Construction of the Tower of London began in 1066 as a part of the Norman conquest of England. After William the Conqueror’s victory at the Battle of Hastings, he made his way to London, conquering and claiming victory at numerous locations along the route. On his initial arrival at London, he skirted around the city until he eventually moved on London which was surrendered without a fight after being cut off and isolated from supplies. The initial fortress was wooden, but was replaced by the stone structure that is now known as the White Tower, by about 1087. It was built to protect the Normans from the unfriendly Londoners.
Over the years the Tower has grown, with various Monarchs expanding the original Keep. It has been used as a royal residence, prison, royal mint, menagerie, records office, royal observatory and store. Today it is one of Britain’s most popular tourist attractions.
Many of the prisoners of the Tower were subsequently executed, although very few were actually killed within the boundaries of the Tower itself. Most executions took place at nearby Tower Hill and other public places. The only executions to take place inside the Tower were those deemed to be too politically sensitive to take place in public.
Some famous executions at the Tower include Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII; Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and her Lady-in-Waiting Jane Rochford; Lady Jane Grey who was named Queen of England on 10 July 1553 and just nine days later told she was no longer queen as Mary I took the throne. She was executed on Tower Green in 1554. Only ten people were executed on Tower Green.
More recently, eleven men were held prisoner after being convicted of espionage during World War I and then executed by firing squad; followed by a single execution by firing squad, also for espionage, during World War II.
One of the most popular attractions at the Tower is the exhibition of the Crown Jewels, which date back to the 17th Century. Earlier jewels were destroyed after the the Monarchy was abolished during the English Revolution with the execution of Charles I in 1649. Many of the crowns, orbs and sceptres were melted down and the gold was used to make coins at the Royal Mint, which was also housed within the Tower of London. The earliest surviving jewels were made in 1661 when the Monarch was restored at invitation of Parliament. Charles II, the son of Charles I, was asked to return and restore the Monarchy. As there was no crown, a new set of Crown Jewels was made for his coronation.
Today there is a commemorative monument marking the location of the executions on Tower Green. It is a simple piece of artwork consisting of two engraved circles. The lower circle has a poem engraved around its rim while the upper circle has the names of the ten people executed on the Green. There is also a sculpted glass pillow in the centre.
It’s easy to spend hours wandering around the confines of the Tower, contemplating history while making photographs of the historical buildings and exhibitions. I did just that recently and look forward to revisiting again in the future.