March 3, 2022
Thank you to all of those who responded to the second poll I released. The one that had the most votes was the Tower of London in London, England. A little while back I saw a couple of documentaries about the Tower of London on Netflix and the Tower’s history has fascinated me ever since. I decided to include the Tower of London as one of the options for the poll since it has fascinated millions of visitors and I thought that there may be interest among all of you readers. Enjoy this impression of my virtual visit!
I took a couple of tours including the 360-degree tour of the Tower hosted by the Historic Royal Palaces YouTube channel. The Historic Royal Palaces tour was guided by Dan Snow behind the camera and Chief Yeoman Warder Alan Kingshott. I appreciated that during the tour there are arrows at the top left corner to see more of this 360-degree tour especially when it may be a person’s only way to visit the Tower of London. It is great to have this experience of learning about the castle that not only held prisoners, but also guarded royal possessions, protected the royal family during times of war and rebellion, and was used as a luxurious palace.
William the Conqueror, in the 1070s, began to build a massive stone fortress in London to defend and proclaim his power. The Tower of London took about 20 years to build and William the Conqueror did not live to see it completed. Since it’s completion the Tower has been adapted and developed by other kings; for instance, Henry III (1216-1272) and Edward I (1272-1307) expanded the fortress by adding huge defensive walls with a series of smaller towers and enlarging the moat. In addition to using the Tower as protection, a defense and a palace, arms and armor were made, tested, and stored there until the 1800s. The Tower controlled the supply of the nation’s money; the coins were made at the Tower Mint from Edward I’s reign until 1810. Kings and queens locked away their jewels and other valuables at the Tower. Today, the Crown Jewels are protected by a garrison of soldiers.
The soldiers who guard the Tower are known as Yeoman Warders and are recognized as symbols of the Tower around the world have been there for centuries. They were originally part of the Yeomen of the Guard, who were the monarch’s personal bodyguard who traveled with the monarch. Henry VIII (1507-1547) decreed that some of the Yeomen would stay and guard the Tower permanently. Nowadays the Yeomen Warders guard the visitors but they still carry out ceremonial duties including the Ceremony of the Keys, which is the unlocking and locking of the Tower every day that began in the mid-1300s during the reign of Edward III; the King went to the Tower unannounced one night in December 1340 and walked straight in unchallenged, and after imprisoning the Constable of the Tower for neglecting his duty Edward III decreed that the castle should be locked at sunset and unlocked at sunrise. The Yeomen Warders wear their red state “dress uniforms” for important occasions at the Tower and special events including the Gun Salutes (firing the huge cannon on the Wharf). Yeomen Warders live on the premises of the Tower.
When it was used as a royal residence, medieval kings and queens lived in luxurious apartments at the Tower. They worshipped in the Chapel Royal, kept a menagerie of exotic animals (which lasted until the 19th century), and welcomed foreign rulers at magnificent ceremonial occasions. Although it has long since vanished, there was once a splendid royal palace to the south of the White Tower. Henry VIII modernized the rooms inside in preparation for the coronation of his new bride, Anne Boleyn in 1533. She and the King feasted the night before Anne processed in triumph through the City of London to Westminster Abbey. Three years later Anne was back at the Tower, this time accused of adultery and treason. She was held in the same luxurious lodgings before being executed by sword on Tower Green.
For over 800 years, men and women have arrived at the Tower. Some stayed for only a few days, others many years. During the Tudor age, the Tower became the most important state prison in the country. Anyone thought to be a threat to national security including the future Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Jane Grey, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Guy Fawkes were sent to the Tower. The last time individuals were sent to Tower was during World War II when German spies were brought here and shot. Not everyone who went to the Tower came to serve time in prison.
The Tower has been a visitor attraction since the 18th century, but the number of tourists increased dramatically in the 1800s. Visitors were fascinated by the stories of England’s turbulent and sometimes gruesome history. Stories of ghosts haunt the Tower. Anne Boleyn is said to stalk the site of her execution on Tower Green. Arbella Stuart, the cousin of Elizabeth I who starved while under arrest for marrying without royal permission, is said to frequent the Queen’s House still. One of the most famous legends of the Tower surrounds the ravens. The story goes that should the ravens leave the Tower, both it and the kingdom will fall. Seven ravens live at the Tower today and are cared for by a dedicated Yeoman Warder known as the Ravenmaster. It continues to be a popular visitor attraction today.
To learn more about the Tower of London, I included a list of sources below.
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360 degree Tour of Tower of London: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yeLQVare-3k
Secrets of Great British Castles: The Tower of London episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdgjsSQ3McM&t=38s