The Tower of London

Tower of London
The Tower of London, standing proud and majestic on the banks of the River Thames, is possibly the most famous fort in the world. Today it is one of the top tourist attractions in London.

In its thousand-year history it has been used as a Royal Mint, zoo, garrison, secure store for the Crown Jewels, and it has the distinction of being Londonís oldest gaol and place of execution.

Built by William I and completed in 1097, the central keep was better known as the White Tower from the 13th century when its walls were whitewashed. Both below ground and up above cells were built to hold the prisoners.

The first recorded prisoner to be held at the Tower of London was the Bishop of Durham, Ranulf Flambard, in 1101. As his wealth would allow, he was permitted to keep his servants.

These strong walls with turrets were built to protect London from invaders, and also to hold some of the most prestigious prisoners, from kings and queens to treasonous rebels.

Executions were sometime held within the Tower at Tower Green, although most executions were carried out at Tower Hill, just outside the walls and moat.

Notable prisoners included 600 Jews accused of coin-clipping incarcerated by Edward I in 1278. Of these, some 260 were executed while most of the others were left to rot in putrid accommodation within the dungeons.

  • John Balliol, King of Scotland, was held here in 1296.
  • King John of France, caught in the battle of Poiters, was brought here in 1356.
  • King Henry VI and George, the Duke of Clarence were both killed while in prison at the Tower.
  • Anne Boleyn was imprisoned and executed in 1536.
  • Princess Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I, was imprisoned in 1554 by her half-sister Mary.
  • The last execution carried out at the Tower was that of a German spy, Josef Jakobs, in 1941. Unlike the early medieval executions where an axe was used, this time a firing squad made up of eight soldiers shot Jakobs while he was tied to a chair. The only shot to have killed him had hit him in the head, although the target was pinned to his heart.

    The list is extensive with the last prisoner held here being William Joyce otherwise known as 'Lord Haw-Haw' in 1945.

    Traitors Gate
    Traitors Gate where convicts arrived by river after their trials from the courts in Westminster.


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