The history of the Tower of London is a massive subject and I hope to provide information as concisely as possible, accompanied by historical detail. The White Tower was the first building to be constructed and the evidence points to this being undertaken on the orders of William the Conqueror. The white limestone imported from Caen, was costly and such that only a King could afford. Soon after his victory in 1066, the Conqueror set about constructing a ring of stone castles around London. He came with seven thousand men, when London had a population of two million people. The White Tower was intended to inspire awe in the population, overshadowing the wooden buildings of the city. Today it is dwarfed by the Shard and other tall buildings but is nevertheless majestic.
The White Tower would probably not have survived for a thousand years, without the building expansion undertake by William’s descendants, Henry III and Edward I. In order to make it impregnable to advances in weapons of war, such as siege towers and catapults, further external walls, a Gate House and a Moat were added as fortifications.
As well as keeping people out, the buildings show evidence of the Tower being used as a prison. In 1674, ten feet below the foundations, a wooden box containing the remains of two children was found. These are thought to be the remains of the sons of Edward 1V, held as prisoners by Richard 111 and never heard of again. There is no way of identifying the bones, but nonetheless they have been laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.
Beauchamp Tower, constructed by Edward 1. has graffiti cut into the stone walls. “Arundel” is thought to have been carved by the Duke of Arundel imprisoned by Elizabeth 1 and the inscription “Jane”, by a supporter of Jane Grey. Under the floor of the Chapel of St. Peter Vincula, constructed by Henry V111, lie what are thought to be the remains of Queen Anne Boleyn, executed on Tower Green, 19th May 1536.
Before the two World Wars of the twentieth century, only seven people were executed within the Tower. Most condemned prisoners were sent to the scaffold on Tower Hill, and their heads were exhibited on London Bridge. These numbered one hundred and twelve prisoners executed over a four-hundred-year period. As well as imprisonment and executions, the Tower was a place where torture was carried out to extract information and confessions of wrongdoing. Staff were required, as they are today, to work in the Tower. Marks scorched onto the walls, and doors of lodgings are thought to have been made deliberately , using the candle flame to ward off ghosts and spirits.
The Tower of London today, is probably most associated with the keeping of the Crown Jewels. These are the Orb, Sceptre and Crown, used in the Coronation of the Monarch and produced at State Openings of Parliament. Originally kept at the Palace of Westminster, they were moved in the seventeenth century to the Tower of London. In 1671 Thomas Blood tried his luck at robbery. Posing as a priest, he succeeded in getting the Keeper of the Jewels to allow him to view them. Big mistake on the part of the Keeper. Blood actually succeeded in breaking the sceptre into two and smashing the Crown, before he was interrupted by the guards. Today the jewels are worth £3,666.226.719 GPP.
The Tower of London hosted a Menagerie, which was started in the reign of King John 1166 – 1216. This gradually grew in size due to gifts from foreign princes. In 1235 the animals included a polar bear, which secured by a chain, which was encouraged to feed from the Thames to reduce the cost of its maintenance. The keeping of a Menagerie was ended by the Duke of Wellington, when he was appointed as Constable of the Tower of London 1825 – 1852. During that time Wellington was also responsible for the reconstruction of buildings, after a great fire, caused by overheated flues in the Bowyer Tower. The scale of the fire was graphically shown in paintings by J.M .W Turner. Wellington also drained the Moat, which over the years had turned into an unpleasant bog.
There is evidence that Edward 1 used the Tower as a place to mint silver coins. Coins with his image have been found during excavations, together with the tools the workmen used for making them. No Monarch has lived at the Tower of London since Elizabeth 1, but the presence of the Crown Jewels ensures that Yeoman Warders, continue to guard the Tower and secure it at night. The Ceremonial Changing of the Keys takes place every evening at 9:55pm. after which the doors are all locked. Yeoman Warders have been appointed as Tower Guards for over five hundred years, They became known as Beefeaters, possibly due to the amount of meat which was provided for their consumption! The Duke of Wellington ended the practice of purchasing this position, so that men and women were then taken from the armed forces, to ensure the smooth running the Tower. Today they act as Guides to the public, as well as cleaning the grounds and buildings. Most important job is to look after the ravens, a flock being present since the reign of Charles 11. Legend has it that if the ravens are lost or fly away the Kingdom and the Tower will fall. No chances must be taken then.