Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of the world’s oldest and most renowned jails, but its initial function was not to imprison prisoners. The Tower, which consists of many towers and buildings, was constructed in the late 11th century as a fortification to protect London, the capital city of the British Empire. The Tower of London quickly gained notoriety for its most horrific uses.

 The White Tower

During the reign of King William II, work on the “White Tower,” the oldest Tower at the Tower of London, began in 1078 and was finished in 1100.

It was conceived and constructed by Gundulf of Rochester, a Norman bishop credited with supervising the construction of several significant structures in English history, including the Priory and Cathedral Church in his hometown.

The White Tower was constructed of white limestone (hence its name) brought from Caen in northern France and Kentish ragstone, a native building material.

Originally intended as a battlement, the Tower of London quickly became a prison. After the killing of his brother, William II, in 1100, one of King Henry I’s first moves was to order the imprisonment of Ranulf Flambard, the Bishop of Durham.

Flambard was accused of simony, the act of selling administrative posts in the church for monetary gain. He was the first prisoner detained at the Tower of London, but he afterwards escaped.

The Bell Tower and the Wardrobe Tower may be found on the grounds.

Subsequent kings strengthened and enlarged the complex. The Bell Tower’s construction began in 1190 and was finished in 1210. The top of the Tower’s bell was rung to signal emergencies, such as a fire or an oncoming enemy attack.

In addition, the Wardrobe Tower was commissioned in 1190 and finished in 1199. As its name suggests, the Tower was used to store the royal robes and the famed Crown Jewels of England.

King Henry III authorised the building of the Wakefield and Lanthorn towers, the latter being the Old English spelling of the modern term “lantern,” ten years after the completion of the Bell Tower.

As its name indicates, a lantern was placed atop the Lanthorn Tower at night to assist ships approaching the old port of London and the River Thames.

Throughout the succeeding centuries, more towers and a defensive wall were constructed for the Tower of London complex. In the late 1200s, for instance, King Edward I authorised the construction of a mint that remained operational until 1968.

Since 1485, a unique order of guards known as the Yeomen Warders, often known as “the Beefeaters,” has maintained security at the Tower of London complex.

The term Beefeaters is purportedly derived from a 17th-century Italian nobleman’s observation that members of the guard corps were provided with a hefty daily portion of beef.

Executions at the Tower of London

The Tower of London became the favoured detention destination for anybody regarded as a threat to national security, including members of the royal family.

Despite the notorious brutality of the location, not all prisoners were subjected to deplorable circumstances. For instance, wealthy convicts were let to live rather lavishly, and some were even permitted to leave for hunting expeditions.

King John Balliol of Scotland brought his attendants, hunting hounds, and wife with him while imprisoned at the Tower for three years before his exile to France in 1299.

Despite the location’s notoriety as a place of torture, most notably with the iconic contraption known as “the rack,” records indicate that comparatively few prisoners were tortured. Primarily in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, torture was used to coerce political captives into providing information to their captors.

These convicts were shackled at the wrists and feet and made to lie on the rack. Attached to these restraints were ropes that were progressively pulled to cause pain.

Assassinations at the Tower

Torture may have been uncommon, but executions in the Tower of London were regular. Countless captives were killed by beheading, firing squad, or hanging on the spot.

Sir Thomas More was killed in the Tower in 1535 for refusing to acknowledge King Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England. One year later, Henry VIII notoriously had his wife Anne Boleyn beheaded. Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s sixth wife, was also killed at the Tower of London in 1542.

In 1606, perhaps most memorably, Guy Fawkes, a political prisoner, was killed at the Tower. Fawkes was caught for his involvement in a scheme to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, when he was discovered guarding a store of explosives and gunpowder in the basement of the assembly.

Guy Fawkes Night is still observed on November 5 throughout the majority of the United Kingdom to honour the conspiracy’s thwarting and the British Empire’s survival.

During the Conflict of the Roses civil war in 1471, King Edward VI was also assassinated at the Tower of London.

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