  in 1066 his first action after landing was to build a castle. His idea was first to conquer, then subdue and finally colonize the whole England. 

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After his coronation in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, William ordered the construction of a castle in London for his triumphal entry

The tower c. 1100

Initially the Tower had consisted of a modest enclosure built into the south-east corner of the Roman City walls, but by the late 1070s, with the initial completion of the White Tower, it had become the most fearsome of all. Nothing had been seen like it in England before. It was built by Norman masons and English (Anglo-Saxon) labor drafted in from the countryside.  It was intended to protect the river route from Danish attack, but also and more importantly to dominate the City physically and visually. 

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The White Tower was protected to the east and south by the old Roman City walls (a full height fragment can be seen just by Tower Hill underground station), while the north and west sides were protected by ditches as much as 750m (25ft) wide and 3.40m (lift) deep and an earthwork with a wooden wall on top. 

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 From very early on the enclosure contained a number of timber buildings for residential and service use. It is not clear whether these included a royal residence but William the Conqueror's immediate successors probably made use of the White Tower itself. 

It is important for us today to remember that the functions of the Tower from the 1070s until the late 19th century were established by its Norman founders. The Tower was never primarily intended to protect London from external invasion, although, of course, it could have done so if necessary. Nor was it ever intended to be the principal residence of the kings and queens of England, though many did in fact spend periods of time there. Its primary function was always to provide a base for royal power in the City of London and a stronghold to which the royal family could retreat in times of civil disorder.

The Medieval Tower:

The Tower c. 1200


When Richard the Lionhearted (1189-99) came to the throne he departed on a crusade to the Holy Land leaving his Chancellor, William Longchamp, Bishop of Ely, in charge of the kingdom. Longchamp soon embarked on an enlargement and strengthening of the Tower of London, the first of a series of building campaigns which by about 1350 had created the basic form of the great fortress that we know today. 

The reign of the next king John (1199-1216) saw little new building work at the Tower, but the King made good use of the accommodation there. Like Longchamp, John had to cope with frequent opposition throughout his reign. Only a year after signing an agreement with his barons in 1215 (the Magna Carta) they were once more at loggerheads and Prince Louis of France had launched an invasion of England with the support of some of John's leading barons. In the midst of his defense of the kingdom, John died of dysentery and his son, Henry III, was crowned.

With England at war with France, the start of King Henry's long reign (1216-72) could have hardly been less auspicious, but within seven months of his accession the French had been defeated at the battle of Lincoln and the business of securing the kingdom could begin. Reinforcement of the royal castles played a major role in this, and his work at the Tower of London was very extensive.. 

By the mid-1230s, Henry III had run into trouble with his barons and opposition flared up in both 1236 and in 1238. On both occasions the King fled to the Tower of London. . That year, therefore, saw the launch of Henry's most ambitious building program at the Tower, the construction of a great new curtain wall round the east, north and west sides of the castle.  

The Tower c.1270


In 1272 King Edward I (1272-1307) came to the throne determined to complete and extend the defensive works begun by his father. Between 1275 and 1285 the King created England's largest and strongest concentric castle. (a castle with one line of defenses within another). 

The work included building the existing Beauchamp Tower, but the main effort was concentrated on filling in Henry III's moat and creating an additional curtain wall on all four sides and surrounding it by a new moat. This wall enclosed the existing curtain wall built by Henry III and was pierced by two new entrances, one from the land on the west, passing through the Middle and Byward towers, and another under
St Thomas's Tower, from the river. New royal lodgings were included in the upper part of St Thomas's Tower. Almost all these buildings survive in some form today.

 As early as the reign of Henry III the castle had already been in regular use as a prison: Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justiciar of England was incarcerated in 1232 and the Welsh Prince Gruffydd was imprisoned there between 1241 and 1244, when he fell to his death in a bid to escape. The Tower also served as a treasury (the Crown
jewels were moved from Westminster Abbey to the Tower in 1303.

The tower c.1300


Richard II's reign brought to an end the peaceful interlude under Edward III. During the Peasants' Revolt of 1381 the 14-year old King and many of his family and household were forced to shelter in the Tower while over 10,000 rebels plundered and burnt the capital for two days.  Just as Richard's reign had begun at the Tower of London, so did it end; on 1 October 1399 the King, condemned as a tyrant, renounced the crown in his chamber in the White Tower and Henry IV was proclaimed King the next day.

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The Cradle Tower built by Edward III

During the reign of Henry VI (1422-61 and 1470-71) England entered the period of civil disorder and political instability known as the Wars of the Roses. Throughout this period the Tower of London was a key asset to those who held the throne or wished to.

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The Tower in Tudor Times:
A Royal Prison
The first Tudor monarch, Henry VII (1485-1509) was responsible for building the last permanent royal residential buildings at the Tower. He extended his own lodgings around the Lanthorn Tower adding a new private chamber, a library, a long gallery, and also laid out a garden. These buildings were to form the nucleus of a much larger scheme begun by his son Henry VIII (1509-47) who put up a large range of timber-framed lodgings at the time of the coronation of his second wife, Anne Boleyn. The building of these lodgings, used only once, marked the end of the history of royal residence at the Tower. The reigns of the Tudor kings and queens were comparatively stable in terms of civil disorder. However, from the 1530s onwards the unrest caused by the Reformation (when Henry VIII broke with the Church in Rome) gave the Tower an expanded role as the home for a large number of  religious and political prisoners,

The Tower c.1547.


 The first important Tudor  prisoners were Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher of Rochester, both of whom were executed in 1535 For refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the English Church. They were soon followed by a still more famous prisoner and victim, the King's second wife Anne Boleyn, executed along with her brother and four others a little under a year later. July 1540 saw the execution of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex and former thief minister of the King - in which capacity he had modernized the Tower's defenses and, ironically enough, sent many others to their deaths on the same spot. Two years lacer, Catherine Howard, the second of Henry VIII's six wives to be beheaded, met her death outside the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula which Henry had rebuilt a few years before.

MVC-447S.jpg (19967 bytes) The Queen's House was where distinguished prisoners were held, including HenryVIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn. The last prisoner to stay in the Queen's House was Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer of Nazi Germany. 


The reign of Edward VI (1547-53) saw a continuation of the political executions which had begun in his father's reign; the young King's protector the Duke of Somerset and his confederates met their death at the Tower in 1552, falsely accused of treason. During Edward's reign the English Church became more Protestant, but the King's early death in 1553 left the country with a Catholic heir, Mary 1 (1553-58). During her brief reign many important Protestants and political rivals were either imprisoned or executed at the Tower. The most famous victim was Lady Jane Grey, and the most famous prisoner the Queen's sister Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth 1). Religious controversy did not end with Mary's death in 1558; Queen Elizabeth 1 (1558-1603) spent much of her reign warding off the threat from Catholic Europe, and important recusants (people who refused to attend Church of England services) and others who might have opposed her rule were locked tip in the Tower. Never had it been so full of prisoners, or such illustrious ones: bishops, archbishops, knights, barons, earls and dukes all spent months and some of them years languishing in the towers of the tower of London.

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The Tower is guarded by a military guard.

 

The monarchy was restored in 1660 and the reign of the new king, Charles II (1660-85) saw further changes in the functions of the Tower. Its role as a state prison declined, and the Office of Ordnance (which provided military supplies and equipment) took over responsibility for most of the castle, making it their headquarters

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The Byward Tower. Constructed during the time of Edward I

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. During this period another long-standing tradition of the Tower began the public display of the Crown Jewels. They were moved from their old home to a new site in what is now called the Martin Tower, and put on show by their keeper Talbot Edwards.

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The Tower in the 19th Century:
From Fortress to Ancient Monument
Between 18oo and 1900 the Tower of London took on the appearance which to a large extent it retains today
However, before these changes took place the Tower had once again - but for the last time performed its traditional role in asserting the authority of the state over the people of London. The Chartist movement of the 1840s (which sought major political reform) prompted a final refortification of the Tower between 1848 and 1852, and further work was carried out in 1862.

MVC-464S.jpg (21186 bytes)The Lion Tower. 

To protect the approaches to the Tower new loop-holes and gun emplacements were built and an enormous brick and stone bastion (destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War) constructed on the north side of the fortress. Following the burning down of the Grand Storehouse in 1841, the present Waterloo Barracks was put up to accommodate a thousand soldiers, and the Brick, Flint and Bowyer towers to its north were altered or rebuilt to service it; the Royal Fusiliers' building was erected at the same time to be the officers' mess. The mob never stormed the castle but the fear of it left the outer defenses of the Tower much as they are today.

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Yeoman Warders, often called "Beefeaters", have been at the Tower of London since the 14th. century. Today they give guided tours of the Tower .
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The Fusilier's Museum. Built as the Officer's Mess in the mid-19th century. It was built to accommodate 1,000 soldiers. Today the building is the headquarters of the royal Regiment of Fusiliers. 

The second half of the 19th century saw a great increase in the number of visitors to the Tower, although sightseers had been admitted as early as 1660 In 1841 the first official guidebook was issued and ten years later a purpose-built ticket office was erected at the western entrance. By the end of Queen Victoria's reign in 1901 half a million people were visiting the Tower each year.

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The 20th Century
The First World War (1914-18) left the Tower largely untouched; the only bomb to fall on the fortress landed in the Moat. However, the war brought the Tower of London back into use as a prison for the first time since the early 19th century and between 1914-16 eleven spies were held and subsequently executed in the Tower. The last execution in the Tower took place in 1941 during the Second World War (1939-45). Bomb damage to the Tower during the Second World War was much greater: a number of buildings were severely damaged or destroyed including the mid-19th century North Bastion, which received a direct hit on 5 October 1940, and the Hospital Block which was partly destroyed during an air raid in the same year. Incendiaries also destroyed the Main Guard, a late 19th-century building to the south west of the White Tower.

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Today the Tower of London is one of the world's major tourist attractions and 2.5 million visitors a year come to discover its long and eventful history, its buildings, ceremonies

MVC-422S.jpg (15265 bytes) One of team members inspecting the Armour Room.

VIDEO

THE NORMAN CONQUEST OF ENGLAND: Norman architectural influence in Britain.

 

David Douglas, 19, from London, wrote:
I love the London tower it is filled with history and excitement come visit some time ok.
Jackie, 12, from New Hampshire, wrote:
I have been to London when I was 11. the Tower of London was great. I loved the crown jewels. If you want a great experience visit the Tower of London.
Chrissie, 12, from London, wrote:
Hi everyone!  If you are in London, which I'm in every day, I advise you to go and visit The Tower of London. You need the whole day for your visit so you can get round to see most things. I went there 'cos I was doing a castle project and I thought it would be good to go and check a castle out. I thought it was amazing! When I was there I took a moment and thought what it was like in mediaeval times e.g. Weird eh, that's me!  The guard at the front was so funny! I waved my hand about in front of his face and he didn't even blink. Me and my friends even started singing to him and doing all sorts of things so he could respond but he didn't. I could never do what he does.  Well anyway, the castle it was great, marvelous, enjoyable and I think you should go and see it!     
John Heubi, 55, from Chicago (Indianapolis), wrote:
You should plan to devote about 3/4ths or a whole day to visit this castle. It would be worth while to have an extra camera with 1000 ASA film to photograph some of the interiors or even if the day is overcast to photograph some of the exterior areas.
Chrissie, 12, from London, wrote:
I really think you should visit the Tower of London, I loved it. It's really worth going. When I was there I thought that it was amazing thinking that there were once many wars and invasions here. It makes you think what life was really like before. I had a great day like many others as I thought it was a spectacular thing to go and see. Enjoy yourself and God bless.                  
Katherine Scott, 5, from Newcastle, wrote:
I had a very fun day at the Tower of London I thought the crown Jewels were very pretty and the soldiers made me laugh with their big furry hats. Mummy said I couldn't climb because I was to small but I got some keyrings from the shop and I was scared of the beefeaters because they looked scary and I cried. If you want to have fun go to the Tower of London.
A, 13, from Los Angeles, wrote:
The Tower of London is one of the best family castles anywhere.  Guns and Armour for the boys, the Crown Jewels and royal suites for the girls.  There are a lot of exhibits, so don't make this a one-hour trip.  Note to any person(s) who is going:  Go early (preferably when it opens)!  If you go anytime after noon, lines to go into exhibits WILL BE GOING OUT THE DOOR.  Hit the Crown Jewels first, then do the tour with the Yeoman guide.  The Crown Jewel line literally goes around the building.  Inside, you WILL be rushed so other people can see it too.  But if you go early, you can gaze at it as long as you want.
Alicia, 10, from Chicago, wrote:
Hey, everyone! I went to the Tower of London. It was really cool. It used to be this prison, and some people were killed there in horrible ways. One of them was letting the tide come in and letting the tide go out, but with the person. Very mean. Anyway, I went because it was the Ceremony of the Keys, where every night, they lock up the Tower of London. It was a really neat process. Plus, I got to open the door on the way out and hold the guard's hand and talk to him It was really cool. So, if any one ever goes to London, make sure you go to the Ceremony of the Keys.
Randy J. Hendrix, 50, from Lubbock, Texas USA, wrote:
 Our visit to the Tower of London was both entertaining and awe inspiring.  The Crown Jewels and the exhibits of ancient armor and weaponry were simply amazing!  However, it's bloody history cast a pall of sadness about the place and it was difficult to imagine it as a place of residence, rather than a royal prison.  It is a VERY interesting place and should not be missed by any visitor to London!
Cheryl Land, 34, from Midwest USA. wrote:
 I visited the Tower of London in 1994, and found it fascinating, as it is full of so much history!  Seeing a documentary on the Tower recently sparked my interest again.   If you are ever in London, take the time to go!  The Crown Jewels are magnificent, and walking about the Tower grounds is beautiful and informative (maybe even a little goose bump-inspiring after hearing some of the stories....)  Not to be missed!!!
Diana, 15, from Massachusetts, USA, wrote:
Hey! I visited the Tower of London last summer on a two week vacation. I certainly think that it was one of the most interesting places that I visited in England, and it was really fun! I wish I could have spent a whole day there, but only a half was available...I still think it was great! My Cousin and I went through the Crown Jewels 3 times, so we could take it all in! It was SO great, and I recommend it to anyone going to London!
Gerry Meier, 40, from Missouri, wrote:
The Tower of London was great!  All the stories about ghosts and murders, blood and gore, made it very exciting.  It was so awe inspiring to see the actual Tower and all the places once walked upon by the royals!  The raven legend was interesting and a little unsettling, as we hoped not to encroach on their territory!  To visit a building so old was very powerful.
James Kolessar, from Seattle, Washington, wrote:
 WOW!!!!  Terrific.  I loved it.  I enjoyed walking around the grounds and visiting all of the museums.  I had a great time talking to the BEEFEATERS.  I was surprised to hear that there are always RAVENS on the castle grounds.  The crown jewels were beautiful.  I was a little disappointed to hear that the boat entrance to the castle had been closed many years ago.  Overall, it was a great experience and I cannot wait to take another trip to London so I can go back to the Tower of London
Kate, 13, from Australia, wrote:
 In September last year I went to London for the first time. One of the main highlights from that trip was definitely visiting the tower, as you so often read/hear about it, that to actually be there was fantastic, as it has been the background to many famous historical events, ie. executions. It is a place so rich in history (it is my favorite subject) that makes it so fascinating. If you are in London, make the tower a main place on your itinerary, and allow a day for it as there is so much to see and do. I also recommend a tour with the beefeaters, that make the tower's past really come alive. The Tower and London is definitely one of the best places in the world.
Samantha Stein, 12, from Pennsylvania, wrote:
I've been to Europe six times and I found England the most pleasurable.  I was in York, Warwick, Edinburgh, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bath, and of course, London.  Anyone who goes to London must of course see the Tower of London.  It's beautifully structured, and the wonderful people there make it even more of a work of art.  They are so kind, that I'm seriously looking into moving there.
Christina, 28, from Utah, USA., wrote:
The Tower of London was so freaky! I went at night, so that made it even scarier. I've heard about secret passage ways that you can accidentally go into and never come out, and the narrow staircase at the top was the scariest. At night, you won't believe this, but I saw a dark-haired woman and a small boy floating in a corridor.
Debbie, 43, from USA wrote:
 We went to the Tower of London with a tour group in November.  GET OFF THE BUS!  We were there 45 minutes with the tour group but we got off and stayed all day.  It is incredible.  We could have stayed another day-there is so much.
Krista Morine, 18, from Canada, wrote; 
 If your are in London, GO HERE!!!  It's a wonderful place to visit, even if you do find it a little creepy.  Leave the ravens where they are or the English Empire will fall. Keep on the lookout of ghosts!
Nessie, 20, from USA wrote:
 I visited the Tower and found it to be fascinating because it ahs a rich history and there's ghosts there. I especially liked the legend of the ravens. The Crown Jewels were also an interesting exhibit. The Tower of London is an awesome place to go visit if you are going to London and I definitely recommend going there.
Stacey Miller, 16, from USA wrote:
Tower of London is awesome!! with all of its myths and haunted stories...it is solo interesting it really takes u back in time!! go!! you won't regret it!
Sam,13, from Ohio, wrote:
 The Tower is a must see if you are ever in London, even though there is an admission cost. The Crown jewels are beautiful! There are no pictures allowed of the Jewels, but you may purchase an inexpensive book that includes photos. Make sure to climb the wall and walk around atop it. With my experience, I found the staff patrolling the area are very friendly. Make sure not to get bitten by a raven, and visit the GREAT gift shop where you can find jewelry, postcards, books, and a very fun game, Outrage, which is only available there.

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