Tower of London

Tower_of_londonHer Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 (Ranulf Flambard), until 1952 (Kray twins)[1] although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the LionheartHenry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. From the early 14th century until the reign of Charles II, a procession would be led from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the coronation of a monarch. In the absence of the monarch, theConstable of the Tower is in charge of the castle. This was a powerful and trusted position in the medieval period. In the late 15th century the castle was the prison of the Princes in the Tower. Under the Tudors, the Tower became used less as a royal residence, and despite attempts to refortify and repair the castle its defences lagged behind developments to deal with artillery.

The peak period of the castle’s use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries, when many figures who had fallen into disgrace, such as Elizabeth I before she became queen, were held within its walls. This use has led to the phrase “sent to the Tower“. Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, popularised by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the World Wars of the 20th century. Executions were more commonly held on the notorious Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period. In the latter half of the 19th century, institutions such as the Royal Mint moved out of the castle to other locations, leaving many buildings empty.Anthony Salvin and John Taylor took the opportunity to restore the Tower to what was felt to be its medieval appearance, clearing out many of the vacant post-medieval structures. In the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage. After the Second World War, damage caused during the Blitz was repaired and the castle reopened to the public. Today the Tower of London is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site.

The Tower is a must see place in London. The Beefeaters (there are 6 of them – 2 from the Army, 2 from the Navy and 2 from the Airforce) attend to taking groups on a guided tour – approximately 90 minutes – very informative and if you got the one we did he was a lot of fun to listen to. Our chap (from the Army) told our group that you could recognise the Navy Beefeaters because they held hands and skipped a lot.  I think each Beefeater has his own monologue and delivers as his memory/fancy takes him. The group I was in was very entertained and there was a lot of laughter. All the buildings are signposted and there is a story associated with each one. You can go off by yourself (not in a group) and take your time reading all the bits and pieces about each building, room, etc you come across. I think the Beefeaters cater to the expectations of the group and a lot of the description is related to torture, beheadings and the like.

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We did not get an opportunity to see the exhibition of the crown jewels – the line of people waiting was too long and you simply could not be bothered to join the line – we wanted to see other things as well – so we gave it a miss. This link will suffice if you have an interest in the collection – The images below indicate what the building looks like.

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There was a lot of interest in tower green – see the images below. This is where the private beheadings took place, the main one of interest being Anne Boleyn on 19 May 1536. Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, was tried and executed within the walls of the Tower. An educated and influential queen with strong opinions on matters of policy, she fell foul of vicious court faction and religious politics.  Her failure to produce a son for the King also made her position precarious. Her fall was swift. On 2 May 1536, Anne was arrested, accused of adultery and incest by a king anxious to remarry. On 19 May she was beheaded. Anne was held and tried in the Lieutenant’s Lodgings, not The Queen’s House which was built on the site in 1540. Even so, some attribute strange happenings in the Queen’s House to Boleyn’s ghost. A morbid interest. The idea that the Tower possessed the axe which took off Anne Boleyn’s head was encouraged in the 18th century. Tower authorities were keen to provide morbid interest for visitors. Anne, however, was granted special dispensation to be beheaded by an expert French swordsman. Click on the pictures and you will see tower green, There is a monument to the people who were beheaded on the green and it is made of glass with a glass pillow in the centre. Presumably the pillow was for kneeling on. Most interest by the visitors was focused on Anne Boleyn – the description included her expecting forgiveness and not making arrangements for her burial – she actually believed that she would receive forgiveness – she was also executed with a two handed sword (this is consistent with the movie that starred Eric Bana as Henry VIII and Natalie Portman as Anne Boleyn. We were told that Anne is buried in the chapel behind tower green (we were shown where – you can see the Chapel in the first image behind the green grass area.). She is buried next to another of Henry’s wives who was also executed.

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We took some photos the Queens House as were were making our way out of the Tower.

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Tudor Tableau – Memorial Monument at the Tower of London – commentary from Sarah –

tower green memorialThe image is of the monument created to remember those who were executed within the walls of the Tower of London. I took this photo when I visited the Tower of London in October 2009 and even now looking at the photo I am reminded of the overwhelming emotions that I felt as I looked down upon the glass pillow. The monument was designed by Brian Catling. It was unveiled on 4th September 2006 and is designed to remember those executed upon Tower Green within the walls of the great Tower of London. It replaced a previous chained off memorial area. Although the memorial does not stand on any particular scaffold sight, it is designed to commemorate the following people who were executed. They include William, Baron Hastings 13 June 1483; Queen Anne Boleyn 19 May 1536; Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury 27 May 1541; Queen Catherine Howard 13 February 1542;  Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford 13 February 1542; Lady Jane Grey 12 February 1554; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex 25 February 1601; Farquhar Shaw 19 July 1743; Samuel Macpherson 19 July 1743 and Malcolm Macpherson 19 July 1743. At the centre of the monument lays a glass pillow to symbolise a place for those who were executed to lay their heads. On the top circle of the monument are the names and dates of those executed. Around the bottom glass circle is the beautiful inscription:
Gentle visitor pause awhile, where you stand death cut away the light of many
days. Here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life, may they rest
in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage under these
restless skies.
For me when I first laid eyes upon the glass monument I was struck by its simplicity and beauty. There are no images of those who lost their lives only their names. There are no pictures depicting the executions only the glass pillow designed as though someone is resting their head upon it. The monument and inscription is designed in such a way that the viewer is encouraged to walk the full circle around the moment to take in every inch. Its simplicity is its beauty. Its beauty is what makes it so touching. Instead of a flashy display you are given names and an inscription and from that your mind is able to think, your heart to feel. It is very beautiful, creative and most of all powerful. In its simplicity comes emotion. I was especially moved by this memorial because of my love, admiration and respect for Anne Boleyn. Her life was tragically cut short on trumped up charges of incest, treason and adultery. She was sent to her execution scaffold an innocent woman and the dignity in which she carried herself is absolutely overwhelming. I find the memorial also very beautiful because of the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula which is located directly behind (or in front depending which way you stand!) of the memorial. It is quite something to stand at the memorial, to think and remember those whom were executed, to think of the life of Anne Boleyn and all that she means to me and then to look up and see the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula and to know that within the walls of that small Chapel lays the remains of Anne Boleyn. Certainly it is quite a haunting and powerful experience. There are no words that can truly do the power, majesty and awe of this memorial true justice. It is something that I would strongly urge if you are able to, then please visit. The memorial is something that needs to be witnessed with your own eyes and to be felt with your heart. It is beautiful, stunning, powerful, tragic and quite emotional. Standing at the memorial, reading the inscription, seeing Anne Boleyn’s name and then looking up to see the Chapel where Anne’s remains lay…. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. An experience that I can still recall, still feel even today. If you are interested in more information about the memorial please visit the Historic Royal Palaces website –