Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London (and historically as The Tower), is a historic monument in central London, England, on the north bank of the River Thames. It is located within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and is separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill.
The Tower of London is often identified with the White Tower, the original stark square fortress built by William the Conqueror in 1078. However, the tower as a whole is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat.
The tower's primary function was a fortress, a royal palace, and a prison (particularly for high status and royal prisoners, such as the Princes in the Tower and the future Queen Elizabeth I). This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower" (meaning "imprisoned"). It has also served as a place of execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, the Royal Mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303, the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.
The Tower is located in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, at the eastern boundary of the City of London financial district, adjacent to the River Thames and Tower Bridge. Between the river and the Tower is Tower Wharf, a freely accessible walkway with views of the river, tower and bridge, together with HMS Belfast and London City Hall on the opposite bank.
The nearest public transport locations are:
At the centre of the Tower of London stands the Norman White Tower. It is 90 feet (27 m) high and the walls vary from 15 feet (4.5 m) thick at the base to almost 11 feet (3.3 m) in the upper parts. Above the battlements rise four turrets; three of them are square, but the one on the northeast is circular. This turret once contained the first royal observatory. Henry III had the exterior of the building whitewashed in 1240, which is how the tower got its name.
Adjoining the White Tower to the south is the fragmentary Inmost Ward, on the site of the original castle bailey within which was built the now demolished Royal Palace. The Inmost Ward was entered by the now ruined Coldharbour Gate to the NW and bounded by a wall, fortified by the Wakefield Tower to the SW, the Lanthorn Tower to the SE, and the now ruined Wardrobe Tower to the NE.
The White Tower and Inmost Ward are situated in the Inner Ward, defended by a massive curtain wall, which has thirteen towers:
The entrance to the Inner Ward is on the south side under the Bloody Tower. Outside of this is the Outer Ward, defended by a second massive curtain wall, flanked by six towers facing the river:
On the north face of the outer wall are three semicircular bastions. A ditch or moat, now dry, encircles the whole, crossed at the southwestern angle by a stone bridge, leading to the Byward Tower from the Middle Tower - a gateway which had formerly an outwork, called the Lion Tower.
The water entrance to the Tower is often referred to as Traitor's Gate because prisoners accused of treason such as Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More passed through it. Traitor's Gate cuts through St Thomas's Tower and replaced Henry III's watergate in the Bloody Tower behind it. Behind Traitors Gate in the pool was an engine used to raise water to a cistern located on the roof of the White Tower. The engine was originally powered by the force of the tide or by horsepower and eventually by steampower; this was adapted around 1724 to drive machinery for boring gun barrels. It was removed in the 1860s. The Tudor Timber Framing seen above the great arch of Traitor's Gate dates from 1532 and was restored in the 19th century.
The Tower today is principally a tourist attraction. Besides the buildings themselves, the British Crown Jewels, a fine armour collection from the Royal Armouries, and a remnant of the wall of the Roman fortress are on display.
The tower is manned by the Yeomen Warders (known as Beefeaters), who act as tour guides, provide security, and are a tourist attraction in their own right. Every evening, the warders participate in the Ceremony of the Keys as the Tower is secured for the night.
The Tower of London was founded in 1078 when William the Conqueror ordered the White Tower to be built inside the southeast angle of the city walls, adjacent to the Thames. This was as much to protect the Normans from the people of the City of London as to protect London from outside invaders. William ordered the tower to be built of Caen stone, which he had specially imported from France. He appointed Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, as the architect.
Some writers, such as William Shakespeare in his play Richard III, have ascribed an earlier origin to the Tower of London and have stated that it was built by Julius Caesar. This supposed Roman origin is a myth, however, as is the story that the mortar used in its construction was tempered by the blood of beasts.
In the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart enclosed the White Tower with a curtain wall and had a moat dug around it filled with water from the Thames. The moat was not successful until Henry III, in the 13th century, employed a Dutch moat-building technique. This king greatly strengthened the curtain wall, breaking down the city wall to the east, to extend the circuit, despite the protests of the citizens of London and even supernatural warnings, according to chronicler Matthew Paris. Henry III transformed the tower into a major royal residence and had palatial buildings constructed within the Inner Bailey. The fortification was completed between 1275 and 1285 by Edward I, who built the outer curtain wall, completely enclosing the inner wall and thus creating a concentric double defence. He filled in the moat and built a new moat around the new outer wall.
The tower remained a royal residence until the time of Oliver Cromwell, who demolished the old palatial buildings.
The menagerie was open to the public by the 18th century; admission was a sum of three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog for feeding to the lions. This was where William Blake saw the tiger which may have inspired his poem The Tyger. The menagerie's last director, Alfred Cops, who took over in 1822, found the collection in a dismal state but restocked it and issued an illustrated scientific catalogue. Partly for commercial reasons and partly for animal welfare, the animals were moved to the Zoological Society of London's London Zoo when it opened. The last of the animals left in 1835, and most of the Lion Tower was demolished soon after, although Lion Gate remains.
The earliest known reference to a tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1885. This and scattered subsequent references to the tower ravens, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the “scaffold.” This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told by the Yeomen Warders to tourists. There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran. However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheap) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the tower in earlier times.
The legend that Britain will fall if the ravens leave the tower appears to date from autumn of 1944, and to come from the Stag Brewery in London, where ravens were used as mascots and perhaps unofficial spotters for enemy bombers.
During the Second World War most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving a sole survivor named 'Grip'. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.
The ravens' wings are clipped to prevent them from flying away, and they are cared for by the Ravenmaster, a duty given to one of the Yeomen Warders. The ravens' names/gender/age are (as of November 2006):
The ravens' names as of September 2008 under the watchful care of Derrick Coyle (Yeoman Warder) are as follows:
The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44.
Other prisoners include:
Anne Askew is the only woman on record to have been tortured in the tower, after being taken there in 1546 on a charge of heresy. Sir Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, was ordered to torture Anne in an attempt to force her to name other Protestants. Anne was put on the Rack. Kingston was so impressed with the way Anne behaved that he refused to carry on torturing her, and Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor had to take over.
Lower-class criminals were usually executed by hanging at one of the public execution sites outside the Tower. High-profile convicts, such as Thomas More, were publicly beheaded on Tower Hill. Seven nobles (five of them ladies) were beheaded privately on Tower Green, inside the complex, and then buried in the "Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula" (Latin for "in chains," making him an appropriate patron saint for prisoners) next to the Green. Some of the nobles who were executed outside the Tower are also buried in that chapel. (External link to Chapel webpage) The names of the seven beheaded on Tower Green for treason alone are:
George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of England, was executed for treason in the Tower in February 1478, but not by beheading (and probably not by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, despite what Shakespeare wrote).
When Edward IV died, he left two young sons behind: the Princes in the Tower. His brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, was made Regent until the older of his two sons, Edward V, should come of age. According to Thomas More's History of Richard III, Richard hired men to kill them, and, one night, the two Princes were smothered with their pillows. Many years later, bones were found buried at the foot of a stairway in the Tower, which are thought to be those of the princes. Richard was crowned King Richard III of England.
In 1942, Adolf Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was imprisoned in the tower for four days. During this time, RAF Wing Commander George Salaman was placed in the same cell undercover, impersonating a Luftwaffe officer, to spy on Hess. Although acting covertly and not held as a true inmate, Salaman remains the last Englishman to be locked in the Tower of London. The tower was used as a prison for German prisoners of war throughout the conflict.
Waterloo Barracks, the location of the Crown Jewels, remained in use as a base for the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) into the 1950s; during 1952, the Kray twins were briefly held there for failing to report for national service, making them among the last prisoners of the Tower; the last British citizen held for any length of time was the traitorous Army officer Norman Baillie-Stewart from 1933 to 1937.
Although it is no longer a royal residence, the Tower officially remains a royal palace and maintains a permanent guard: this is found by the unit forming the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palace. Two sentries are maintained during the hours that the Tower is open, with one stationed outside the Jewel House and one outside the Queen's House.
In 1974, there was a bomb explosion in the Mortar Room in the White tower leaving one person dead and 41 injured. No one claimed responsibility for the blast, however the police were investigating suspicions that the IRA was behind it.
In 2007 Moira Cameron became the first female Beefeater in history to go on duty at the Tower of London. Cameron beat five men to the job as a Yeomen Warder.
The Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since 1303, after they were stolen from Westminster Abbey. It is thought that most, if not all, were recovered shortly afterwards. After the coronation of Charles II, they were locked away and shown for a viewing fee paid to a custodian. However, this arrangement ended when Colonel Thomas Blood stole the Crown Jewels after having bound and gagged the custodian. Thereafter, the Crown Jewels were kept in a part of the Tower known as Jewel House, where armed guards defended them. They were temporarily taken out of the Tower during World War II and reportedly were secretly kept in the basement vaults of the Sun Life Insurance company in Montreal, Canada, along with the gold bullion of the Bank of England.