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Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London (and historically as The Tower), is a historic fortress and scheduled monument in central London, Englandmarker, on the north bank of the River Thames. It is located within the London Borough of Tower Hamletsmarker and is separated from the eastern edge of the City of Londonmarker by the open space known as Tower Hillmarker. It is the oldest building used by the British government.

The Tower of London is often identified with the White Towermarker, the original stark square fortress built by William the Conqueror in 1078. However, the tower as a whole is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and moat.

The tower's primary function was a fortress, a royal palace, and a prison (particularly for high status and royal prisoners, such as the Princes in the Tower and the future Queen Elizabeth I). This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower" (meaning "imprisoned"). It has also served as a place of execution and torture, an armoury, a treasury, a zoo, the Royal Mint, a public records office, an observatory, and since 1303, the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdommarker.

Today the Tower of London is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown.


The Tower is located in the London Borough of Tower Hamletsmarker, at the eastern boundary of the City of Londonmarker financial district, adjacent to the River Thames and Tower Bridgemarker. Between the river and the Tower is Tower Wharf, a freely accessible walkway with views of the river, tower and bridge, together with HMS Belfastmarker and London City Hallmarker on the opposite bank.

The nearest London Underground station is Tower Hillmarker on the Circle and District Lines. The nearest Docklands Light Railway station is Tower Gatewaymarker. London Fenchurch Streetmarker is a nearby National Rail station. River cruise boats and Thames Clipper services stop at the Tower Millennium Piermarker.

Construction history

The White Tower

The White Tower and courtyard
Norman chapel inside the White Tower
At the centre of the Tower of London stands the Norman White Towermarker built in 1078 by William the Conqueror (reigned 1066-87) inside the southeast angle of the city walls, adjacent to the Thames.This was as much to protect the Normans from the people of the City of London as to protect London from outside invaders. William appointed Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, as the architect. Fine Caen stone, imported from France, was used for the corners of the building and as door and window dressings, though Kentishmarker ragstone was used for the bulk of the edifice. According to legend the mortar used in its construction was tempered by the blood of beasts. Another legend ascribed the Tower not to William but to the Romans. William Shakespeare in his play Richard III stated that it was built by Julius Caesar.

The White Tower is 90 feet (27 m) high and the walls vary from 15 feet (4.5 m) thick at the base to almost 11 feet (3.3 m) in the upper parts. Above the battlements rise four turrets; three of them are square, but the one on the northeast is circular, in order to accommodate a spiral staircase. This turret was briefly used as the first royal observatory in the reign of Charles II. Completing the defences to the south of the Tower was the bailey.

In the 1190s, King Richard the Lionheart (reigned 1189-99) enclosed the White Tower with a curtain wall, and had a moat dug around it filled with water from the Thames. Richard utilised the pre-existing Roman city wall, to the east, as part of the circuit. Part of the wall he built was incorporated into the later circuit wall of Henry III and is still extant, running between the Bloody Tower and the Bell Tower, the latter of which also dates to his reign. In 1240 Henry III had the exterior of the building whitewashed, which is how it got its name.

The Inmost Ward

In the early thirteenth century Henry III (reigned 1216-72) transformed the Tower into a major royal residence and had palatial buildings constructed within the Inner Bailey to the south of the White Tower. This Inmost Ward was entered by the now ruined Coldharbour Gate to the NW and bounded by a wall, fortified by the Wakefield Tower to the SW, the Lanthorn Tower to the SE, and the now ruined Wardrobe Tower to the NE. The well appointed Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower were integral parts of this new royal palace, and adjoined the now demolished Great Hall situated between them. The Tower remained a royal residence until the time of Oliver Cromwell, who demolished some of the old palatial buildings.

The Inner Ward

White Tower and Inmost Ward are situated in the Inner Ward, defended by a massive curtain wall, built by Henry III from 1238 onwards. In order to extend the circuit the city wall to the east was broken down, despite the protests of the citizens of London and even supernatural warnings, according to chronicler Matthew Paris. The wall has thirteen towers:

  • Wakefield Tower — the largest of the towers in the curtain wall. According to tradition this was where the imprisoned King Henry VI was murdered as he knelt at prayer.
  • Lanthorn Tower
  • Salt Towermarker
  • Broad Arrow Tower
  • Constable Tower
  • Martin Tower. The Crown Jewels were kept here from 1669 until 1842. This was the scene of the attempted theft of the jewels by Colonel Blood in 1671.
  • Brick Tower
  • Bowyer Tower
  • Flint Tower
  • Devereux Tower
  • Beauchamp Tower (pronounced 'Beecham')
  • Bell Tower — the oldest tower in the circuit, built in the 1190s as part of the fortification of Richard I and later incorporated into that of Henry III. Named after the curfew bell which has been rung from this tower for over 500 years.
  • Bloody Tower (or the Garden Tower), so named after a legend that the Princes in the Tower were murdered there.

The Outer Ward

Between 1275 and 1285 Edward I (reigned 1272-1307) built an outer curtain wall, completely enclosing the inner wall and thus creating a concentric double defence. He filled in the moat and built a new moat around the new outer wall. The space between the walls is called the Outer Ward. The wall has five towers facing the river:
  • Byward Tower
  • St Thomas's Tower, built between 1275-1279 by Edward I to provide additional royal accommodation for the King.
  • Cradle Tower
  • Well Tower
  • Develin Tower

On the north face of the outer wall are three semicircular bastions, the Brass Mount, the North Bastion and Legge's Mount.

The water entrance to the Tower is often referred to as Traitor's Gatemarker because prisoners accused of treason such as Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More are said to have passed through it. Traitor's Gate cuts through St Thomas's Tower and replaced Henry III's watergate in the Bloody Tower behind it.Behind Traitors Gate in the pool was an engine used to raise water to a cistern located on the roof of the White Tower. The engine was originally powered by the force of the tide or by horsepower and eventually by steampower; this was adapted around 1724 to drive machinery for boring gun barrels. It was removed in the 1860s.The Tudor Timber Framing seen above the great arch of Traitor's Gate dates from 1532 and was restored in the 19th century.

The western entrance and moat

The Middle Tower (centre) guards the outer perimeter entrance across the (now) dry moat
ditch or moat, now dry, encircles the whole, crossed at the southwestern angle by a stone bridge, leading to the Byward Tower from the Middle Tower — a gateway which had formerly an outwork, called the Lion Tower.

The Tower today is principally a tourist attraction. Besides the buildings themselves, the British Crown Jewels, an armour collection from the Royal Armouries, and a remnant of the wall of the Roman fortress are on display.

The tower is manned by the Yeomen Warders (known as Beefeaters), who act as tour guides, provide security, and are a tourist attraction in their own right. Every evening, the warders participate in the Ceremony of the Keys as the Tower is secured for the night. All warders have residence within the Tower, and must also own a residence outside of the Tower, so, that upon their retirement, they may return to a home outside of the Tower.

Royal Armouries

The Royal Armouries can be traced back the middle ages when armour was manufactured at the Tower for the Kings of England in. In 1545, it is recorded that a visiting foreign dignitary paid to view the collection at the Armoury. By the time of Charles II, there was a permanent public display there, making it the first museum in Britain. From 1414, the Tower was home to the Master of the Ordnance and the Ordnance Office (later the Board of Ordnance) who were responsible for providing weapons to both the Army and Navy. The Tower was engaged in the development, manufacture and storage of a wide variety of weaponry until the Board was abolished in 1855, however the historic collection remained. Only a small part of this could be displayed and in 1995, much of the artillery collection was moved to Fort Nelsonmarker in Hampshire and the following year a new Royal Armouries Museummarker was opened in Leeds. The Tower still holds an important range of arms and armour dating from the middle ages onwards, notably that belonging to the Tudor and Stuart kings.


A Royal Menagerie was established at the tower in the 13th century, possibly as early as 1204 during the reign of King John, and probably stocked with animals from an earlier menagerie started in 1125 by Henry I at his palace in Woodstockmarker, near Oxfordmarker; William of Malmesbury reported that Henry had lions, leopards, lynxes and camels among other animals there. Its year of origin is often stated as 1235, when Henry III received a wedding gift of three leopards (so recorded, although they may have been lions) from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor.The Tower of London housed a polar bear in 1252, which was a gift from the King of Norway. In 1264, they were moved to the Bulwark, which was duly renamed the Lion Tower, near the main western entrance. It was opened as an occasional public spectacle in the reign of Elizabeth I. A lion skull was radiocarbon dated to between 1280 and 1385, making it the earliest medieval big cat known in Britain.

The menagerie was open to the public by the 18th century; admission was a sum of three half-pence or the supply of a cat or dog for feeding to the lions. This was where William Blake saw the tiger which may have inspired his poem The Tyger. The menagerie's last director, Alfred Cops, who took over in 1822, found the collection in a dismal state but restocked it and issued an illustrated scientific catalogue. Partly for commercial reasons and partly for animal welfare, the animals were moved to the Zoological Society of London's London Zoomarker when it opened. The last of the animals left in 1835, and most of the Lion Tower was demolished soon after, although Lion Gate remains.


A Tower raven perched on a sign saying Caution: Ravens may bite.
It had been thought that there have been at least six ravens in residence at the tower for centuries. The legend of these Ravens in the Tower of London is so important to the people of England that ten ravens (6 on duty and 4 young spares) are actually employed by the Tower of London at the expense of the British government, in return for their service they are treated very well and in deference to the ancient legend and the decree of King Charles II at least six ravens are provided with Raven's Lodgings at the Tower of London. A Yeoman Warder, or Beefeater, has the specific role of Ravenmaster at the Tower and takes care of their feeding and well being. The Ravenmaster builds this relationship with the ravens as he takes the fledglings into his home and hand rears them over a period of about six weeks. Ravens live up to an average of 25 years, but have been known to reach the age of 45 years. To prevent the birds from flying away one of their wings is clipped by the Ravenmaster. This does not hurt or harm the raven in any way. Clipping their wing unbalances their flight ensuring that they don't stray too far from the Tower. Ravens are members of the crow family, Corvus, and are eaters of carrion and live mainly on dead flesh. The Raven's lodgings are located next to the Wakefield Tower and are kept at the Tower of London at the expense of the British government.It was said that Charles II ordered their removal following complaints from John Flamsteed, the Royal Astronomer. However, they were not removed because Charles was then told of the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the entire kingdom would fall (the London Stonemarker has a similar legend). Charles, following the time of the English Civil War, superstition or not, was not prepared to take the chance, and instead had the observatory moved to Greenwichmarker.

The earliest known reference to a tower raven is a picture in the newspaper The Pictorial World in 1885. This and scattered subsequent references to the tower ravens, both literary and visual, which appear in the late nineteenth to early twentieth century place them near the monument commemorating those beheaded at the tower, popularly known as the “scaffold.” This strongly suggests that the ravens, which are notorious for gathering at gallows, were originally used to dramatize tales of imprisonment and execution at the tower told by the Yeomen Warders to tourists. There is evidence that the original ravens were donated to the tower by the Earls of Dunraven, perhaps because of their association with the Celtic raven-god Bran. However wild ravens, which were once abundant in London and often seen around meat markets (such as nearby Eastcheapmarker) feasting for scraps, could have roosted at the tower in earlier times.

During the Second World War most of the Tower's ravens perished through shock during bombing raids, leaving a sole survivor named 'Grip'. There is evidence that the ravens were used as unofficial spotters for enemy planes and bombs during the Blitz. Before the tower reopened to the public on 1 January 1946, care was taken to ensure that a new set of ravens was in place.

The ravens' names/gender/age are (as of June 2009):

  • Gwylum (male, 18 years old)
  • Thor (male, 15 years old)
  • Hugin (female, 11 years old)
  • Munin (female, 11 years old)
  • Branwen (female, 3 years old)
  • Bran (male, 3 years old)
  • Gundulf (male, 1 year old)
  • Baldrick (male, 1 year old)
  • Fleur (female, 4 years old)
  • Colin (male, 2 years old)

The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44.

In 2006, ahead of the H5N1 avian influenza scare, the ravens were moved indoors; as of June 2006, they are once again free to roam about the grounds within the tower complex.


first prisoner was Ranulf Flambard in 1100 who, as Bishop of Durham, was found guilty of extortion. He had been responsible for various improvements to the design of the tower after the first architect Gundulf moved back to Rochester. He escaped from the White Tower by climbing down a rope, which had been smuggled into his cell in a wine casket.

Other prisoners include:


Inside the torture chambers of the tower various implements of torture were used such as the Scavenger’s daughter, a kind of compression device, and the Rack, also known as the Duke of Exeter's Daughter.

Anne Askew is the only woman on record to have been tortured in the tower, after being taken there in 1546 on a charge of heresy. Sir Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, was ordered to torture Anne in an attempt to force her to name other Protestants. Anne was put on the Rack. Kingston was so impressed with the way Anne behaved that he refused to carry on torturing her, and Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor had to take over.


The Tower in 1597 (an 18th century engraving)

Lower-class criminals were usually executed by hanging at one of the public execution sites outside the Tower. High-profile convicts, such as Sir Thomas More, were publicly beheaded on Tower Hillmarker. Seven nobles (five of them ladies) were beheaded privately on Tower Greenmarker, inside the complex, and then buried in the "Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vinculamarker" (Latin for "in chains," making him an appropriate patron saint for prisoners) next to the Green. Some of the nobles who were executed outside the Tower are also buried in that chapel. ( External link to Chapel webpage)The names of the seven beheaded on Tower Green for treason alone are:

Traitors' Gate

George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of England, was executed for treason in the Tower in February 1478, but not by beheading (and probably not by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, despite what Shakespeare wrote).

When Edward IV died, he left two young sons behind: the Princes in the Tower. His brother Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, was made Regent until the older of his two sons, Edward V, should come of age. According to Thomas More's History of Richard III, Richard hired men to kill them, and, one night, the two Princes were smothered with their pillows. Many years later, bones were found buried at the foot of a stairway in the Tower, which are thought to be those of the princes. Richard was crowned King Richard III of England.

The last execution at the Tower was that of German spy Josef Jakobs on 14 August 1941 by firing squad formed from the Scots Guards.

Recent history

The military use of the Tower as a fortification, like that of other such castles, became obsolete with the introduction of artillery, and the moat was drained in 1830. However the Tower did serve as the headquarters of the Board of Ordnance until 1855, and the Tower was still occasionally used as a prison, even through both World Wars. In 1780, the Tower held its only American prisoner, former President of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. In World War I, eleven German spies were shot in the Tower. Irish rebel Roger Casement was imprisoned in the Tower during his trial on treason charges in 1916.

Reconstruction of the interior of the Bloody Tower

In 1942, Adolf Hitler's deputy, Rudolf Hess, was imprisoned in the tower for four days. During this time, RAF Wing Commander George Salaman was placed in the same cell undercover, impersonating a Luftwaffe officer, to spy on Hess. Although acting covertly and not held as a true inmate, Salaman remains the last Englishman to be locked in the Tower of London. The tower was used as a prison for German prisoners of war throughout the conflict.

Waterloo Barracks, the location of the Crown Jewels, remained in use as a base for the 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers into the 1950s; during 1952, the Kray twins were briefly held there for failing to report for national service, making them among the last prisoners of the Tower; the last British citizen held for any length of time was the traitorous Army officer Norman Baillie-Stewart from 1933 to 1937. The tower is now home to the regimental museum of the Royal Fusiliers.

Although it is no longer a royal residence, the Tower officially remains a royal palace and maintains a permanent guard: this is found by the unit forming the Queen's Guard at Buckingham Palacemarker. Two sentries are maintained during the hours that the Tower is open, with one stationed outside the Jewel House and one outside the Queen's House.

In 1974, there was a bomb explosion in the Mortar Room in the White Tower, leaving one person dead and 35 injured. No one claimed responsibility for the blast, however the police were investigating suspicions that the IRA was behind it.

In 2007, Moira Cameron became the first female Beefeater in history to go on duty at the Tower of London. Cameron beat five men to the job as a Yeomen Warder.

The Tower was featured in the BBC documentary series Tales from the Palaces.

On July 18, 2009, USS Halyburton became the first non-British ship to take part in the Tower's Constable's Dues ritual. Dating back to the 14th century, it involved the crew being challenged for entry into the capital, mirroring an ancient custom in which a ship had to unload some of its cargo for the sovereign to enter the city. Commander Michael P Huck led the crew to the Tower's West Gate, where after being challenged for entry by the Yeoman Gaoler armed with his axe, they were marched to Tower Greenmarker accompanied by Beefeaters, where they delivered a keg of Castillo Silver Rum, representing the dues, to the Tower's Constable, Sir Roger Wheeler.


The Tower of London and its surrounding area has always had a separate administration from the adjacent City of Londonmarker. It was under the jurisdiction of Constable of the Tower who also held authority over the Tower liberties until 1894. In addition the Constable was ex-officio Lord Lieutenant of the Tower divisionmarker of Middlesexmarker until 1889 and head of the Tower Hamlets Militia until 1871. Today the Tower is within the boundaries of the London Borough of Tower Hamletsmarker.

Yeomen Warders

The tower is fully staffed with 35 Yeomen Warders (also known as Beefeaters), at all times, the most senior is titled the Chief Yeoman Warder, and his second-in-command is titled the Yeoman Gaoler, they answer to the Constable of the Tower. Yeomen Warders have served as defenders of the Crown Jewelsmarker, prison guards, and, since the time of Queen Victoria, tour guides to visitors, and they have become a tourist attraction in their own right, something the warders themselves acknowledge. The current role of the Yeoman Warder is that of tour guides, and, should the need arise, prison guards.

Crown Jewels

The Imperial State Crown

The Crown Jewels have been kept at the Tower of London since 1303, after they were stolen from Westminster Abbeymarker. It is thought that most, if not all, were recovered shortly afterwards. After the coronation of Charles II, they were locked away and shown for a viewing fee paid to a custodian. However, this arrangement ended when Colonel Thomas Blood stole the Crown Jewels after having bound and gagged the custodian. Thereafter, the Crown Jewels were kept in a part of the Tower known as Jewel House, where armed guards defended them. They were temporarily taken out of the Tower during World War II and reportedly were secretly kept in the basement vaults of the Sun Life Insurance company in Montrealmarker, Canada, along with the gold bullion of the Bank of Englandmarker.


The Tower of London is reputedly the most haunted building in England. The ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against King Henry VIII, has allegedly been seen haunting the chapel of St Peter-ad-Vincula, where she is buried, and walking around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm. Other ghosts include Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, and the Princes in the Tower. In January 1816 a sentry on guard outside the Jewel House witnessed an inexplicable apparition of a bear advancing towards him. The sentry reportedly died of fright a few days later.

In fiction

  • The Tower of London, as a place of death, darkness and treachery, is most famously evoked in William Shakespeare's play, Richard III, where it forms the backdrop of Richard's seizure of the throne and the scene of the notorious murder of the Princes in the Tower, and other victims (see above). A classic film version of this is Richard III (1955) with Laurence Olivier in the title role. This story is also reprised in the historical horror film Tower of London (1939) and its 1962 remake.
  • The Tower of London (1840) by William Harrison Ainsworth though written in fictional form, contrives to give a detailed account of the history and architecture of the Tower. He however included extensive underground passages and dungeons which did not actually exist.
  • The Tower is the setting for Gilbert and Sullivan's 1888 light opera The Yeomen of the Guard.
  • Apparitions of Anne Boleyn at the Tower are the theme of the song "With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm".
  • The Mad Hatter Mystery, a detective novel by John Dickson Carr, where the Tower serves as scene of a murder (Harper & Row Inc., New York, 1933, 1961).
  • There was an adventure computer game called Traitors Gate released by Swedish Daydream Software in 1999. In the game, the player is an american agent who must secretly steal the crown jewels in 12 hours. The game took place in a highly realistic [CGI] recreation of the whole Tower area.
  • The Tower Of London features frequently, and is described in exhaustive detail, in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, especially The System of the World, in which the tower is the setting for one of the series' grandest set pieces.
  • The Tower Of London also features in the 2005 Christmas special of the long-running BBC television science fiction series Doctor Who, in which it was the secret headquarters of fictional military organisation UNIT.
  • The Tower is the setting for the final battle in the anime version of Hellsing, where Alucard faces against Incognito.
  • The Tower is the setting for Johnny English when the crown jewels are stolen by Pascal Sauvage.
  • Sent by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Jonah and Katherine try to save their friends Chip and Alex from the Tower of London.
  • The Tower of London is often portrayed in the Bartimaeus Trilogy, by Jonathan Stroud, as a prison.
  • In the novel 'Stars and Stripes triumphant' the Tower of London is partially destroyed by invading American ironclads.


  2. Adrian Tinniswood, "A History of British Architecture: Buildings of the Middle Ages" (p.2), 2001-01-01, webpage: BBC-Arch.
  3. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 18
  4. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 5-6
  5. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 28-9
  6. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 20
  7. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 20
  8. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 24
  9. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 20
  10. Peter Hammond (1987) The Tower of London: 28-9
  13. The Tower of London: A 2000 Year History, Geoffrey Parnell & Ivan Lapper, Osprey Publishing, 2000
  14. "Big cats prowled London's tower" (report), BBC News Online, webpage: BBC-908. 24 October 2005.
  15. Boria Sax, " How Ravens Came to the Tower of London," Society and Animals 15, no. 3 (2007b), pp. 272-274.
  16. ibid, pp. 270-281.
  17. Maev Kennedy, "Tower’s Raven Mythology May Be a Victorian Flight of Fantasy," The Guardian, 15 November 2004, p. 1.
  18. Boria Sax, " Medievalism, Paganism, and the Tower Ravens," The Pomegranate:The International Journal of Pagan Studies 9, no. 1 (2007), pp. 71-73.
  19. Jerome, Fiona. Tales from the Tower: 2006. pp. 148-9
  20. ^ Boria Sax, "Medievalism, Paganism, and the Tower Ravens," The Pomegranate:The International Journal of Pagan Studies 9, no. 1 (2007), pp. 71-73.
  21. "Tower's raven mythology may be a Victorian flight of fantasy", The Guardian 15 November 2004.
  22. "Tower's Ravens kept indoors", BBC News Online, 3 January 2006.
  23. "Bird Flu Fears Coop Up London's Famous Ravens" (news), Washington Post, 22 February 2006, webpage: WPost-01042: with oldest raven.
  24. The White Tower once held torture chambers within its crypt From Mysterious Britain website. Retrieved 5 March 2007.
  25. There was no permanent torture-chamber. The basement of the White Tower was used. But prisoners could also be tortured in their cells From Tudor website. Retrieved 5 March 2007.
  26. Royal Fusiliers Museum
  27. "On This Day 1974: Bomb blast at the Tower of London", BBC News Online, 17 July 1974
  28. D. Farson (1978) Ghosts in Fact and Fiction. Hamlyn: London
  29. Christina Hole (1950) Haunted England: 61-2, 155


  • Bennett, Edward Turner, The Tower Menagerie: Comprising the Natural History of the Animals Contained in that Establishment; with Anecdotes of their Characters and History, London, Robert Jennings, 1829.
  • A DVD box set of the Channel 4 documentary series 'The Tower' was released in June 2005.

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