The Tower of London: A Walk Through History

Jun 1, 2011 by    Posted under: Travel

The Tower of London is really old. Like ten centuries old. It’s amazing that these buildings still stand in such good condition and so much of its history is known. The Tower of London is not for the faint of heart – it had a gruesome and bloody past. It was where high class prisoners were brought, many of them tortured and some of them executed (including Anne Boleyn). Even with such a dark history, it is an incredibly beautiful complex of towers and buildings. The Tower of London is guarded by Yeomen Warders and has been since 1485. (Fun Fact: Yeoman Warders are also called Beefeaters. This is thought to be because of how well they were fed and their preference for beef.)

This is the view from outside The Tower of London complex looking southeast. I didn’t realize before visiting that it even was a complex with houses, more than 20 towers, a church and barracks before I went in. It is an impressive sight still today to see this fortress in the middle of London. The Tower of London is quite possibly the best preserved medieval castle in England. Come on in and take a look with me!

The White Tower

The White tower was the first building to be built in The Tower of London and was the most important building the the complex. William the Conqueror ordered its construction in 1078 and it gets its name from the white stone used to build it with. The Kings and Queens of England lived here for somewhere around 500 years. It was built as the royal family residence and it was quite secure behind all those walls and towers.

The Queen’s House

The Queen’s house was where Anne Boleyn (King Henry VIII’s second wife) lived while she was imprisoned in The Tower of London. She was eventually beheaded in 1536. The story that the Yeoman Warder leading our tour told was that she paid the executioner very well to make it quick. The executioner used an extremely sharp, double sided sword and her beheading was so fast, her lips and eyes were still moving when he picked her head up.

It was all a very sad a moving story of her treatment by the King, her imprisonment and finally death. But when he started telling the story of Anny Boleyn, all I could think about was, “Anne Boleyn had six fingers!” (Steele Magnolias)

Old Roman City Wall

This little piece of wall is what remains of an old Roman wall built in the late 2nd or early 3rd century. It’s so amazing that something like this still remains. Standing there, looking at this pile of rocks, it felt almost incomprehensible that people nearly a thousand years ago touched those same rocks.

Traitor’s Gate

Traitor’s Gate is the most infamous entrance to The London Tower. Traitors were brought into the tower through this water level gate. However, it was originally built for the royal family to have a way to get in and out of the Tower without having to go through the dangerous streets of London. Traitor’s Gate is right on the Thames and provided a quick get away for the royals, when they needed it.

Waterloo Barracks

Since I arrived in London, everyone who’s asked me what I plan to see has said I must see the Crown Jewels in The Tower of London. It is here in The Waterloo Barracks that these riches are kept. The Crown Jewels are supposedly the greatest collection of Crown Jewels in the world. They are associated with the coronations of the Kings and Queens of England for hundreds of years and the collection include crowns, rings, plates, swords and other priceless bobbles and such. The collection includes the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a 105 carat that has been fought over for hundreds of years.

The line you see outside the barracks are all the people waiting to see the jewels. I took a spin inside to see them (no photography allowed) and wasn’t so impressed. My disclaimer here is that I’m not much of a bling person and history impresses me more than riches. The history of the crowns and coronation paraphernalia was fascinating. The oldest piece dates back to the 12th century (anointing spoon) and the rest of it dates back from the mid 1600s to present day.

Beauchamp Tower

Beauchamp tower is the most haunted building in The Tower of London complex, according to the Yeoman Warder leading my tour. It is where high profile prisoners were kept and some of their graffiti can still be seen engraved in the walls. These prisoners would have endured torture as well as imprisonment. It was built in the 13th century and is remarkable also because it is the first use of brick on a large scale in Britain.

Guards Outside Waterloo Barracks

I arrived at Waterloo Barracks just in time to see the changing of the guards by the main entrance. The guard that looked like the man in charge was doing some strange things to the other guards. I couldn’t tell if he was just straightening their uniforms or if it was part of the ritual. There was button turning, coat fluffing, belt wiggling and hat bumping. I caught two of the guards touching hats here.

Chapel Royal Peter ad Vincula

The Chapel Royal Peter ad Vincula is the resting place of some of the most famous prisoners executed at The Tower of London. The headless bodies of King Henry VII’s wives Anne Boleyn and Catherin Howard as well as Lady Jane Gray (the Nine Days Queen) rest here. Two Catholic saints are also buried here, Sir Thomas More and John Fischer. The chapel dates back to 1520 although it’s been rebuilt and repaired a couple of times dues to fire and neglect.

The Crown Jewels have been kept in The Tower of London since 1303 and there has only been one attempt to steal them (in 1671).

Norman Garderobe (A Royal Commode)

A garderrobe is an early toilet. This one is in the White Tower, where the royal family once lived. The hole in the seat opens up to the ground below.

Armor of King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII was not only a mad man, it was also quite fat. Here is one of his suits of armor.

St. John’s Chapel (White Tower)

St. John’s Chapel is located in The White Tower and is absolutely beautiful. It was the only place in The Tower of London complex that truly felt peaceful. There was a real sense of peace and quiet there, but not necessarily happiness. I wouldn’t have been surprised if women from the 15th century wandered into the room for their prayers.

Yeoman Warder

The Yeoman Warder’s are fascinating and hilarious tour guides. The position of Yeoman Warder is actually one of great esteem and the qualifications are high. One must have at least 22 years of military service and they are the Queens personal guards during state and ceremonial occasions. They all live within the walls of The Tower of London and act daily as tour guides, comedians and wardens of The Tower of London. Here you can see part of a tour.

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