The Tower of London is one of the capital’s favourite tourist attractions, one that’s steeped in gruesome history and enchanting tales. Let’s delve right into its past and bring you the lowdown on this fortress, palace and prison.
First built by William the Conqueror after his victory at the battle of Hastings in 1066, this London landmark was nicknamed the ‘Great Tower’ and became the central point of the capital. The tower has taken on many personas over the years, although it was originally intended to be a fortress and palace of royal residency. In 1204, King John used the castle as a menagerie where it became home to exotic animals such as elephants, and the ‘pale bear’, now commonly known as the polar bear.
Despite its colourful history as a palace and menagerie, The Tower of London is most famous for being a prison. Between 1100 and 1952, it’s estimated that around 8,000 people were kept captive for numerous crimes.
The Tower of London has been embellished with many different stories over the years. One story that may ring a bell is that of the two princes. On his deathbed, Edward IV appointed his brother Richard as Lord Protector up until his sons became of age. Richard placed the two boys in the tower under the guise of ‘protection’, but during the autumn of 1483, they were quietly murdered. It is now widely suspected that Richard III was to blame, as in 1674 two wooden chests were discovered containing skeletons that matched the heights and ages of the two princes.
Other famous prisoners of this historic fortress have included Anne Boleyn – Henry VIII’s second wife – who was arrested on May 2nd 1536 on charges of adultery. Anne and her five alleged lovers were executed at the tower shortly after. Guy Fawkes has also become a focal point of the tower’s history. After his followers plotted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5th 1605, Fawkes was taken to The Tower of London where he confessed to his plan. After being tortured on the rack, he met a traitor’s end at Westminster in 1606. The last well known prisoners to be held here were the infamous Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie. The duo were kept captive in 1952 for a few days after failing to report for national service – a relatively small misdemeanour considering their sordid history as London’s most notorious gangsters. Today, the tower acts a museum that’s favoured for its torture room full of gruesome relics. In 2014 the moat was filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies to mark the centenary anniversary of World War One, and to remember the British soldiers who fought in battle. From execution site to memorial, to a simple crossing for London commuters, the ≈ proves once more, just how versatile it is.
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