5 Things You May Not Know About the Tower of London

5 Things You May Not Know About the Tower of London

One of the most haunting stories about the Tower of London is the sad story of Edward V, only 13 and his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York, disappearing in the Tower. What happened to the ‘Princes in the Tower’ remains a mystery to this day. Were they murdered and if so by whom? Were one or both of them whisked away out of England for safety? But if so, what happened to them? Were the remains found in the Tower in 1674 and buried in a marble urn in Westminster Abbey in 1678 actually Edward and Richard? The urn says it’s them but no DNA testing has ever been done and Westminster Abbey refuses to release any remains for testing. The mystery continues!

For those of us who love the Plantagenet and Tudor era, this perhaps is one of the Tower’s best-known stories, second only to the beheadings of Henry VIII’s two wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

The-White-Tower-from-across-the-ThamesThe White Tower from across the Thames.

The Tower definitely has a dark and gloomy history and many a noble feared for his life when he or she was “sent to the Tower”. We may think we know the Tower as a place of executions and imprisonment, but here are five things you might not know about the Tower of London.

  1. The Tower of London is not its official name.
    The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in 1070. The first, central building, the White Tower was built first as a fortress and was meant to be a royal palace. It was not initially intended to be a prison. The official name of the Tower is Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress.

  2. King John was the first monarch to use the Tower as a “Zoo”.
    During the reign of Richard the Lionheart, the Tower doubled in size with new walls and smaller buildings built. When his brother John became King, he kept lions at the Tower, perhaps in memory of his not-so-dearly-departed brother.

  3. The first prisoner of the Tower was Ranulf Flambard in 1100.
    Ranulf was the Bishop of Durham and is thought to have helped compile William the Conqueror’s famous Domesday Book. He also served William’s older son William Rufus (William II) as keeper of the seal. When Rufus died, his brother Henry I imprisoned Ranulf in the Tower on embezzlement charges. Not only was Ranulf the first prisoner of the Tower, but he was also the first to escape the Tower.

  4. The Tower stopped being a royal residence under Henry VIII.
    In a twist of irony, Henry VIII built numerous and luxurious lodgings for his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Anne stayed in the Tower while preparing for her coronation in 1533. In her wildest dreams, she never could have thought that a mere three years later, she would be executed within the Tower walls. This was the last time royals used the Tower as a residence. Perhaps after executing his second and fifth wives and his cousin, Henry didn’t feel like spending any time here. It’s also said his daughter, Elizabeth I, didn’t like the Tower. Not surprising. Her mother was killed here and she spent time here as a prisoner under her sister Mary’s reign, possibly fearing the axe at any moment.

  5. Only seven people were executed inside the Tower and the first beheading was ordered by Richard III.

Tower-Green-inside-The-Tower-of-LondonTower Green inside The Tower of London

Contrary to conventional wisdom, executions within the walls of the Tower were quite rare. Only seven prisoners were privately executed on Tower Green near the White Tower. All were beheaded for treason.

They include William Hastings on June 13, 1483, ordered by Richard III; Anne Boleyn on May 19, 1536, Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, May 27, 1541, Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn, Vicountess Rochford on February 13, 1542, all ordered by Henry VIII; Lady Jane Grey on February 12, 1554 ordered by Queen Mary; and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex ordered by Queen Elizabeth I. The countless other executions were carried out publically on Tower Hill outside the Tower of London.

Today, the Tower of London is one of London’s top tourist attractions. Not only can you walk the grounds and go inside the walls to see where the famous prisoners stayed, but you can also see the magnificent collection of crown jewels on display. For lovers of the Plantagenets and Tudors, the Tower is a must see.

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