The Tower of London is admired for its architecture and its history but it is most remembered for the bloody executions, imprisonment and torture of the prisoners who were incarcerated in the great London castle. The mysterious deaths, like those of the two little Princes in the Tower and the tragic story of the execution of the pathetically young Lady Jane Grey. the execution of Queens of England - Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn. The torture of various prisoners including the racking of Anne Askew, the interrogation of State prisoners such as Guy Fawkes. The executions of men of peace like John Fisher Bishop of Rochester and Sir Thomas More.
The type of execution of the Tower of London prisoners depended on the severity of the crime and whether the prisoners were members of the higher or lower classes - most executions were conducted in public. The vast majority of Tower of London prisoners who were sentenced to death met their end in public on Tower Hill. But private executions of Tower of London prisoners were conducted behind the walls of the Tower if the execution was considered too politically sensitive to carry out in open view - this especially applied to the execution of a woman. Even these 'private' executions on Tower Green were conducted in the full view of many important spectators. The victims of such executions were usually hurriedly buried in the Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula situated next to Tower Green.
Here is a partial list of some of the prisoners of the Tower. How many names do you recognize?
Hubert de Burgh, Chief Justiciar of England (1232)
1238 - William le Marish
Prince Gruffydd of Wales ( fell 90 feet whilst trying to escape - 1244 )
King Baliol of Scotland (1296)
William Wallace (1305)
Lady Badlesmere, Margaret de Clare, first woman recorded as a prisoner of the Tower (1322)
Charles, Duke of Orleans (1391-1465)
Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester 1441
King Henry VI 1465
Duke of Clarence 1478
1483 - William Hastings
1483 - Jane Shore
1483 The Two Princes - Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York
John Fisher Bishop of Rochester (1534)
Sir Thomas More (1535)
Implicated with Anne Boleyn - Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Frances Weston, William Brereton and George Boleyn (1536) NB Sir Thomas Wyatt was also arrested and imprisoned but was released
Sir William de la Pole was incarcerated at the Tower for 37 years
Thomas Cromwell (1540)
Implicated with Catherine Howard - Anne Howard, Thomas Culpepper, Henry Mannox & Francis Dereham(1542)
Protestant Anne Askew tortured at the Tower (1545)
Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1546)
Thomas, Duke of Norfolk (1546)
Princess Elizabeth and her servants Kat Ashley and Henry Parry (1554)
Thomas Seymour, High Admiral of England (1549)
The Duchess of Somerset (1551)
Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector (1552)
Guildford Dudley - husband of Lady Jane Grey (1554)
Hugh Draper of Bristol - sorcerer (1561)
John Store (1571)
Guy Fawkes (1606)
Nicholas Owen Jesuit builder of priests' holes (1606)
Thomas Overbury (1613)
Sir Walter Raleigh - first imprisoned for 13 years then released but eventually executed (1618)
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford (1641)
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury (1645)
James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (1685)
1780, the only American prisoner, Henry Laurens
Sir Francis Burdett
The Cato-street Conspirators
Norman Baillie-Stewart in 1933-1937
Corporal Josef Jakobs
The Kray Twins
This is the building that houses the Crown Jewels. Sadly, no pictures of the jewels were allowed but they were definitely impressive.
The Crown Jewels of England contain a fabulous collection of precious jewels set in the regalia used by the Royal family. England is the only European monarchy which still uses its regalia for the coronation ceremony when crowning a new Sovereign. The Crown jewels of England contain two of the most famous diamonds in the World - the Cullinan Diamond, also called the Great Star of Africa and the Kohinoor Diamond. The Crown Jewels of England contain magnificent regal emblems including coronets, crowns, sceptres and orbs. The King's Crown alone contains 2818 diamonds, 297 pearls, and many other jewels and weighs over thirty-nine ounces. Ancient objects are also included in the Crown Jewels collection such as gold plate, insignia and swords.
The History of the Tower of London is bloody and cruel and Traitor's Gate has its part to play in its story. The water-gate under St Thomas's Tower has been known for over 400 years as 'Traitors' Gate' because of the number of prisoners, accused of treason, who have passed through it. Unfortunate and important state prisoners were committed to the Tower of London through the River Thames entrance to the Tower of London called Traitors Gate. The journey of these prisoners was made by barge along the River Thames. Often their journey would take them past London Bridge where the heads of recently executed traitors were displayed on the roof of the stone gate house. The heads were placed on spikes, attached to poles and displayed on the Bridge. The young and tragic Catherine Howard had to pass the gruesome sight of the head of her lover Thomas Culpepper on her journey to the Tower of London and Traitors Gate. This grisly practice continued until around 1678.
Traitors Gate - the famous entrance to the Tower of London
The famous entrance to the Tower of London, Traitors Gate, can be clearly seen by anyone passing up or down the River Thames. This infamous water-gate entrance to the Tower of London was designed by the Medieval architect Master James of St George on the orders of King Edward I between 1275 and 1279 as part of St Thomas's Tower. It was originally built to provide a new water-gate by which King Edward could arrive at the Tower by river. St Thomas's Tower provided additional royal accommodation for the King and his family. The function of the Tower of London was originally to provide royal power base in the City of London and to provide a retreat for the Royal family in times of civil disorder. This changed over the years and was increasingly used as a prison for enemies of the state accused of treason which was entered via Traitors Gate. The Tower was last used as a Royal residence by Anne Boleyn when she was preparing for her coronation. It was a tradition that new Kings and Queens of England would make their way from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey for their coronation. The death of Anne Boleyn heralded the increased use of the Tower as a prison. The water-gate under St Thomas's Tower has been known for over 300 years as 'Traitors Gate' because of the number of prisoners, accused of treason, who have passed through it.
Anne Boleyn at Traitors Gate
The story of Anne Boleyn and her journey through Traitors Gate is a very poignant one. The twenty-nine year old Queen of England was arrested on the charges of treason, adultery and incest. Never a popular Queen she had been reviled by the population with cries of "Witch" and "Whore" and detested by many courtiers. King Henry VIII had been madly in love with her but this soon turned to hate when he met Jane Seymour. Her enemies moved swiftly against her and people started to disappear from court. Sir Henry Norris and the Queen's own brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford were arrested and taken to the Tower of London by barge and through the Traitors Gate entrance. On May 2 1536, the Queen herself was arrested at Greenwich and was taken to the Tower by barge along the same path she had travelled to prepare for her coronation just three years earlier. She passed through Traitors Gate and was met by William Kingston the Constable of the Tower at the top of the slippery steps leading from Traitors Gate. Her first question was: 'Shall I go to some dungeon?' Kingston replied, 'No, madam, you shall go to your chambers whereat your Grace lay before your Coronation.' Anne Boleyn was terrified and alternated from fits of hysterical laughter to uncontrollable weeping. She was executed on 19th May 1536.
Princess Elizabeth at Traitors Gate
The story of Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I, and her journey through Traitors Gate is an equally frightening one. Her sister Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) ordered her arrest believing that the Princess was involved with Sir Thomas Wyatt and a rebellious plot. Princess Elizabeth was taken on Palm Sunday 1554, by barge, to the entrance of the Tower of London - Traitors Gate. Her thoughts must have raced back to that of her mother, Anne Boleyn, who had also passed through Traitors Gate and had been executed at the Tower when Elizabeth was just three years old. The princess was terrified - she believed that she would never leave the Tower once she had passed through Traitors Gate. Elizabeth refused at first to land at the gate, angrily proclaiming that she was no traitor. There was a heavy down pour of rain. Elizabeth had no choice but to be lead into the Tower. At the age of 21, Princess Elizabeth was taken through the Traitors Gate and imprisoned in the Tower of London. She was released 8 weeks later.
Following execution the severed head was held up by the hair by the executioner. This was done, not as many people think to show the crowd the head, but in fact to show the head the faces of crowd and it's own body! Killing by beheading is not immediate. Consciousness remains for at least eight seconds after beheading until lack of oxygen causes unconsciousness and eventually death.
This little grassy area is the Tower Green where many of the 'private' executions took place. Some of them lived in the houses just behind. In fact I think this one was called the "Queen's House" and was built for Anne Boleyn and was where she lived before her coronation and again before being executed right outside her own front window.
The private executions conducted on Tower Green include the most poignant of many of the Tower of London prisoners:
13th June 1483
Execution by Beheading
William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings (1431 - 1483)
William Hastings fought to secure the throne for Edward IV. He was appointed Lord Chamberlain in 1461. When King Edward died in 1483 he was a staunch and loyal supporter of King Edward's young son - Edward V, one of the tragic little Princes in the Tower. He was arrested on charges of treason by the dead King Edward IV's brother Richard on route to the young prince's coronation.
The two little princes were declared illegitimate and, as next in line to the throne, their uncle and Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, was declared the true King and was crowned Richard III. The two little princes were never seen again. And William Hastings was executed without trial. It is said that they were killed and buried in the stairwell of the Bloody Tower but of course, true to any real life mystery they aren't quite sure which tower they seem to have been killed in and buried beneath. Different theories abound.
19th May 1536
Execution by Beheading
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England (1507- 1536)
Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII. He divorced his wife, Katherine of Aragon, broke with Rome and was excommunicated, for the love of this woman. Then lost interest, fell in love with Jane Seymour and had her arrested on the charges of treason, adultery and incest with her brother George Boleyn, Lord Rochford. Death by the axe was a terrifying prospect. The executioners often took several blows before the head was finally severed. Anne was therefore granted some clemency and a swordsman was called from France to undertake the execution. When she talked of her execution and referred to the comforting fact that she "only had a little neck."
27th May 1541
Execution by Beheading
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury (1473-1541)
The Countess of Salisbury was the last direct descendant of the Plantagenet line - she was as descendent of King Edward III. The countess made the mistake of appearing to side with Katherine of Aragon against the king and he declared her a traitor. She was arrested two years before her execution and badly treated and neglected as a prisoner in the Tower of London. She was not given a trial. She was small, frail and ill. But she was a proud noble. She was dragged to the block, but refused to lay her head on the block. She was forced down and struggled. The inexperienced executioner made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. She leapt from the block and was chased by the executioner, with his axe. She was struck eleven times before she died. There were 150 witnesses to her execution. She was 68 years of age.
13th February 1542
Execution by Beheading
Catherine Howard, Queen of England (1524 - 1542)
Catherine Howard was the pretty fifth wife of King Henry VIII and the cousin of Anne Boleyn. Henry was besotted with her, calling her his 'Rose without a Thorn' and showered her with gifts and public affection. She had led a permissive life in the household of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. and was an uneducated, neglected girl. After her marriage to Henry VIII who was an old, repulsive, obese man, she had an affair with the young and handsome Thomas Culpepper. And was found out. King Henry was devastated. Catherine was arrested at Hampton Court for adultery and tried in vain to reach the King. She was dragged screaming back to her apartments. Her lovers were executed and she passed their gruesome, impaled heads on London Bridge on her way to Traitor's gate, the entry to the Tower of London. Catherine asked William Kingston for a block so that she could practise her execution. Legend has it that Catherine's last words were: "I die a queen, but would rather die the wife of Culpepper."
She was just 18 years old.
13th February 1542
Execution by Beheading
Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford (1505 - 1542)
Jane Rochford was the wife of George Boleyn, the brother of Queen Anne Boleyn who had been executed on the trumped up charge of incest with his sister. Jane Rochford was a spiteful, jealous woman. Her marriage to George Boleyn was an arranged and unhappy one. She was instrumental in the arrest of her sister-in-law, Anne and her husband George Boleyn, providing damning evidence against them to Thomas Cromwell. Her sworn affidavit helped convict them of incest and treason. The allegations were completely false. She later became a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Catherine Howard. Jane Rochford revelled in intrigue and encouraged the young queen in her affair with Thomas Culpepper with whom she helped organised secret meetings. Her part as a go-between was discovered and Jane Rochford was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was interrogated and lost her sanity. A new law which allowed the execution of the insane was passed in order to have her condemned to death. She confessed before her death, "God has permitted me to suffer this shameful doom as punishment for having contributed to my husband's death. I falsely accused him of loving in an incestuous manner, his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn. For this I deserve to die." She was executed immediately after poor, tragic Catherine Howard.
12th February 1554
Execution by Beheading
Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England (1537–1554)
Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for just Nine Days from Monday 10th July 1553 to Wednesday 19th July 1553. Edward V a devout Protestant and Henry VIII's only son, died of tuberculosis and he left the throne to 'the Lady Jane and her heirs male.' Lady Jane Grey was the puppet of her ambitious parents the powerful Dudley family. She was proclaimed Queen of England and the Protestant Queen Jane and her husband Guildford Dudley were taken in full state from Syon House to the Royal Apartments in the Tower of London. On 19th July 1553 Queen Jane was deposed as Queen, she raised no objection - the Catholic Princess Mary was the rightful heir. Lady Jane Grey and her husband were imprisoned in the Tower. On 12th February 1554 Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley were executed at the Tower of London. Lady Jane watched her husband go from the Beauchamp Tower to his death on Tower Hill, a few hours before her own execution on the Green. Jane's death warrant was signed by Queen Mary later known as 'Bloody Mary' for her persecution of Protestants.
Lady Jane Grey was just 17 years old.
25th February 1601
Execution by Beheading
Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex (1566 - 1601)
The Earl of Essex was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. He was handsome, witty, arrogant and ambitious and the Queen heaped favours upon her favourite. Essex was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland - a post in which he failed dismally. His relationship with the Queen deteriorated and he attempted a political coup. He lead a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth and attempted to seize control of the City of London on February 8th 1601. He was arrested and convicted of treason. Dressed in black, but with a bright red waistcoat, Essex executed at the Tower of London on February 25, 1601. Over 100 people witnessed the execution - three strokes of the axe were needed to sever Essex's head.
The Tower of London also holds England's national collection of arms and armour. If you have any interest in arms or armour, this is a must-see attraction for you. It was fascinating. This one just happens to be my personal favorite. They were definitely concerned about keeping the family jewels safe weren't they. I don't remember whose armour this was but I think it's safe to say that whoever it was happened to be a bit of an egotistical sort of man, don't ya think?
Evidently the White Tower--or main palace complex was somewhat ahead of its time. It happened to have indoor plumbing! ..........Which consisted of a wooden bench seat with a hole in the middle. A hole was tunneled through the rock wall to the outside. Then whenever someone had to go it was..."Look out below!"
This is a fun shot with the Tower Bridge in the background--I think one of the coolest bridges in the world. The tower on the left connected to the battlements is the Salt Tower. There were lots of different inscriptions and stuff on all of the walls of the various different towers where different prisoners had stayed. Here are a few stories from the Salt Tower prisoners. If you click on the picture you can enlarge it enough to read it.
I think that this is the bridge that goes across to the Wakefield Tower. The Traitors Gate entrance is just past this bridge.
I found that the more you know about the history, the more interesting this place becomes. We spent a lot of time here and I loved every minute of it. It was just so much fun to walk these grounds, listen to the yeoman warders, check out all of the historical artifacts, oogle the jewels and mostly just marval at all of the historical figures and their insane life stories. Their lives were CRAZY! I just kept saying to either myself or to Jeff, "Can you imagine...?" It was all so unbelievable--and yet, it really happened.