Tower of London

hortly after becoming King of England in 1066 William the Conqueror constructed an earth and timber castle in the corner of the old Roman city walls of London. Around this was dug a ditch and a bank was formed with a wooden palisade on top. From this point William could command London and monitor all ship movements up and down the river Thames. About ten years after the Conquest William decided to strengthen the castle. Gundulf the Bishop of Rochester, whose building techniques were admired by William, was brought to London to design and build the new keep. The foundations were laid in 1078 and the structure was completed in the reign of William Rufus in 1097. This is now known as the White Tower after Henry III whitewashed the exterior. The tower has walls fifteen feet thick at the base, a chapel dedicated to St John the Evangelist taking up two of the upper floors, a 40 foot deep well and more than one crypt. Building work again commenced in around 1189 when the chancellor of the time William Longchamp the Bishop of Ely ordered the enlargement of the bailey that surrounded the tower.

When Henry III became King he began improving of the area of the castle between the Tower and the river by building the Wakefield and Lanthorn Towers. Henry used the Wakefield Tower, which is the second largest tower of the castle, as he own private residence. Between 1275 and 1285 Edward I spent large sums of money improving the fortifications. A new moat was dug and a curtain wall was built around it. The land between the Tower and the river was levelled and new apartments were built on the shore. Edward had a complex of gates added which meant it was extremely difficult to attack the castle through the main land entrance.

Tower of London Key Facts
CountyGreater London (1 castle)
CategoriesStone / Norman Square Keep / Concentric
OwnershipRoyal castle
One of the primary residences of the Kings and Queens of England from 1066 to the present day.
RemainsExcellent remains
Access to siteOnly open at certain times
Outer Defences
MoatThe moat at the Tower of London surrounds the inner ward of the castle. Originally it was filled with water and was connected to the River Thames but now is dry. It was also used as an open sewer and produced a terrible smell.

White Tower Floor Details
The keep at the Tower of London is about 90 feet high and the thickness of the walls varies from 15 feet in the basement to around 10 feet at the top. A central cross wall runs the complete height of keep providing extra strength and a means of supporting the wooden flooring. Originally the keep was painted with whitewash leading to its name. The keep has three square corner towers and one circular corner tower to the north east in which the main spiral staircase is situated. The south east of the building is rounded providing the circular shape usually found at the east and of a church and in which is located the castle's chapel.

The upper floor of the keep has a passage 1 that runs around the keep. The larger of the two rooms on this floor was the Council Chamber while the other would have been private chambers for the king. The area to south 2 is a viewing gallery above the chapel of St. John.

This second floor of the keep contains the chapel of St. John 3. The chapel has a row of four columns on each side creating aisles 4 and an arc of four columns to the east forming the apse 5. The chapel extends up to the third floor. The room to the north of the chapel 6 was used as a court while the main room to the west 7 was used as a banqueting hall. Starting from this floor two extra spiral staircases in the west corners of the keep give access to the floor above and corner turrets.
The only original entrance to the keep was on the south side of the first floor 8. It is probable that a forebuilding existed on the south side of the keep to protect the entrance and is shown on some ancient prints but has been removed. Again, like the others, this floor is divided into three rooms and this floor was used by the garrison of guards. The room to the south east 9 is the crypt, being directly below the chapel of St. John. In the round tower to the north east is the spiral staircase 10 that gives access to the rest of the keep. This one staircase provides excellent protection for the rest of the keep as any attackers would have to use this one route to reach the other floors and the staircase could be defended by a small number of men.
The basement of the keep is divided into three rooms. The floor is under ground level to the north but is above ground level to the south because the ground that the keep sits on slopes towards the river Thames. The basement was originally only reached by a spiral staircase in the north east round tower. The basement of the keep held the instruments of torture which were used to extract information from prisoners and in the area to the south east 11 is a dungeon known as the 'Little Ease'.

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1078   Work starts on the White Tower
 Gundulf began work on the White Tower, the Tower of London.[1]

Episode: Norman Conquest  
1091   Violent storm hits London
 London was hit by a terrible storm, possibly a tornado. Damage was done to the Tower of London, the old wooden London Bridge and many churches and buildings. 
1141 Jun  Matilda enters London
 Matilda and her supporters entered London for her coronation. Her supporters included David I, king of the Scots. Geoffrey de Mandeville who controlled the Tower of London, abandoned his king as he saw Matilda had the upper hand. He joined her side and offered her the Tower of London. He did this to ensure he kept the Earldom of Essex which made him one of the most powerful barons of the time.

Episode: Civil War Stephen and Matilda  
1143 Sep  Mandeville is arrested
 King Stephen arrested Geoffrey de Mandeville at a meeting of the Royal Court. Mandeville had tried Stephen's patience with his disloyalty and the king did not want the Tower of London (which Mandeville controlled) fall into the hands of Matilda. Mandevilles castles and title of Earl of Essex were taken from him, and he became an outlaw.[2]

Episode: Civil War Stephen and Matilda  
1153   Richard de Lucy becomes Constable of the Tower
 Richard de Lucy was appointed the title of Constable at the Tower of London, an extremely important position, by King Stephen. 
1189 - 1199 Building work commences at the Tower
 While Richard I was away on Crusade, William Longchamp, the Bishop of Ely and Chancellor ordered the enlargement of the bailey surrounding the keep Tower in London. A new ditch and bank were constructed with a new section of curtain wall. 
1191 Oct 6  Tower of London siege
 Bishop William Longchamp held the Tower of London against Prince John's supporters for only three days. The Bishop surrendered the Tower and escaped to continue his support for King Richard.[2] 
1220 - 1240 Henry III's improvements at the Tower
 Henry III made large alterations to the Tower of London including new curtain walls, an improved water filled ditch and a water gate so the King could enter the castle directly from the Thames.[2] 
1235   Leopards at the Tower
 The Tower of London was home to a menagerie of exotic animals given to the monarchs of England as gifts. In this year three leopards were given to Henry III.[3] 
1261 May  Henry back in control
 Having obtained a papal bull (a formal proclamation issued by the pope) to absolve himself from the Provision of Oxford, Henry hired an army of 300 French knights as bodyguards and took up position in the Tower of London. His objective was to regain the absolute power that the Barons had taken away.

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
1263   Edward raids the Temple in London
 On the pretence of removing his mother's jewels, Edward (I) entered the Knights Templar's Temple in London and ransacked the treasury, taking the proceeds to the Tower of London.

Episode: The Second Barons' War  
1275 - 1285 Major rebuilding work at the Tower of London
 Edward I spent large sums of money improving the fortifications at the Tower of London. A new moat was dug and a curtain wall was built around it. The land between the Tower and the river was levelled and new apartments were built on the shore. Edward had a complex of gates added which meant it was extremely difficult to attack the castle through the main land entrance. 
1281   Beauchamp Tower at Tower of London built
 Edward I was responsible for the construction of the Beauchamp Tower on the western side of the curtain wall. It got its name later on in 1397 when Thomas Beauchamp was imprisoned there by Richard II. The three storey tower was large enough to hold not only the captive, but members of his household as well. It has been used to hold other important prisoners since. 
1323 Autumn  Mortimer escapes from the Tower
 Mortimer of Wigmore escaped from the Tower of London.[4] 
1340 Nov  Edward dismisses his Chancellor
 Edward travelled back to England and came ashore at the Tower of London. He was horrified to find the castle unguarded. His anger did not stop with those in charge at the Tower. Edward sacked many of his advisors including the Chancellor, John Stratford, the Archbishop of Canterbury.[5] 
1348 - 1355 Water gate built at Tower of London
 Edward III had a water gate constructed at the base of the Cradle Tower. This allowed access to royal apartments directly from the river. 
1351   Eastminster Abbey founded
 Edward III founded a new Cistercian abbey near the Tower of London. Monks from Beaulieu Abbey populated the new abbey.[2] 
1413 Autumn  Sir John Oldcastle arrested
 As the leader of the Lollards, the friend of the King was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. 
1445 May 30  Margaret of Anjou crowned
 After a triumphant entrance to London a few days earlier Margaret stayed at the Tower of London for a few days before going to Westminster Abbey where she was crowned. [6] 
1450 Summer  Matthew Gough made Captain of the Tower
 On his return from Normandy Matthew Gough was made Captain of the Tower of London. Gough was killed in the fighting with Jack Cade and the rebels on London Bridge soon afterwards.[7] 
1451   Support for Richard in Parliament
 Thomas Young, the member of Parliament for Bristol stood up and declared that Richard, Duke of York's claim to the throne should be considered. Thomas Young was quickly arrested and locked up in the Tower of London.  
1453 Nov  Somerset sent to the Tower
 Edmund Beaufort, the duke of Somerset was unpopular and only kept his position of power with the support of the King. While Henry VI was ill Somerset was sent to the Tower of London.

Episode: Wars of the Roses  
1460 Jul 19  Garrison at Tower of London surrenders
 The Lancastrian garrison holding the Tower of London surrendered. Lord Scrope tried to escape but was seen and killed by the river, but most of the garrison escaped.[8]

Episode: Wars of the Roses  
1465 Summer  Henry VI captured
 Henry had been helped by Lancastrian supporters in the north but was finally captured at Waddington Hall. He was taken to London and put in the Tower.

Episode: Wars of the Roses  
1470 Oct 6  Henry restored as King
 Warwick and Clarence entered London and Henry VI was released from the Tower of London. Henry was crowned King of England for the second time.

Episode: Wars of the Roses  
1471 Apr 11  London opens its gates to Edward and the Yorkists
 The Earl of Warwick was in Coventry and apparently unwilling to confront Edward, so Edward and Richard marched south to London. London was under the control of Warwick's brother, George Neville the Archbishop of York, but the Londoners were Yorkists and they welcomed the return of their true king. Once inside the city Edward had the Archbishop arrested and along with King Henry VI put in the Tower of London.

Episode: Wars of the Roses  
1478 Feb 18  Clarence executed
 The Duke of Clarence was privately put to death within the walls of the Tower of London.[2] 
1483 Apr 30  Richard captures the King
 Richard, assisted by the Duke of Buckingham rode to Stony Stratford where they met with the King under the pretence of offering their condolences for the death of his father. Instead, they captured King Edward and took him directly to London and safe keeping in the Tower. Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers was arrested and imprisoned at Sherriff Hutton Castle, near York.[9]

Episode: Wars of the Roses  
 Jul  Murder of Princes in the Tower
 At some point the young king Edward V and his brother Richard disappeared. Whether they were murdered in the Tower of London and by whom is not known, but they were not seen of again. Later, in 1491, a man called Perkin Warbeck appeared in Ireland and claims were made that he was really Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, one of the princes. 
1499 Nov  Perkin Warbeck executed
 Perkin Warbeck executed at the Tower of London.[10] 
Early Modern Period (1500-1800)
1501   Tournament at the Tower of London
 Henry VII held a tournament at the Tower of London.[2] 
1512   Fire at the Tower of London
 A fire at the Tower of London damages St. Peter's chapel within the castle grounds.[2]

Episode: Rebellion against Henry II  
1536 May 19  Execution of Anne Boleyn
 Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, was executed for treason and adultery at the Tower of London.

Episode: Henry VIII and his Six Wives  
1542 Feb 13  Catherine Howard executed
 Found guilty of adultery and therefore treason, Catherine Howard was sentenced to death and was executed on Tower Green within the Tower of London.

Episode: Henry VIII and his Six Wives  
 Nov 24  Battle of Solway Moss
 The battle at Solway Moss ended in a terrible defeat for the Scottish when they were overrun by a much smaller force of English troops led by Sir Thomas Wharton. Several high-worth Scottish prisoners were taken and transported to the Tower of London for future ransom. The shock of the defeat is supposed to have been so great for the Scottish king, James V, that he died just a few weeks later. 
1553 Aug 3  Mary arrives in London
 Mary Tudor arrived at London to a huge welcome. Entering through Aldgate she was met by Elizabeth, Anne of Cleves and many others. Mary quickly ordered the release of her supporters that had been locked up at the Tower of London. The Duke of Northumberland and his supporters were placed in the Tower to await trial and execution.

Episode: Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Day Queen  
1554 Apr 11  Wyatt executed
 Sir Thomas Wyatt was executed at Tower Hill for leading the rebellion against Queen Mary. Wyatt denied that Elizabeth had been involved in any part of rebellion.[11] 
1558 Nov  Elizabeth at London
 Elizabeth entered London towards the end of November. She made her way through the crowds of loyal Londoners to the Tower where she stayed for a few days. 
1583 Nov  Throckmorton Plot
 Francis Throckmorton was found guilty of carrying messages with details of an assassination attempt to murder Queen Elizabeth, an invasion by Spain and the freeing of Mary Stuart from captivity. Along with the Earl of Northumberland, Throckmorton was put in the Tower of London before being executed for treason. Before his death, Throckmorton revealed that Queen Mary knew about the plot.[12] 

Norman Square Keeps

White Tower, London

More about Norman square keeps

One of the most important types of building in the time of William the Conqueror and William Rufus were the Norman keeps. Although many were rebuilt in the following century there are many good examples still remaining. The White Tower in London (pictured left), Dover and Rochester in the south east, Newcastle, Appleby, Carlisle, Brough, Richmond in the north are all examples of this type of castle. Other examples include Portchester, Guilford, Goodrich, Norwich, Castle Rising, Hedingham and Colchester. The castles are all built from a roughly uniform plan. A massive square tower with a square turret at each of the corners that project slightly. Each of the main faces of the castle has a flat buttress running up the centre of the wall for extra strength. The only parts that have decoration are usually the main doorway at the entrance and the chapel. At the centre of the keep are large halls. Some keeps have a dividing wall down the middle. Access to different levels and sections of the castle are by passages and spiral staircases built into the thick walls.


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