Tower of London as it is called is the Royal Palace of Her Majesty and a castle with great history situated at the north bank of River Thames in London. William the Conqueror built the castle in the year 1078 and it symbolizes oppression by the selected few in power on the people living in London. The castle has undergone several changes most especially during the reign of king Richard the Lionheart and also King Henry III. The general design as at the late 13th century has remained intact irrespective of the various changes that occurred later on the site. In general, the Tower is made up of several buildings sited within two concentric rings of defensive walls.
Tower of London is an important part when talking about the English history. Its control is of significant value in controlling the country in general and to say the least, it has been conquered many times. It has been used for many purposes including armoury, treasury, Royal Mint etc. since the 14th century up till the time of King Charles II, the monarch has always been in charge of the castle but in his absence, the Constable of the Tower takes charge. During the time of the Tudors, the castle was just occasionally used as Royal residence and even though it was reinforced and repaired, it fell when attacked with artillery.
The greatest period in castle’s history of been used as a penitentiary was during the 16th and 17th century. During that time, many notable individuals were held prisoners in it including Sir Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth I before she was crowned queen and Elizabeth Throckmorton. This particular function of the Tower gave rise to the popular phrase “sent to the Tower”. Even though the castle was known as a place of torment and death, the number of executions before the World Wars was just seven. Most of the executions were done at Tower Hill which was located north of the castle with 112 executions recorded within 400 years. It is interesting to note that during the first and second World Wars, it served again as a prison with the death of 12 men who were spies witnessed. Repair of the damages of the castle was embarked on after the Second World War. In recent years, Tower of London has become one of the popular site for tourist attraction in the country. The castle served as a place for imprisonment from 1100 to 1952 despite it not been its original purpose.
The Tower was designed in such a way that its strongest and remarkable defenses were facing Saxon London in which Alan Vince an archaeologist claimed to be intentional. The castle has about three wards with the innermost ward housing White Tower and also the oldest part of the castle. The inner ward was built by Richard the Lionheart between 1189 to 1199 and it encircles the castle to the north, east and west. The last part is the outer part built by Edward I and it surrounds the castle. The Tower covers a large area of land almost 12 acres with additional 6 acres around Tower of London making up the Tower Liberties.
It is most times the strongest of all structures in a medieval castle and also has spaces to accommodate the lord or king. It has been considered to be the most complete palace of the eleventh century in Europe. As a result of its strength, it served as the home to the Lords and Kings as suggested by Allen Brown a military historian.
It alone has a base of about 36 by 32 metres and its southern battlements is about 90 ft. the original design of the Tower show that it is a height of three storeys, basement floor, a level for entrance and lastly an upper floor. As seen in other keeps, the entrance was elevated and can be accessed through a wooden staircase detachable when under attack. It is believed that Henry II built a forebuilding to the south of the Tower to strengthen the defense at the entrance. The floor was divided into three chambers with the west being the largest followed by the one at the north-east then the chapel at the south-east. The Tower was built to suit as comfortable residence and also as a fortress so toilets were constructed into the walls and warmth was assured with four fire place.
Kentish rag-stone was the material used in building the Tower even though there were addition of some local mudstone. Presently only two of the windows are enlarged like the original Tower’s windows in the 18th century. Also Caen stone was imported from northern France to also add to the history of the castle which was still seen even after the changes that occurred in the 17th and 18th century.
Just like every other keeps, the bottom floor served as a site storing items. One of the rooms even had a well in it. Despite the fact that the arrangement has remained unchanged since the Tower was built, the inside of the basement still shows features of 18th century when the floor was reduced and its vaults made of timber were replaced with those of brick.
The entrance floor was made most likely for important officials like the Constable of the Tower etc. there was a blockage of the south entrance during the 17th century so people going to the upper floor had to go through a smaller compartment linked with the entrance floor to get their destination but was reopened in 1973. St John’s chapel crypt was located at the south-east corner and could only be entered from the eastern chamber. Geoffrey Parnell who keeps the Tower’s history at the armouries suggested that the windowless design of the crypt and the restricted access to it indicates its probable use for storing royal treasures and other significant documents.
Inside the upper floor, there is a grand hall to the west and to the east is a residential chamber with both having a passage link to the roof. The residential chamber and grand hall are surrounded by a wall with gallery built in it. The changes in the use and also in the design of the Tower over time have left just little traces of the original interior design with the exception of the chapel. The chapel was included in the original design of the Tower as seen in its location.
It is located just south of the Tower and it covers an area once known as the edge of River Thames. Just like other castles, the innermost ward would be most likely filled with timber buildings. The Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers building started around the year 1220 and were located along the river close to the corners of the wall of the innermost ward. It is believed that the Wakefield Tower was used as the Queen’s private residence while the Lanthorn Tower was used as the King’s private residence. During the reign of Henry III, the chambers of the queen was decorated with flower paintings and stonework which today gives a picture of how the royal chambers were decorated then. The innermost ward house a great hall located at the south corner in between the Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers. This hall is a little smaller than the one Henry III built at Winchester Castle. It is possible to gain private access to the king’s chambers using a postern gate close to the Wakefield Tower. The original design of the innermost ward saw it surrounded by a ditch that also helped in its defense but was covered up in the year 1220s and about that same time, changes in the castle resulted in the addition of a kitchen. The innermost ward witnessed a dramatic change which ended up in the removal of the palace buildings between the year 1666 and 1676.
It was built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart, when a channel was created west of the innermost ward which increased the overall size of the castle. Its east and north walls were built by King Henry III and till this day its measurements are still intact. Of all the towers erected by Henry III only two was totally reconstructed with the remaining seven still with their original design. It is believed that the entrance of this ward was through a gatehouse probably in the west wall of what is now Beauchamp Tower. The Beauchamp Tower was built in the 13th century and since the departure of the romans in the 5th century, it was the first building to record a significant use of brick as building material the whole of Britain. The curtain wall is supported by 13 towers namely: The Blood, the Wakefield, the Lanthorn, the Salt, the Broad Arrow, the Constable, the Martin, the Brick, the Bowyer, the Flint, the Devereux, the Beauchamp and the Bell Tower. These towers act as positions for defense during attacks and also for accommodation. The Bell Tower as the name implies contains a belfry which alerts the castle of any attack.
During the era of Henry III, St Peter ad Vincula was added to the castle as a result of the expansion that took place. The Bloody Tower is located just west of the Wakefield Tower and was erected at the time the inner ward’s curtain wall was erected and served as a passage way to the castle from the River Thames. The name Bloody Tower was derived in the 16th century from the believe that it was used in the murder of the princes. The construction of the Grand Storehouse started in the year 1688 on the same site where the destroyed Tudor storehouses were formerly located but in the year 1841, it was burnt down by fire. The Tudor period also witnessed the building of a range of storage houses for munitions inside the north inner ward. Remodeling of the castle buildings was done in the Stuart period sponsored by the Office of Ordinance. The Waterloo Block was constructed on the area where the Grand Storehouse was formerly sited and still presently in existence with the Crown Jewels on its ground floor.
This third ward was as a result of the extension of the castle by Edward I. simultaneously at that time, the Legge’s Mount was constructed at the north-east corner of the castle. As time went on, the Brass Mount was added also. Despite the fact that the bastions are said to have been built in the Tudor period, there is no supporting proof for it. Of all the medieval battlements that were erected, the blocked battlements sited at the south corner of Legge’s Mount are the only ones still existing in Tower of London with the rest being Victorian replacements. Beyond the boundaries of the castle is a ditch about 50-meter in length and 4.5 metres shallower in the middle than it was originally. The building of the new curtain wall resulted in the closure of the old main entrance giving rise to the creation of a new entrance in the south-west of the external wall. The Royal Mint was transferred into the Tower by Edward I. it was later situated in near the Salt Tower in the outer ward in the 1560s. the period between 1348 and 1355 witnessed the addition of a second water-gate (also known as the Cradle Tower) at the east of St Thomas’s Tower which was used only by the king.
Early history and foundation
After the victory of William the Conqueror in 14 October 1066, he continued in his quest reinforcing key positions to secure his lands. He built many castles as he invades and went around the city of London taking hold of everything on his path. When he got to Canterbury, he decided to head directly to London, the largest city in England. When got to the reinforced bridge held by the Saxons, he took another route ravaging Southwark and other areas in southern England. His ravaging and demolitions resulted in a cut in the supply lines to the city of London and in December 1066 the city was surrendered without him going to war. William erected about 36 castles between the year 1066 and 1087 even though some references show that those under him still built some other castles. The new few ruling population took over these castles. The castles were meant to serve many purposes including fortification, administrative centre and residence.
An advance party was sent by William to make preparations for his entering into the city and he erected a castle also. The castles that were first built were of timber but a few witnessed change in their structure from timber to stone including the Tower of London as at the end of the 11th century. Construction of the White Tower started in 1079 and William appointed Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester to be in charge of the project which not completed until the death of William in 1087. It is said to be the earliest stone keep in England and also the castle’s strongest area. The White Tower also has a grand residence for the king. It is believed to have been completed in the 1100s when Ranulf Flambard a bishop was held captive within its walls. Ranulf Flambard was also recorded to be the first prisoner to escape from the Tower. His escape from was so astonishing that he was accused of witchcraft.
The conquest of London by the Normans was not only seen in the way the new ruling class handled things but also in the structuring of the city. It was recorded that king William II gave the go ahead for the building of the wall surrounding the Tower of London in 1097.
The changes that occurred in the castle began during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. Extension of the castle was carried out by William Longchamp who was the Lord Chancellor and also the one that takes charge when king Richard goes on crusades. The Constable of the Tower was still William Longchamp and he ordered many expansions to be made in the castle in preparation for an attack by Prince John, Richards younger brother. The castle’s defense was put to test for the first time during the attack by Prince John and was also besieged for the first time in its history.
In 1199 Prince John became king even though his leadership rose oppositions from his barons. The Tower was seized in 1214 by Robert Fitzwalter. When John signed the Magna Carta the siege was lifted but he did not keep his promise of reformation and this resulted in the First Barons’ War. Robert Fitzwalter was in control of the Tower even after the signing of the Magna Carta. The barons gave the throne to Prince Louis heir of the French kingdom in 1216. Claims of his son Prince Henry to the throne arose after his death in October 1216. There was war between the faction supporting Louis and the faction supporting Henry with Fitzwalter on Louis side. Robert Fitzwalter was in charge of London and the Tower until Henry ascended the throne.
The expansion of the tower was undertaken by Kings Henry III and Edward I in the 13th century. The King, Henry was distant from the members of his court and being wary of the potential ensuing conflict, he was determined to make the castle impregnable yet comfortable still as he was quite the aesthete.
From 1238, the castle was extended to the north, east, and north-west and these expansions continued from the time of Henry III to the time of Edward I and were work paused severally due to domestic conflicts. An innovative defensive borderline was added to the castle. New towers were built and trenches were dug in sectors like the east, north and west sides which was not defended by the river. The expansion on the eastern side of the castle went beyond the ancient Roman community. The Tower was despised by the inhabitants of London as it symbolised tyranny and besides, Henry’s building plans was not acceptable to the people. It was not surprising that when in 1240 the gatehouse crumbled, Londoners rejoiced.
The King, Henry regularly held his court at the Tower but he never held parliament within the Tower except twice in 1236 and 1261 when the barons appeared to be uncontrollable. The barons had coerced the King into agreeing to certain restructuring in the year 1258. The restructuring includes but not limited to regularity in parliament sessions and the King was also asked to give up the Tower of London. The King hated the fact that he had lost power, and so he turned to the pope to consent to him breaking the promise he had made. In 1261, he marched on to the castle and took it back but with the help of mercenaries. He established himself in the castle while talks were on-going. The two parties, the King and the baron reached a compromise where the King was asked to relinquish his hold over the castle however, the decisive victory he won at the battle of Evesham enabled him to regain his hold over his country and the castle. The Cardinal Ottobuon was invited to England to punish the remaining rebels but this deed was greeted with outright opposition and the situation got worse when the ecclesiastic was granted control of the Tower. In April 1267, Gilbert de Clare sought to take the castle however he failed to achieve anything from the siege and he withdrew. This gave King Henry control over the capital, and a lasting peace till the end of his reign.
King Edward hardly stayed in London for long yet this didn’t deter him from sparing no expense in remodelling the Tower. He was an experienced castle planner, and through his experience during his crusades he brought countless developments to the art of building castles. At the Tower, he filled up the moat that Henry’s troops had dug and built a wall along the line, therefore making a new enclosed space.
Later Medieval Period
In the time of Edward II, there was not much activities going on at the Tower, however the Privy Wardrobe was set up during his reign. It operated within the castle and was concerned with organising the state’s arsenal. The Tower also served as prison for high ranking individuals and was considered a very significant prison in the whole country. However, it was not totally secure and people have been known bribe their way out of the prison. One of the escapees was Mortimer who later connived with Edward’s Queen to overthrow the King. Edward III gave great attention to the art of warfare and he recorded immense success in his wars. In his own time, Edward II has left the castle to descend into a state of dilapidation but Edward III ordered that it be renovated as the castle had become very uncomfortable to its occupants both free men and captives alike.
In 1377, for the coronation of Richard II, there was a procession from the Tower to Westminster Abbey. The tradition started in the early 14th century and continued till 1660. In 1381, during the peasants’ revolt, people laid siege to the Tower even though the King was inside. But when he went out to see Wat Tyler, the leader of the rebels, a horde of people rushed into the castle and plundered the Jewel House. Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury thinking that the rebels would revere the sanctuary and leave him be ran into the St. John’s chapel. He was carried off and later decapitated at Tower Hill. The castle was a secured place to be as this was evident in the decision of Richard to spend the Christmas at the Tower instead of at the Windsor castle during a domestic conflict. Richard was later held captive at the White Tower in 1399 after Bolingbroke was back from exile. Richard abdicated the throne and Bolingbroke became king after him. The castle also held many other distinguished prisoners.
The latter part of the 15th century was rife with wars between the houses of Lancaster and the York over claims to the throne. Once again, the castle was under siege and it was bombarded by heavy fire however it was only given up after King Henry VI was taken prisoner at the Battle of Northampton. Henry though briefly, retook the thrown with the aid of Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick but Edward seized power again from Henry VI and was held captive within the Tower of London. In the course of these wars, the castle was reinforced to be able to withstand heavy pounding from guns and cannons. There were also loopholes where cannons and handguns were positioned on the wall.