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Spotlight On Tower of London

Welcome to our latest 'Spotlight On' blog! 
This time let me tell you some things you may not know about one of the World's most iconic buildings.... the Tower of London!


Let us tell you some things you may not know about one of the World's most iconic buildings.

Originally built by William the Conqueror, to shock and awe the population of London, the Tower of London has become one of the most recognisable buildings in the World and linked to many famous events in history.

I will not attempt to retell the stories of the Tower in this article as I will risk repeating what is familiar to you. Instead I will pick out some of the stories you may not know as well as giving you some recommendations for how to best spend your time at the Tower.

With nearly 1000 years of history to its credit, there is a lot to see!

The Royal Chapel St Peter ad Vincula

The Royal Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula is one of 6 Chapel Royals in the country and the Royal family still pray here at times.It is also the chapel for all the people who live within the Tower.

On a royal visit, Queen Victoria complained of the smell in the Chapel and that the floor moved! Hundreds of years of hasty, ceremony free, burials had left the floor unstable and so, a royal commission was set up to restore the Chapel.

1500 bodies, many headless, were discovered during the works. 33 were identified and these included the 6 who had been executed within the Tower walls during the Tudor era; Anne Boleyn, Margaret de la Pole, Katherine Howard, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochester, Lady Jane Grey and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex.

Hell hath no fury like Henry VIII scorned!

Not once, but twice, Henry VIII sent the lady to whom he was married, to the block. Cousins, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rest besides each other in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. 

Did you know?...

A Beefeater friend of mine told me this.... Anne Boleyn, as a royal, should have been given the privilege of being buried with her head after decapitation (unlike your average traitor). However, nobody believed that Henry VIII would see his orders through and so no one had prepared a coffin ora burial! Instead, someone was hastily sent to retrieve an arrow box - which was much too short for Anne's body. It is therefore believed that Queen Anne Boleyn was buried with her head between her knees!

At the exhumation of remains underneath the floor of St Peter ad Vincula, during the reign of Victoria, very little of the remains of Katherine Howard, or her lady in waiting Jane Boleyn Lady Rochester, were found. This was due to the fact that their bodies had been covered in quick lime to cleanse them of their earthly adulterous sin.

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Top 5 Beefeater Facts

  1. Their proper name is Yeoman Warder. Yeoman means 'free' man referring to the fact that they were not answerable to any Noble or Lord.
  2. There are 37 Yeomen Warders at the Tower, 36 are men and there is 1 woman.
  3. The Yeomen Warders all live at the Tower. Yes they actually do. Yes their address is 'Tower of London'. Yes they actually live there. Yes they do!
  4. The Yeomen Warders were created by Henry VII as his personal bodyguard and lived in the White Tower.
  5. The name "Beefeater" was a derogatory nickname given to the Yeomen Warders by jealous Londerners. The Yeomen were allowed to eat the leftover from the King's table. That included red meat, which common people were not permitted to eat! Hence Beef Eaters.

Watch the Yeoman Guard do their thing at the Ceremony of the Keys!

**Plan in advance**

The locking up ceremony is carried through in the same way as it has been for the past 700 years, every night, without fail.It's a fantastic experience to be there when the Tower is quiet and empty of the public. This is ticket only and has to be booked in advance but if you are planning a trip to London look to see if you can get one.

Tickets are free but are very popular (as of 11th December 2015 the next available ticket s are for August 2016) - check your dates here

Torture at the Tower and you may be walking right through it!

After a walk through the White Tower you are guided into the brightly lit basement where you will find a plethora of gifts and souvenirs.You may not realise, however, that you are walking through the place believed to be where protestant martyr, Anne Askew, and Catholic fanatic, Guy Fawkes were tortured on the rack.

In 1546, Anne Askew, the only woman to be tortured at the tower, was put on the rack despite protests from the Lietuenant of the Tower. He argued that she should not be racked as she was the daughter of a Knight, had already confessed and was condemned to die. However, as he went to tell the King, her persecutors, Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich, continued to rack her themselves in an attempt to get the names of other leading protestants.She did not talk! If she had Queen Kathryn Parr may not have lived beyond her husband! Less than 3 weeks later, on the 16th July, Anne had to be carried to Smithfield where she was to be burned at the stake, so badly was she injured from the ordeal.

In 1605, another famous prisoner was racked at the Tower, the Gunpowder plot conspirator, Guy Fawkes. He was tortured for 2 days before he would even admit his own name in the hope that his fellow conspirators would still be able to carry out the plot.When he heard that they had failed he confessed and gave up the names of his conspirators.

Visit the lower chamber of the Wakefield Tower to the torture exhibit to see examples of the torture apparatus used at the Tower, including the rack.

The Wars of the Roses at the Tower

The descendents of Edward III's fruitful loins brought a fair amount of death to the Tower during the long period of civil war, known to us as the Wars of the Roses, which saw the rival houses of York and Lancaster fight it out for the throne of England.

Henry VI died whilst under Edward IV's custody. He was said to have died from sheer melancholy after hearing of the death of his son,

Edward Prince of Wales, at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

However, it is far more likely he was murdered.A plaque on the Chapel floor within the Wakefield Tower, commemorates this event.George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV is supposed to have been drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine at the Tower after being found guilty of treason.

The Tower is also the scene of the long standing mystery of the 'Princes in the Tower'. Following the death of Edward IV his brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, had Edward's two sons brought to the Tower. Richard's motivations for this and the fate of the boys will be long debated and may never be determined but Richard had himself proclaimed King Richard III and the boys were never seen again.


  • The White Tower only became known as such after it was painted white in Henry III's reign so that it would be visible for miles!
  • The 1st prisoner at the Tower was Bishop Flambard in 1101.
  • The last prisoners were the infamous gangster twins The Krays in 1952.
  • The Crown Jewels, housed in Waterloo Barracks, are worth over £20 billion!
  • Both Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I) and her mother, Anne Boleyn, were prisoners at the Tower.
  • Anne Boleyn was executed on a scaffold somewhere between the White Tower and the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried.
  • Queen Victoria ordered that a site be chosen and a brass plaque placed with "Site of Scaffold" on it.However, neither the plaque or the modern glass monument, mark the exact spot of any scaffold and it is very likely that the spot was not the same for each execution.

..take a Yeoman Warder tour.

These are free, very entertaining and packed with interesting stories about the Tower's long history. It is also the only way you will gain access to St Peter ad Vincula to see the burial place of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard.

...visit the nearby Tower Hill where many prominent prisoners were taken for public execution, including Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell and Edward Seymour.

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..see this! I think this must be my favourite artefact at the Tower. A small, lead knight on horseback reminds us that the Tower has long been a community, home and place where children have played and grown up.

Walk through the Medieval Palace to find this.

​ the White Tower.  Notice the initial 'K' and 'H' entwined along the skirt of the armour, for Katherine of Aragon and Henry.

..go into the Beauchamp Tower.

Long has been my fascination with graffiti! I think it is because it is personal to the writer and so by being near it we are up close and personal with them!

If you are like me then you will want to give yourself a good 30 minutes to explore the Beauchamp Tower with its walls covered in the graffiti of prisoners from centuries ago.Some of it is intricate and some simple.

...visit the Medieval Palace.

Thanks to Philippa Gregory's 'The White Queen' series on TV and, more recently, Dan Jones's books and programs on the Plantagenets and Wars of the Roses, our medieval Kings and Queens are receiving a, well deserved, level of interest.Walk through the Medieval Palace, presented as they would have looked during the reign of Henry III and his son Edward I.

Finally, some tips for visiting....

Visiting the Tower of London

Get there early - not only is there a lot to do and see but it's less busy first thing.

The Tower is open daily from 10am Sunday's and Monday's and 9am every other day. For opening times click here

Book Tickets Online

Beat the queues at the ticket booth by booking your ticket online and getting it sent to you in the post (you need to book at least 7 days beforehand if you are in the UK, 10 days if you are outside of the UK).You can also pre book the audioguide and buy a voucher to exchange for a guide book at one of the gift shops, (although I don't think this will save you any time as you'll still have to queue to receive either).

Eating at the Tower

There are a number of snack stands inside the Tower but if you need something more substantial then there is a fully stocked restaurant, the Armouries. The standard and selection is good but a bit pricey, as you'd expect for a captive audience in London.

I hope you have enjoyed reading our 'Spotlight On' the Tower of London. If you have, please subscribe to receive notification of new blog posts.

Bye for now


From Landmark to Local - History is everywhere!

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