I see the Tower of London through my train window every morning when I commute to the City and always think to myself I must go and visit. I recently had a staycation and decided to go to the Tower for the first time in years. When my friend and I first arrived we went on a guided tour with a Beefeater called Jim, who is a jolly ex forces gentleman with a vast knowledge of the Tower’s history. He jokingly asked his appreciative audience if they would prefer stories about the Tower’s architecture or the history of blood and gore associated with the Tower, guess which subject won the popularity contest?! Picture of Beefeater Jim below.
We were told that most of the executions took place outside the Tower on a small plot of land close to Tower Hill underground station so we visited there on our way home. The area is marked by several plaques listing some of the poor souls who lost their lives there and the main plaque reads, “to Commemorate the tragic history and in many cases the martyrdom of those who for the sake of their faith, country or ideals staked their loves and lost. On this site more than 125 were put to death, the names of some of whom are recorded here” - see list below.
Henry Courtenay, Earl of Devon 1538
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, K.G. 1540
Henry Howard, Early of Surrey 1547
Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset 1552
Sir Thomas Wyatt 1554
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk 1572
Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford 1641
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury 1645
Sir Harry Vane 1662
Colonel Algernon Sidney 1683
James, Duke of Monmouth 1685
James Radcliffe, 3rd Earl of Derwentwater 1716
Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat 1747
Sir William Stanley, K.G. 1495
James Tuchet, 7th Baron Audley 1497
Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick 1499
Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham 1521
John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester 1535
Sir Thomas More 1535
Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy of Templehurst, K.G. 1537
Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury 1381
Sir Robert Hales 1381
Sir Simon de Burley, K.G. 1388
Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel 1397
Rey, Richard Wyche, Vicar of Deptford 1440
John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford 1462
John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester 1470
Beefeater Jim told us that once a person had been executed their body was sent to the Tower for a Christian burial and the head was paraded through the streets of London before being placed on a metal gate’s spike - this was to serve as a warning to anyone else thinking of committing a similar ‘crime’ to those who had been executed. He also said that only important people were executed in the Tower, such as Anne Boleyn who was executed on 19 May 1536 by a French swordsman rather than an axe-wielding executioner. Beefeater Jim said that she gave a moving speech before her execution which included praying for “God to save the king and send him long to rein over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never”. After being blindfolded and kneeling at the block she prayed and we were told that after she had been beheaded her lips still moved and continued to pray. The Beefeater also said that when Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII was executed (on the grounds of treason for committing adultery with Thomas Culpeper), her last words were, “I die a Queen, but I would rather have died the wife of Culpeper!"
The place of execution inside the Tower is pictured below.
We were told that the most gruesome execution ever was that of James Scott, otherwise known as James Croft, Duke of Monmouth who was the illegitimate son of Charles II. As an illegitimate son he was not eligible to succeed the English or Scottish thrones, but there were rumours that Charles and his mother Lucy Walter had married and in 1679 he was proposed as a rightful heir to the Crown. He led the unsuccessful Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, attempting to depose his uncle, King James II. He had been proposed as a rightful heir to the Crown, despite his illegitimacy. The rebellion failed and he was beheaded for treason on 15 July 1685. Beefeater Jim said that the executioner who beheaded James Scott was so drunk that the first blow missed, the second one hit him in the shoulder, the third one in the buttock and the next two blows had not finished the job so the executioner used a knife to finish the gruesome task - the audience audibly gasped as it was so shocking. We were told that at the time of James Scott’s death there was no official portrait of him, Beefeater Jim said, “the head surgeon was called to sew his head back on so that an artist could paint his portrait… HEAD surgeon, get it?!” - I don’t think the mainly American audience did! Jim said the portrait is displayed at the National Portrait Gallery and that the reason he is not smiling in the picture may be because he had just been executed! I read that there is a popular legend that The Man in the Iron Mask was Monmouth and is based on the reasoning that James II did not want to execute his own nephew so another man was executed in his place and Monmouth was taken to France to be put in the custody of his cousin Louis XIV of France.
Did you know that people live in the Tower of London today? The Yeoman Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary (popularly known as Beefeaters) live there with their families, alongside a doctor and a chaplain. This tradition goes back 700 years and at the moment approximately 150 people live there. Pictures of living quarters are below.
No visit to the Tower is complete without viewing the Crown jewels and wow are they a spectacular sight! There are approximately 140 royal ceremonial objects kept in there, including the regalia and vestments worn at the coronations of British Kings and Queens. My two favourite items were the Imperial Crown of India (1911) and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Crown 1937 that holds the Koh-i-Nûr diamond (one of the largest cut diamonds in the world weighing 105.6 carats). The Crown Jewels are part of an ancient ritual that symbolizes the passing of authority from one monarch to another during the coronation ceremony. The earliest account of an English coronation is from 973 when the Anglo-Saxon King Edgar was crowned in a lavish ceremony in Bath.
The Queen Mother's Crown 1937 below.
The Imperial Crown of India (below).
Sir Walter Raleigh is probably the most famous explorer of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign. He was one of the Queen’s favourites and she rewarded him handsomely. Legend has it that he once threw his cloak across a puddle so that the Queen would not get her feet wet! He was also a scholar and poet but he is best remembered for introducing the potato and tobacco to England. He grew up in a family of devout Protestants who were persecuted during the reign of Catholic Queen Mary I and he developed a hatred of Catholicism that lasted the rest of his life. When he was 17 years old he fought with the Huguenots (French Protestants) in France during the religious wars. Queen Elizabeth I demanded absolute loyalty from Sir Walter and was angry when she found out he had secretly married one of her ladies-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton and that they had a new-born son, Damerei Raleigh. They were both sent to the Tower with their baby but sadly the baby died after an outbreak of plague and the Queen felt sorry for the grieving mother and released her. Walter was released a few months later but was banished from court for five years.
James VI was a Protestant but he was keen to improve relations with Catholic Spain. Raleigh’s hatred of Catholics and his opposition to Spanish expansionism in South America were at odds with official policy and his enemies at court poisoned the King’s mind against him.
Eventually Walter became unpopular at court due to his reckless behaviour, displeasing both the Queen and her successor James I and was imprisoned at the Tower three times! He was deprived of his liberty but not his comforts, his family were allowed to visit, he grew exotic plants and brewed his own herbal medicines, he also started writing a book, “The Historie of the World”. He was given two spacious furnished rooms on the upper floor of the Bloody Tower (then known as the Garden Tower as it overlooked the Tower Lieutenant’s garden).
In June 1618 Raleigh was accused of inciting war between Spain and England and he was charged with treason and imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower where 65 years earlier Lady Jane Grey had been held before her execution. He was beheaded outside the Palace of Westminster on 29 October 1618. His head was embalmed and his grieving widow kept it in a red velvet bag for eternal love until she died 29 years later. The bag survives today and is owned by descendants of their son Carew.
One of the vases that stored medicine made by Sir Walter Raleigh below.
Sir Walter Raleigh with his son below.
Elizabeth Throckmorton, Sir Walter Raleigh's wife below.
The Bloody Tower and one of the rooms Sir Walter was imprisoned in below.