The Tower of London - History and Facts | History Hit

The Tower of London

London, England, United Kingdom

The Tower of London is a famous fortress and prison originally commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror.

Amy Irvine

29 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Courtesy of Historic Royal Palaces

About The Tower of London

The Tower of London is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London that has played a prominent role in English history.

History of The Tower of London

The Tower of London, originally known as the White Tower, was commissioned by the first Norman king, William the Conqueror and work on it was underway by the 1070s. It was designed as a fortress-stronghold, a role that remained unchanged right up until the late 19th century.

The Tower of London was also used as a residence for monarchs of England, and was traditionally used by monarchs in the run up to their coronation. However the Tower is most famous for its use as a prison.

The Tower of London held prisoners for over 850 years – from Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham who was imprisoned for extortion in 1100 and who managed to escape, to infamous East London gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray in 1952 for going AWOL from the army.

Elizabeth I was even imprisoned here by her half-sister Mary I. She allegedly sat on the steps by the watergate (known now as Traitor’s gate) and wept, and was later forgiven and released.

Only 7 people were executed within the Tower’s walls – including Anne Boleyn – but the list of people who at one time or another were imprisoned in the Tower of London reads like a who’s who of 1,000 years of Britain’s history and includes:

William ‘Braveheart’ Wallace, Scottish knight in 1305

Richard II of England in 1399

James I of Scotland in 1406

Henry VI of England in 1471

Edward V of England & Richard of Shrewsbury – The Princes in the Tower in 1483

Saint Thomas More, Renaissance humanist in 1534

Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII in 1536

Thomas Cromwell, Reformation advocate in 1540

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1553

Lady Jane Grey, uncrowned Queen of England in 1553

Queen Elizabeth I in 1554

Sir Walter Raleigh, explorer, writer, poet and spy in 1603

Guy Fawkes for his part in the Gunpowder Plot in 1605

Samuel Pepys, diarist in 1679

Sir Robert Walpole, future Prime Minister in 1712

Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of the Nazi party in 1941

Also at the Tower are mysteries, for example, what did happen to the Princes in the Tower? It also supposedly boasts ghosts, notably Arbella Stuart, cousin of James I who was imprisoned and possibly murdered in the Queens’ house in 1615.

The Tower of London today

There is a great deal to see and do at the Tower: the beefeaters, ravens, site of the menagerie and just walking around it to soak up the history.

The spot near to the scaffold where Boleyn, Howard, and Grey were all executed is marked with a memorial, and they were buried in the nearby church of St Peter ad Vincula which may be explored.

Allow plenty of time for your visit. This site also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions of the United Kingdom.

Getting to The Tower of London

The Tower is located within easy walking distance of several mainline stations including London Bridge Station (15 mins), Liverpool Street Station (20 mins) and Charing Cross Station (25 mins). The nearest tube station is Tower Hill station (5 mins), served by the District and Circle lines. Other nearby tube stations include Aldgate, Aldgate East, Tower Gateway, Monument, Bank, London Bridge and Fenchurch Street.

Tower Pier is served by river boats travelling from various piers including Westminster and London Eye, located next to the Tower entrance. A variety of bus routes stop nearby the Tower, including Routes 15, 42, 78, 100, and RV1, along with all major sightseeing bus tours.

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