The Tower of London has to be one of the most iconic sights on the island of Britain, playing an pivotal part in the life of England since it was constructed in 1066. The tower is located on the north bank of the River Thames and was founded during the Norman Conquest of England. It was in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings on 14th October 1066 William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, spent the rest of the year securing his gained lands and fortifying his key positions. William attacked towns surrounding London, cutting off supply routes and in December 1066, tired and hungry, the Saxons admitted defeat to William.
William built a huge number of castles between 1066 and 1087, 36 in all, this does not include castles built by his subordinates. Once William entered London he immediately reconstruction on the Tower, using the south east corner of the old Roman town walls. The idea was to express power and dominance to the London populace who were restless and disgruntled at the presence of their new rulers. A ditch and wooden palisade would have surrounded the castle and in 1078 building began on the stone structure but wasn’t finished until 1100, 13 years after William’s death. In 1097 King William II replaced the wooden palisades with a stone wall. William II wanted to maintain his power as the face of the London ruling class shifted, unsurprisingly causing a huge amount of disquiet, with the advent of the new Norman and Jewish settlers. Lands were confiscated and given to Jewish communities, leading to anti-Jewish violence, during this time the tower was used as a safe-haven for the Jewish community.
The castle was extended in the late 12th century by William Longchamp. Longchamp tried to built a moat around the castle but was unable to fill it from the Thames. Although Longchamp had fortified the castle he could not withstand a siege in 1191 by Price John, and Longchamp capitulated after just three days. John became King in 1199 but proved unpopular and one of his barons Robert Fitzwalter led an army to London to besiege the tower. John agreed to sign the Magna Carta, making him more answerable to his barons and his public. John reneged on his promises and was eventually deposed in 1216. The castle was extended by King Henry III and Edward I during the 13th century.
The Tower served as a prison from 1100 until 1952, its prisoners were usually high ranking individuals, King James I of Scotland, and members of various dynasties, the notorious Kray Twins were the last people imprisoned in the tower. The castle fell into a state of disrepair under Edward II and by the time of Edward III, 1312, the castle had become and uncomfortable place leading to Edward III carrying out extensive renovation. Under the reign of Richard II in 1381 the Peasant’ Revolt besieged the castle. When Richard rode out to meet the rebel leader Wat Tyler, a crowd stormed the castle and looted the jewel house, they also seized the Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury and beheaded him at Tower Hill. In 1399 Richard himself was imprisoned within the tower, he abdicated and was replaced by Henry Bolingbroke, thereafter known as Henry IV, the castle showed its defensive capabilities when supporters of Richard II attempted a failed coup.
The late 15th century brought the War of the Roses when the houses of Lancaster and York went to war over claims to the throne, Edward IV a Yorkist was eventually crowned king. After the death of Edward IV in 1482, Richard Duke of Gloucester, a relative of Edward IV was made Lord Protector of the two young Princes’ Edward and Richard. The Duke imprisoned the Princes in the tower and proclaimed himself as King Richard III, the two Princes were murdered during the summer of 1483. Richard III only stayed in tower for two years, after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 Henry Tudor ascended to the throne as Henry VII.
The Tudor period was the beginning of the decline of the Tower’s prominence as a royal residence. The Tower became used more as an armoury and a prison. Many prisoners were tortured, including the infamous Guy Fawkes in 1605, after his torture he signed a full confession to the Gunpowder Plot. The iconic Yeoman Warders who had been established as the monarchy’s bodyguard in 1509 became de-facto prison wardens during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The tower continued to be used mainly as an as an armoury and attempts were made to repair the tower over the 17th and 18th centuries. The tower was used as a prison during the first and second world wars, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy was imprisoned there, albeit for four days. The tower is now one of the most visited tourist sites in England amassing 2.5 million visitors per year.
If you are visiting please bear in mind that The Tower is quite expensive to visit, somewhat understandable really considering it is owned by a private charity ‘Historic Royal Palaces’ that receives no funding from the government or the crown.
GPS: 51.50811, -0.07594