Essential Architecture-  London

Tower of London




east London


1070 to 1090


Gothic Elizabethan




castle, fortress, prison
  The Tower of London, seen from the River Thames, with a view of the water gate called "Traitors Gate."
  The Tower in 1597.
  The 15th century Tower in a manuscript of poems by Charles, Duke of Orléans (1391-1465) commemorating his imprisonment there (British Library) and the Traitors Gate
Tower of London

The Tower of London is a landmark in central London—in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets—just outside the City of London.

The White Tower, the square building with turrets on each corner that gave it its name, is actually in the middle of a complex of several buildings along the River Thames in London, which have served as fortresses, armories, treasuries, zoos/menageries, mints, palaces, places of execution, public records offices, observatories, shelters, and prisons (particularly for upper class prisoners). This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower" meaning "imprisoned". One widely known example was that Elizabeth I was imprisoned for a time in the Tower during her sister Mary's reign.


According to Shakespeare, in his play Richard III, the Tower of London was built by Julius Caesar. This supposed Roman origin is, however, just a myth. Its true foundation was in 1078 when William the Conqueror ordered the White Tower to be built.[1] 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 stone which he had specially imported from France. He chose this location because he considered it to be a strategic point being opposite the site where Earl Godwin had landed in Southwark in 1051 during his Saxon rebellion against the Norman influence of Edward the Confessor. It was King Richard the Lionheart who had the moat dug around the surrounding wall and filled with water from the Thames. The moat was not very successful until Henry III employed a Dutch moat building technique. The moat was drained in 1830, and human bones were in the refuse found at its bottom.

The Menagerie
A Royal Menagerie was established at the Tower in the 13th century, possibly as early as 1204 during the reign of King John, and probably stocked with animals from an earlier menagerie started in 1125 by Henry I at his palace in Woodstock, near Oxford. Its year of origin is often stated as 1235, when Henry III received a wedding gift of three leopards (so recorded, although they may have been lions) from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. In 1264 they were moved to the Bulwark, which was duly renamed the Lion Tower, near the main western entrance. It was opened as an occasional public spectacle in the reign of Elizabeth I. A lion skull was radiocarbon dated to between 1280 and 1385, making it the earliest medieval big cat known in Britain.[2]

By 1804, the menagerie was regularly open to the public. 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. The menagerie was not to last because the new London Zoo was due to open in Regent's Park. Partly for commercial reasons and partly for animal welfare, the animals were moved to the zoo. The last of the animals left in 1835, and most of the Lion Tower was demolished soon after, although Lion Gate remains.


Lower-class criminals were usually executed by hanging at one of the public execution sites outside the Tower. Several high-profile convicts, such as Thomas More, were publicly executed on Tower Hill. Nobles (especially ladies) were sometimes 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) Persons beheaded inside the Tower for treason include the following

William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings (1483)
Anne Boleyn (1536)
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1541)
Catherine Howard (1542)
Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (1542)
Lady Jane Grey (1554)
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1601)
The Queen Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against King Henry VIII, is said to be occasionally seen walking around the tower carrying her head under her arm.

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). Edward IV's two sons, the Princes in the Tower, may also have died there after their uncle Richard III became king, but they were not executed for conviction of any crime, and what happened to them is still a mystery.

The last execution in the Tower of London was in 1941, when German army sergeant Josef Jakobs was executed by firing squad for espionage.

Recent History
The military use of the Tower as a fortification, like that of other such castles, became obsolete with the introduction of artillery. However the Tower did serve as the headquarters of the Board of Ordnance until 1855, and the Tower was still occasionally used as a prison, even through both World Wars. In 1780, the Tower held its only American prisoner, former President of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. In World War I, 11 German spies were shot in the Tower. Irish rebel Roger Casement was imprisoned in the Tower during his trial on treason charges in 1916. Josef Jakobs became the last German spy to be shot on August 15, 1941 during World War II. In the following year, Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was imprisoned for 4 days. During this time, RAF Wing Commander George Salaman,

Reconstruction of the interior of the Bloody Tower
impersonating a Luftwaffe Officer, was placed in the same cell as Hess and though acting as a stool pigeon, George Salaman remains the last Englishman to be locked in the Tower of London. Waterloo Barracks, the current 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.

Sentries being posted at the Tower of London
Anne Askew is the only woman on record to have been tortured in the tower after being taken there in 1546.

Although it is no longer occupied by the Royal Family, the Tower officially remains a royal residence, and as such, 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.

The Tower of London and its surrounding area has always had a separate administration from the adjacent City of London. It was, anciently, under the jurisdiction of Constable of the Tower who also held authority over the Tower liberties until 1894. In addition the Constable was ex-officio Lord Lieutenant of the Tower division of Middlesex until 1889, and head of the Tower Hamlets Militia until 1871.


The Middle Tower (centre) guards the outer perimeter entrance across the (now) dry moat

The White Tower and courtyard

The Battlements, as seen from Tower Bridge approach
The Tower can be described as a "palimpsest". The oldest visible structure is the White Tower (which is 11th century); other elements added over the centuries are evident, right up to modern additions, most of which cater for the tourist or security needs.

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 discreet security, and are something of 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.

In deference to an ancient legend, a number of ravens are fed at the Tower at government expense; so long as the ravens remain at the Tower (which is ensured by trimming the flight feathers of the ravens), Britain is safe from invasion. Legend also says that should the ravens leave the Tower of London, the White Tower will crumble and the Monarch will fall, thus, the ravens are the palladium of the realm. The names of the eight ravens currently in the tower are Gwylum, Thor, Hugine, Munin, Branwen, Bran, Gundulf, and Baldrick. In 2006, ahead of the H5N1 avian flu scare, the ravens were moved indoors, and have since remained there.

Crown Jewels
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 defend them. They were temporarily taken out of the Tower. It was reported that they were secretly kept in the basement vaults of the Sun Life Insurance company in Montreal, Canada, during World War II, along with the gold bullion of the Bank of England. However it has also been said that they were kept in the Round Tower of Windsor Castle, or the Fort Knox Bullion Depository in the United States.


The Tower of London viewed from the Swiss Re Tower
The Tower is located 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 excellent 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:

Tower Hill tube station (London Underground District and Circle lines)
Tower Gateway DLR station (Docklands Light Railway)
Fenchurch Street railway station (National Rail)
Tower Millennium Pier (river cruise boats)
St Katherine's Dock (Thames Clipper commuter boats)

In fiction
The Tower of London, as a place of death, darkness and treachery, is most famously evoked in William Shakespeare's play, Richard III, where it forms the backdrop of a tyrant's rise to power and the scene of the notorious murder of the Princes in the Tower, amongst other victims (see above).
This horror is reprised in the novel Tower of London (1840) by William Harrison Ainsworth.

Medieval London: A City of Palaces
By Walter Besant

Medieval London is well known for having been full of rich monasteries, nunneries, colleges, and parish churches. So much so that it might be compared to the 'Ile Sonnante 'of Rabelais. If it could be called a 'City of Churches', it was, in fact, much more a 'City of Palaces'. For there were, in London, more palaces than in Verona and Florence and Venice and Genoa all put together. There was not, it is true, a line of marble 'palazzi 'along the banks of a Grande Canale; there was no Piazza della Signoria, no Piazza della Erbe to show these buildings. They were scattered about all over the City. They were built without regard to general effect and with no idea of decoration or picturesqueness. They lay hidden in narrow winding labyrinthine streets. The warehouses stood beside and between them. The common people dwelt in narrow courts around them. They faced each other on opposite sides of the lanes.

These palaces belonged to the great nobles and were their town houses. They were capacious enough to accommodate the whole of a baron's retinue, consisting sometimes of four, six, or even eight hundred men. The continual presence of these lords and their following did much more for the City than merely to add to its splendour by the erecting of great houses. By their residence they prevented the place from becoming merely a trading centre or an aggregate of merchants. They kept the citizens in touch with the rest of the kingdom. They made the people of London understand that they belonged to the Realm of England. When Warwick, 'the Kingmaker', rode through the streets to his town house, followed by five hundred retainers in his livery; when King Edward the Fourth brought wife and children to the City and left them there under the protection of the Londoners while he rode out to fight for his crown; when a royal tournament was held in 'Chepe' - the Queen and her ladies looking on - then the very schoolboys learned and understood that there was more in the world than mere buying and selling, importing and exporting. Everything must not be measured by profit. They were traders indeed, and yet subjects of an ancient crown. Their own prosperity stood or fell with the well-doing of the country. It was this which made the Londoners ardent politicians from very early times. They knew the party leaders who had lived among them; the City was compelled to take a side, and the citizens quickly perceived that their own side always won - a thing which gratified their pride. In a word, the presence in their midst of king and nobles made them look beyond their walls. London was never a Ghent; nor was it a Venice. It was never London for itself against the world, but always London for England first, and for its own interests next.

Again the City palaces, the town houses of the nobles, were at no time, it must be remembered, fortresses. The only fortresses of the City were the Tower of London, the short-lived Montfichet Tower and the original Baynard's Castle. Though even the latter was rebuilt as a palace of the nobility. The nobles' homes were neither castellated nor fortified nor garrisoned. They were entered by a gate, but there was neither ditch nor portcullis. The gate - only a pair of wooden doors - led into an open court round which the buildings stood. Examples of this way of building may still be seen in London. For instance, Staple Inn or Barnard's Inn, afford an excellent illustration of a medieval mansion. There are in each two square courts with a gateway leading from the road into the Inn. Between the courts is a hall with its kitchen and buttery. Gray's Inn and Old Square, Lincoln's Inn are also good examples. Sion College, before it was destroyed, showed the hall and the court. Hampton Court is a late example, the position of the Hall having been changed. Gresham House was built about a court; so was the Mansion House. Until the late nineteenth century, Northumberland House at Charing Cross illustrated the disposition of such mansions.

Those who walk down Queen Victoria Street in the City pass on the north side a red brick house standing round three sides of a quadrangle. This is the College of Arms. In the late nineteenth century, it preserved its fourth side with a gateway. Five hundred years ago this was the town-house of the Earls of Derby. Restore the front and you have the size of a great noble's town palace, yet not one of the largest. If you wish to understand the disposition of such a building as a nobleman's town house, compare it with the Quadrangle of Clare or that of Queens', Cambridge. Derby House was burned down in the Great Fire of London and was rebuilt, largely as we see it today, without its hall, kitchen, and butteries, for which there was no longer any use. Before the Fire, a broad and noble arch with a low tower, but showing no appearance of fortification, opened into the square court which was used as an exercising ground for the men at arms. In the rooms around the court was their sleeping accommodation. At the side or opposite the entrance stood the hall where the whole household took meals. Opposite the hall was the kitchen with its butteries. Over the butteries was the room called the Solar, where the Earl and Countess slept. Beyond the hall was another room called the Lady's Bower, where the ladies could retire from the rough talk of their followers. The houses beside the river were provided with stairs, at the foot of which was kept the state barge in which my Lord and Lady took the air on fine days and were rowed to and from the Court at Westminster.

There remains nothing of these houses. They are, with one exception, all swept away. Yet the description of one or two, the site of others, and the actual remains of one sufficiently prove their magnificence.

Baynard's Castle stood first on the river-bank close to the Fleet Tower and the western extremity of the city wall. The great house which afterwards bore this name was on the bank, but a little more to the east. The name survived in Baynard's Castle Ward and Wharf. There was no house in the City more interesting than this. Its history extends from the Norman Conquest to the Great Fire - exactly six hundred years; and during the whole of this long period it was a great palace. It was first built, as a castle, by one Baynard, a follower of William the Conqueror. It was forfeited in A.D. 1111, and given to Robert FitzWalter, son of Richard, Earl of Clare, in whose family the office of Castellan and Standard-Bearer to the City of London became hereditary. His descendant, Robert, in revenge for private injuries, took part with the Barons against King John, for which the King ordered Baynard's Castle to be destroyed. FitzWalter, however, becoming reconciled to the King, was permitted to rebuild his house. In 1275, another Robert FitzWalter gave the site to the Archbishop of Canterbury for the foundation of the London House of Dominican or Black Friars. At the rebuilding of FitzWalter's 'castle' it was somewhat shifted in position and it was probably at this time that it lost its fortified appearance. It was again destroyed, this time by fire, in 1428. It was rebuilt by Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, on whose attainder it reverted to the crown. Richard, Duke of York, had it next and lived here with his following of four hundred gentlemen and men-at-arms. It was in the hall of Baynard's Castle that Edward IV assumed the title of King, and summoned the bishops, peers and judges to meet him in council. Edward gave the house to his mother, and placed in it, for safety, his wife and children before going out to fight the battle of Barnet. Here Buckingham offered the crown to Richard III.

Alas, why would you heap these cares on me? I am unfit for state and majesty; I do beseech you, take it not amiss, I cannot nor I will not, yield to you.

Henry VII lived in this palace, which he almost entirely rebuilt. Prince Henry, after his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, was conducted in great state up the river, from Baynard's Castle to Westminster, the Mayor and Commonalty of the City following in their barges. In the time of Edward VI, the Earl of Pembroke, whose wife was sister to Queen Catherine Parr, held great state in this house. Here he proclaimed Queen Mary monarch, as Lady Jane Grey had been only nine days before. When Mary's first Parliament was held, he proceeded to Baynard's Castle, followed by '2,000 horsemen in velvet coats with their laces of gold and gold chains, besides sixty gentlemen in blue coats with his badge of the green dragon.' This powerful noble lived to entertain Queen Elizabeth I at Baynard's Castle with a banquet, followed by fireworks. The last appearance of the place in history is when Charles II took supper there just before the Great Fire of London swept over the building and destroyed it.

Another house by the river was that called Coldharbour, Cold Harborough or Cold Inn. This house stood just east of the present Cannon Street Station. It was built, or possibly purchased, by a rich City merchant, Sir John Poultney, four times Mayor of London in 1334. At the end of the fourteenth century it belonged, however, to John Holland, Duke of Exeter, son of Thomas Holland, Duke of Kent, and Joan Plantagenet, the 'Fair Maid of Kent.' He was half-brother to King Richard II, whom he here entertained. Richard III gave it to the Heralds for their college. They were turned out, however, by Henry VII, who gave the house to his mother, Margaret, Countess of Richmond. His son gave it to the Earl of Shrewsbury and it was occasionally known as Shrewsbury House. Coldharbour appears to have fallen foul of the Great Fire, though a later building of the same name, erected on the site, was used as the Hall of the Watermen's Company until 1778.

Another royal residence was the house called the Erber. This house also has a long history. It is said to have been first built by the Knight Pont de l'Arche, founder of the Priory of St. Mary Overies. Edward III gave it to Geoffrey le Scrope. It passed from him to John, Lord Neville, of Raby, and so to his son Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, the staunch supporter of Henry IV. From him the Erber passed into the hands of another branch of the Nevilles, the Earls of Salisbury and Warwick. The Kingmaker resided here, with a following so numerous that six oxen were daily consumed for breakfast alone, and any person who was allowed within the gates could take away as much meat, sodden and roast, as he could carry upon a long dagger. After his death, George, Duke of Clarence - 'false, fleeting, perjured Clarence' - obtained a grant of the house, in right of his wife, Isabel, daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, succeeded, and called it the 'King's Palace' during his brief reign. Edward, son of the Duke of Clarence, then obtained it. In the year 1584, the place, which seems to have fallen into decay, was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Pulsdon, Lord Mayor. Its last illustrious occupant, according to Stow, was Sir Francis Drake.

We are fortunate in having left one house at least, or a fragment of one, out of the many London palaces. The Fire of 1666 did not reach Bishopsgate and so Crosby Hall was spared. Though most of the old mansion has been pulled down of the years, there yet remained the Hall to be taken down and completely re-erected in Chelsea in 1909. The mansion formerly covered the greater part of what is now called Crosby Square. It was built by a simple citizen, a grocer and Lord Mayor, Sir John Crosby, in the fifteenth century. He was a man of great wealth and great position: a merchant, diplomat, and ambassador. He rode north to welcome Edward IV when he landed at Ravenspur. He was sent by the King on missions to the Duke of Burgundy and to the Duke of Brittany. Shakespeare has Richard of Gloucester living in this house as early as 1471, four years before the death of Sir John Crosby, a thing not likely. But he was living here at the death of Edward IV, and here he held his levées before his usurpation of the crown. In this hall sat the last and worst of the Plantagenets thinking of the two boys who stood between him and the crown. Here he received the news of their murder. Here he feasted with his friends. The place is charged with the memory of Richard Plantagenet. Early in the next century another Lord Mayor obtained it, and lent it to the ambassador of the Emperor Maximilian. It passed next into the hands of a third citizen, also Lord Mayor, and was bought in 1516 by Sir Thomas More, who lived here for seven years, and wrote in this house his Utopia and his Life of Richard the Third. His friend Antonio Bonvici, a merchant of Lucca, next lived in the house. To him, More wrote his well-known letter from the Tower. Successive owners or occupants of this house include William Roper, More's son-in-law, and William Rustill, his nephew; Sir Thomas D'Arcy; William Bond, Alderman and Sheriff, and merchant adventurer; Sir John Spencer, ancestor of Lord Northampton; Mary, Countess of Pembroke, and sister of Sir Philip Sidney - the gentlest shepherdess that lived that day - and Sir Stephen Langham. It was partly destroyed by fire - not the Great Fire - in the reign of Charles II. The Hall, which escaped, was for seventy years a Presbyterian meeting-house. It then became a packer's warehouse. In the 1830s, it was partly restored, and became a literary institution. In the late 19th century, it was a restaurant, gaudy with colour and gilding. The Duc de Biron, ambassador from France in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I was lodged here with four hundred noblemen and gentlemen in his train; and here also was lodged the Duc de Sully.

In a narrow street in the city, called Tower Royal - Tour De La Reole, built by merchants from Bordeaux - survives the name of a house where King Stephen lived in the short intervals when he was not fighting. King Richard II gave it to his mother, and called it the Queen's Wardrobe. He afterwards assigned it to Leon III, King of Armenia, who had been dispossessed by the Turks. Richard III gave it to John, Duke of Norfolk, who lived here until his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. There is no description of the house, which must have had a tower of some kind, and there is no record of its demolition. Stow only says that 'of late times it has been neglected and turned into stabling for the king's horses, and is now let out to divers men, and is divided into tenements.'

The College of Arms in Queen Victoria Street, already mentioned, stands on the site of Derby House. Here the first Earl, who married the mother of Henry VII, lived. Here the Princess Elizabeth of York was the guest of the Earl during the usurpation of Richard III. The house was destroyed in the Fire and rebuilt in a quadrangle, of which the front portion was removed to make room for the new street.

Half a dozen great houses do not make a city of palaces. That is true; but there were many others. The FitzAlans, Earls of Arundel, had their town house in Botolph Lane, Billingsgate, down to the end of the sixteenth century. The street is, and always has been, narrow and, from its proximity to the fish-market, is, and always has been, unsavoury. The Earls of Northumberland had town houses successively in Crutched Friars, Fenchurch Street and Aldersgate Street. The Earls of Worcester lived in Worcester Lane, on the river-bank. The Duke of Buckingham on College Hill - observe how the nobles, like the merchants, built their houses in the most busy part of the town. The Beaumonts and the Huntingdons lived beside Paul's Wharf. The Lords of Berkeley had a house near Blackfriars. Doctors' Commons was the town house of the Blounts, Lords Mountjoy. Close to Paul's Wharf stood the mansion once occupied by the widow of Richard, Duke of York, mother of Edward IV, Clarence and Richard III. Edward, the Black Prince, lived on Fish Street Hill - the house was afterward turned into an inn. The De La Poles had a house in Lombard Street. The De Veres, Earls of Oxford, lived first in St. Mary Axe and afterward in Oxford Court, St. Swithin's Lane. Cromwell, Earl of Essex, had a house in Throgmorton Street. The Barons FitzWalter had a house where now stands the Grocers' Hall, Poultry. In Aldersgate Street were houses of the Earl of Westmorland, the Earl of Northumberland, and the Earl of Thanet, Lord Percie, and the Marquis of Dorchester. Suffolk Lane marks the site of the 'Manor of the Rose,' belonging successively to the Suffolks and the Buckinghams. Lovell's Court, Paternoster Row, marks the site of the LoveIl's mansion. Between Amen Corner and Ludgate Street stood Abergavenny House where lived, in the reign of Edward II, the Earl of Richmond and Duke of Brittany, grandson of Henry III. Afterward it became the house of John Hastings, Earl of Pembroke, who married Lady Margaret, daughter of Edward III. It passed to the Nevilles, Earls of Abergavenny, and from them to the Stationers' Company. Warwick Lane runs over Warwick House. The Sidneys, Earls of Leicester, lived in the Old Bailey. The Staffords, Dukes of Buckingham, lived in Milk Street.

Such a list, numbering no fewer than thirty-five palaces, is by no means exhaustive, and does not include the town houses of the Bishops and great Abbots, nor the halls of the companies, many of them very noble, nor the houses used for the business of the city, such as Blackwell Hall and Guildhall. It is, however, sufficient to prove that London was indeed a City of Palaces.

Edited by David Nash Ford, from Walter Besant's London (1892).