Tower of London

The Tower of London is, quite simply, one of the most majestic and historical buildings in London – a city not exactly short on history and grandeur. The Tower is woven into the rich tapestry of London history as a site of some of its greatest triumphs, but also its worse crimes. Royalty have expired within its walls, both through murder and legal execution, and its place in history is secure.

The Tower of London is actually a complex, though is best identified by the White Tower which was built in 1078. The rest of the grounds have been added over time, and it is currently a set of buildings set within an outer stone wall. Many buildings are within the walls, including the Jewel House – the official home of the Crown Jewels of England since 1303 – and a private royal chapel, St. Peter ad Vincula (roughly translated as St. Peter in chains).

Tower Of LondonDespite its place in folklore, the Tower of London was originally conceived as a royal palace. It has traditionally been used as the residence of a new monarch in the week leading up to their coronation, and features lavish apartments. It is not this, however, for which the Tower has become famous.

The phrase ‘sent to the Tower’ is still often used in English colloquialism, and essentially refers to someone being imprisoned. The Tower, though not actually a prison, has a long history of being used as such for particularly noble or royal prisoners. Among those that have been kept there are the Princes in the Tower, the unfortunate nephews of Richard III who were said to be murdered, as well as two Queens of England – Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.

Contrary to popular belief, the Tower was rarely used as an execution site. The majority of those sentenced to death met their maker on nearby Tower Hill, even if imprisoned within the Tower during their trial. Death within the Tower was seen as a privilege, as it was usually devoid of the large crowds of commoners that assembled for any execution on Tower Hill. Those that died on Tower Green, the site of the scaffold, tended to be high profile prisoners convicted of high treason.

Henry VIII in particular made much use of Tower Green, sending two wives and one former secretary of state – the Catholic martyr Thomas More – to their deaths there. Executions on Tower Green were attended only by a small invited audience, usually nobility, and were generally more somber affairs than the blood baying that took place on Tower Hill. Few, however, were afforded the privilege and noble blood was rarely enough to ensure a Tower Green execution.

The Tower of London has earned the unfortunate nickname of the Bloody Tower, and there is no doubt it has played a major part in some of the most distasteful stories of English history. Along with the executions and mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, the Tower was also a prison for the future Elizabeth I during the reign of her sister, Mary. It is, however, an enduring English landmark that is steeped with years of history, and is thus one of the most  popular visitor attractions in London today.