For anyone who is new to the blog, I am a historian who is also a royalist, meaning that I try my hardest to visit pretty much every royal palace possible. Kensington Palace, Holyroodhouse, and Hampton Court Palace are all places I have had the good fortune to visit and soak up the history of! My own research is varied, but I have never found much traction in royal history in my degrees, so I spend much of my own time reading, watching and visiting as much of royal history as possible. And of course, that must include the Tower of London…
The Tower of London is infamous and at the top of every London visitor’s list! The Tower was originally built by William the Conqueror as a symbol of his domination, and has been used as a royal residence, a prison, an armoury, and a treasury, among other things, throughout the centuries. Given my huge of love of the British/English Royal Family, I knew I haaaaad to go see the Tower of London.
Something that surprised me is just how much the Tower of London dominates the landscape, even in the twenty first century. Walking up to it, you can really understand how it is a symbol of royal power! It can be seen from miles around, and I would argue is one of the most noticeable pieces of the London skyline. It is also undoubtedly one of the most notable surviving buildings in London’s history!
One of my favourite architectural aspects of the Tower is the timber framing from the Elizabethan era- probably because I largely associate the Tower with Henry VIII and Elizabeth I’s prisoners! Interestingly I find surviving Tudor buildings to be rather dark inside (compared with our modern, very well-lit buildings, at least), but I think that framing is such a striking image.
There are six resident ravens at the Tower of London, and there is a prophecy that if the ravens leave to Tower, it will fall. (They actually, do in fact, leave!) They were pretty relaxed with all of the people around- I was impressed, but I suppose it is all they have known. What I love about London is that there are centuries old customs and buildings that are woven into modern life, and don’t feel out of place at all!
The White Tower is the iconic tower, and is currently a display of armour and weapons. Not going to lie, I wasn’t that interested. For anyone who interested in military history, or just wants to see what the armour of a king looks like, this is the place to be. St. John’s Chapel within the Tower is quite small and peaceful, though! I was a little bothered that many of the tourists seemed to disregard that it is an actual chapel, but there is nothing to be done. Interestingly the chapel was built from stone from France, and is one of few surviving early Norman church!
The Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula is the site of the remains of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Grey, Sir Thomas More, and John Fisher- five big names from the Tudor period! Interestingly the headless bodies were found under the nave and chancel without any markings in the 19th century, and were reburied. If you have the chance, certainly take a few moments to spend some time here. You can also observe service here quite often!
This unique memorial is a testament to those “sent to the Tower” by Henry VIII- it lists the name of notable executions at the tower. This is the spot where historians think that most of the executions took place; although I personally am not on “Team Anne Boleyn”, it seems quite sad that she is remembered at the Tower by her reburied remains and a memorial, rather than the grand tomb and effigy I am sure she imagined for herself.
If you want to see the Crown Jewels, this is where you do it!! You stand on this interesting moving sidewalk- to prevent people from standing in front and blocking it- and move through the Jewels. Fun to see? When a tourist takes out a camera when there are a million signs in countless languages telling you there are no pictures allowed. The security really hop to. If you happen to be there before a notable event, such as a baptism or a royal wedding, some of the jewels or items might be removed for a future duchess’ confirmation!
This is Traitor’s Gate- it’s the gate where traitor’s were brought in. They had super creative naming conventions…. As someone who comes from the prairies (literally a giant field), it seems odd to me that you could wander through this gate like normal, and also float in on a boat. But I suppose that’s the Thames for you!
Also, throughout the Tower, they have different animals like this elephant- the Tower was a royal menagerie for centuries. The price was a few shillings, or a small animal for the resident animals to eat! I thought it was a cool and artistic way to work that aspect of the history in. The curators who work for Historic Royal Palaces are incredibly creative and talented, and are some of the best in the field!
Have you been to the Tower of London? What is your favourite part?