The official name is Her (or His) Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress. Its more common name is the Tower of London. It’s served various roles over the years. The most famous one being as a prison. It has also served as a menagerie, home of the Royal Mint, presently the home of the Crown Jewels, and formerly a royal residence. Of course, the phrase ‘sent to the Tower’ is still used as a euphemism to mean imprisonment. (Always in the past tense, though.)
William the Castle-Builder
The Tower’s provenance stretches back to the days of Norman rule in England, following William the Conqueror’s invasion of 1066. The Tower is the earliest stone keep built in England, and contained grand accommodation for the King of England.
Of course, things being as they are, it was rather prophetically used as a prison in 1100. That is when Bishop Ranulf Flambard, hated by the English for imposing harsh taxes, was imprisoned in the Tower.
The next year, of course, he escaped.
One of Many Castles
The Tower was merely one of many castles established by the newly arrived Normans. This was a time of unprecedented spree of castle building. The tower served as a castle for most of its early centuries. It was subjected to the same sieges and indignities as other castles of its time.
Turned Prison…. with quarters for families?
In those days, peace was never a common thing. Thus the Tower of London transitioned from castle to prison. It was not a very secure one though. Roger Mortimer escaped in 1322 through a hacked a hole in his cell wall. The tower never held commoners; it was from its inception a prison for nobles and royals. Most notable of these was the imprisonment of the Princes Edward and Richard in the Tower, and quite likely their murders.
The Tudors didn’t care much for the Tower, and so they let it languish. The Tower eventually got a reputation as a dark and foreboding dungeon. If the prisoner was of higher status, he could live in conditions comparable home. For instance, Sir Walter Raleigh, whose rooms in the Tower were expanded to accommodate his family.
Over the years, the tower has served myriad roles. Currently it remains a showcase of British history – hundreds of years of that history. History from William the Conqueror to the Duke of Wellington. The Yeomen Warders – colloquially, the Beefeaters – maintain the care of the Tower. They also provide guided tours in addition to this. From the Crown Jewels to the older reaches of the Tower, what was once a prison is now a tourist attraction.
There are options for a guided tour in which a Beefeater takes you to approximately 10 different “high” points of interest. You then continue on a self-guided tour. Or you can simply tour the tower on your own. A brochure is provided explaining all that you will see on the tour. You also have the option of buying a book explaining the tower in more detail.
I highly recommend the guided tour as the Yoemen Warders have a wealth of information about the tower!
The Tower of London Tour has many characters in “period” dress such as the two ladies talking in the photo above. As you travel throughout the towers, you will be able to take a look at some of the tools used in the period as well as explore some of the rather un-popular torture devices used in the Tower.
On the tour, you will see people working as they worked then, and the Beefeaters will be around to answer any questions that you might have.