Tower of London facts are endlessly fascinating, but some of them might come as a surprise. While you may know that it’s the oldest fortress in all of England, there are plenty of facts about the Tower of London that you may not be aware of if you aren’t a history buff. For example, did you know that the Crown Jewels were hidden during the Second World War so that Nazi looters wouldn’t steal them? Read on to find ten interesting and fun Tower of London facts you probably didn’t know before.
1. Tower of London: A Brief History
The Tower of London is a royal palace and fortress in the heart of London, England. It is one of the famous attractions in the city and lies next to the London Eye on the banks of the River Thames. The Tower of London is one of the oldest royal castles in London and has a long and fascinating history dating back over 900 years.
One of the Oldest Structures in London
The Tower of London, also known as “The Tower” or “The White Tower,” is a complex of buildings and palaces on an artificial island in the River Thames in Central London. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1066 to intimidate his enemies and later became one of London’s most important landmarks.
For about 700 years, the Tower of London was used as a royal residence by the kings of England, and later, it became the most potent political prison in the world. It was also used as a Royal mint and even a Royal zoo! which was named the Lion Tower
Used for different purposes throughout the history
The Tower has been used for many other purposes over its history, including housing prisoners, serving as a royal residence, becoming a prison after 1770 when it was taken over by the Crown (until 1842), serving as an armory during World War II, and even being bombed by German planes during World War II.
The Tower of London is a complex of buildings, walls, and palaces on an artificial island in the River Thames, administered by the monarch. When it was first built by William the Conqueror to intimidate people living in London—as part of his campaign against Harold Godwinson—the Tower wasn’t called “The Tower of London.” Instead, it was called “The White Tower”.
After its coloration, white bricks were made from limestone quarried at White Horse Hill near Maidstone, Kent, with lime mortar made from Welsh or Irish limestone (imported into England since Roman times).
2. It comprises a total of 268 towers, gates, and walls
The Tower of London has 268 towers, gates, and walls. These include the White Tower, Inner and Outer Ward Gates, Traitors’ Gate, and Black Dog Gate. The White Tower, the oldest part of the Tower of London, was the primary residence of the kings of England. The principal apartments were the King’s Chamber, the Queen’s Chamber, the Great Hall, and the Constable’s Apartments.
The castle became a substantial royal residence during the Tudor period when Henry VIII rebuilt parts of it and turned it into a palace-fortress with its household staff.
The constable of the Tower had the duty of maintaining the Tower, protecting the Crown Jewels, and keeping the Tower’s records. The constable, who was always a high-ranking military officer, also had to watch the Tower from outside attacks and keep it well-maintained. You can still see the Constable’s Apartments on the second floor of the White Tower.
3. The White Tower
The White Tower is the oldest building in the complex. It is 176 feet high, with walls 12 feet thick at its base. Yeoman warders are responsible for Her Majesty’s royal palace, the outer wall, and all living within it. These include Beefeaters or guards, as well as other staff, including porters, housekeepers, chefs, and gardeners. All have their roles to play to keep the tower running smoothly.
With 900 years of history, The Tower has witnessed many changes over time. Perhaps some of its most famous prisoners include Anne Boleyn, imprisoned and executed in 1536 near Tower Hill. Another is Sir Thomas More, author and statesman, who was put to death by order of Henry VIII for his refusal to accept him as supreme head of England. Yet another notable prisoner was John le Carré, also known as David Cornwell.
One more example is French Revolutionary Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Marat in 1793 after he called for violent rebellion against King Louis XVI during The Terror, killing an estimated 50,000 people. In addition to Royalty and renowned historical figures, the tower houses a raven master.
4. Moat of the Tower
The moat was filled with water from the river Thames up until 1843. It protected King John’s Tower, which was built on top of St Katharine’s Chapel, and it also helped make the Tower more secure.
When Henry VIII moved his court to London and stayed at Whitehall Palace (now known as Hampton Court Palace), he had a small island built just outside this walled area so that there could be no escape for prisoners in Tower Prison.
Later, it was filled with the earth
The moat was removed because it wasn’t needed anymore—but what happened when they filled it with the earth? They used it as part of their garden! The moat was filled in with the world, and it was used as a garden. The land near the Tower of London is very fertile, so many people have gardens there today.
Some of the gardens are very old, and there are even some gardens that were planted during Roman times. The Tower of London’s moat was filled with earth during the reign of James I (who ruled from 1603 to 1625). He ordered it to be filled in because he felt it was unnecessary.
5. Did you know there were TWO White Towers?
The first White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Later, a second White Tower was constructed by Henry III to help defend against possible assaults from the land. The two towers were connected by a wall that ran around the tower’s perimeter.
Although they look very similar, there are some distinct differences between these two iconic buildings. The first White Tower was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. It consisted mainly of a large stone structure with a wooden roundhouse and four turrets to protect it from attacks from soldiers during warfare. The second White formed part of what later became Eltham Palace in Kent, although its inhabitants disputed ownership.
First White tower
The first White Tower was built by William I in 1078. It is also known as a motte and bailey castle, which evolved during Late Antiquity (also called the Dark Age). Its design consisted of two towers, one inside and one outside, connected by a curtain wall to protect it from attacking enemy soldiers. The tower was guarded by two deep moats on its north and west sides.
The design proved popular with Norman lords, who favored its use against other castles where they could lay siege on their opponents within or without using battering rams. The first tower was eventually destroyed by King Richard II, who ordered its construction in 1394.
Second White tower
The second tower was built later, but only briefly before being primarily demolished to form part of a new royal residence – Eltham Palace. The second tower was constructed by Henry III to help defend against possible assaults from enemy forces and to keep them away from his well-known Eltham Palace. It was connected to its first tower by a 3m (9.8 feet) thick curtain wall that incorporated houses and stables.
6. The Queen’s house
The Queens House is the only residential part of the Tower still in use today. It was built by Henry VIII in 1540, and from then on, it served as a residence for queens consort — Queen Catherine Parr (1512-1548), Queen Katherine of Aragon (1485-1509), and finally, Elizabeth I, who ruled England during her long reign between 1558 and 1603.
In 1660, Charles II had the Queen’s House repurposed as a residence for his royal governor, Sir Thomas Mawne. From 1847 to 1952, it was used as the home for his wife, Lady Mary Mawne, until she died in 1852 at age 51.
Queen Victoria had six children while living here, including her daughter Princess Beatrice, who went on to marry Prince Henry of Battenberg and have six children herself.
One of the Best Views over the Thames
The Queens House is a beautiful building with some of the best views over the Thames in London. The interior is decorated with elaborate plasterwork and woodcarving, while outside, there are green gardens where you can sit down and relax.
In the 15th century, it was used as a prison for high-profile prisoners. They included Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, who were both executed on Tower Green. The Tower of London is famous for its ravens, which have been housed at the castle since the 14th century. Two of them were given to King Charles II in 1684 as a gift from Parliament.
Timings for visit
The Queens House is open to visitors from Monday to Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. The Queens House is close to Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It is also near the Cutty Sark and Greenwich Pier, both great places to visit.
7. The Crown Jewels- One of the most interesting Tower of London facts
The Crown Jewels are kept in the Jewel House at the Tower of London and are not publicly displayed.
George IV first wore the Crown Jewels at his coronation in 1821.
In 1649, Cromwell had the crown jewels seized from King Charles I and then melted down.
It is said that if you place your hand on the Jewel House door, it feels cold to the touch.
Henry III appointed William de Rufus as Constable of England, Keeper of the Wardrobe (responsible for storing clothes), and Keeper of the Jewel House at the Tower of London in 1155, granting him a suite of rooms there too. -King John later made William the first ever Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, giving him responsibility for Dover Castle.
- The crown jewels were stolen from The Tower in 1671 by a gang known as the receivers, who were later caught and imprisoned. They stole jewels, including a diamond necklace worth £100,000, which belonged to Queen Henrietta Maria.
8. The Legend of the Executioner
The executioner’s legend is one that many people know about, but few know the true story behind it. The executioner was originally a man named Jack Ketch, who was born in Somerset in 1649. He became an executioner because of his profession as a butcher, and he was given the job after showing skill in killing animals. One story says King Charles II appointed him because he admired how Ketch displayed his talent when slaughtering pigs.
He became a haunting ghost…?
The ghost of Jack Ketch is said to haunt not only the Tower of London but several other sites throughout Britain. Some records say he died in 1686 and was buried in St. Saviour’s churchyard in Southwark, one such place where he has been seen or felt.
The spectral figure is said to become more and more transparent as it approaches death, giving rise to yet another legend. It says that Ketch is destined never to die but must remain on earth forever as a reminder of his sins against humanity.
It is believed that Ketch haunts these sites to warn people of impending death and make them repent before they pass. Another legend says that he was only released from his post as an executioner on condition that he would return to do it one last time. He died from a stroke after having just killed his previous prisoner.
9. The Bloody History Behind Traitor’s Gate
Traitor’s Gate is one of the most notorious gates in the Tower. It was here that prisoners were brought to be executed, and where Guy Fawkes was executed after he was found guilty for his role in the Gunpowder Plot. The gate has a gruesome history:
Execution of Anne Boleyn
One of its former residents was Anne Boleyn. The wife of King Henry VIII, she was accused of adultery and incest and imprisoned at Traitor’s Gate before being beheaded in 1536.
Other prisoners who spent time in Traitor’s Gate included Sir Walter Raleigh, who was a supporter of Mary Queen Of Scots, and Alfred de Musset. He was a French writer who wrote ‘La Confession d’un Enfant du Siècle’ while imprisoned there in 1837.
Used during The First World War & World War II
The gate was also used as a holding cell for prisoners who were to be transported to penal colonies and held soldiers captured during The Great War. After decommissioning in 1923, Traitor’s Gate became part of an underground prison that housed conscientious objectors during World War II. Their imprisonment by their government helped them become a symbol of civil rights.
After WW II, Traitor’s Gate fell into disrepair and part of it was covered up. It wasn’t until 1998 that an extensive restoration project began to restore its reputation as one of England’s most historic sites. The gate is open to tourists daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
On your next trip to London, stop by one of England’s most infamous historical sites. It’s an imposing and educational attraction that will take you on a whirlwind tour through England’s bloody past.
10. Which prisoners tried to escape through laundry chutes?
It was common for prisoners to try to escape the Tower of London. Once, a group of prisoners tried to run through the laundry chutes but were caught after their bags got stuck.
They were executed for attempting to flee. The last person executed at the tower was William Joyce, better known as Lord Haw-Haw, who was hanged by British authorities in 1945 for his pro-Nazi broadcasts during WWII.
Speaking of executions, take a look at some of those held at the tower: Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn (sisters to Queen Elizabeth I), George Boleyn (Anne’s brother), Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, and Thomas Cromwell. Executions were carried out by beheading or hanging. The hangings were considered especially brutal; prisoners often died from suffocation or strangulation.
11. Who was tortured in The Cage?
The Cage is a small room where prisoners are detained and tortured. The first prisoner to be held there was Sir Thomas More in 1534, who was imprisoned for 16 months and then executed.
The second prisoner was John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester and Lord Chancellor under King Henry VIII, who died from starvation after refusing to sign an oath acknowledging Henry as head of the Church in England. Next came William Thomas More (the son), who refused on his father’s behalf but eventually signed the oath when threatened with imprisonment.
Lady Jane Gray
Lady Jane Grey, who reigned for just nine days as Queen of England before being imprisoned, was also held in The Cage. She didn’t stay there long because her husband was executed before she arrived, and she was then transferred to The Beauchamp Tower. Others in The Cage include Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and George Boleyn. Anne Boleyn spent several months there during her incarceration on charges of adultery.
Anne Askew and others
The next prisoner to be held in The Cage was Anne Askew. A member of an influential family, she was arrested and tortured after writing a series of letters to Thomas Cranmer criticizing Henry VIII’s supremacy over the church.
She was later burned at Smithfield for heresy in 1546 after refusing to recant her Catholic beliefs. The final prisoner held there was Catherine Howard, one of Henry’s wives who also spent several months being interrogated in The Cage before being executed for treason.
12. Ravens of the tower and associated British history
While the Tower has had a long and complicated history, we have since 1883. And while there are still ravens living in the tower today, they’re not wild birds. They belonged to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and were given to her as a wedding present by the people of Scotland.
Though in an age where birds are often considered pests, it’s hard to imagine that these creatures once held such a sacred place in British history. When Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, a raven was one of their official wedding gifts. It even had its seat at their coronation dinner.
So, while you might think that all ravens are dark and sinister creatures out to get you, they were revered as something akin to guardian angels back in Medieval times.
If you want to see them, you won’t have to travel far. They are kept atop the White Tower, a popular tourist attraction. They tend to stay on their perches and only fly out at night, but if you want a guaranteed sighting, it’s recommended that you go in the early morning or late evening
The Tower of London is a place you should visit if you are interested in history. It’s a unique place with many stories to tell, and it’s fun to look around and imagine what it was like when people lived there hundreds of years ago! The Tower of London is one of the most fascinating places in London.