HOME AT FIRST'S
— #3 of a series —
The classic castle, like great art, is difficult to define. Ask anyone to describe his or
her idealized castle and you may get the same answer you commonly hear for great art:
"I know what I like, and Ill know it when I see it."
We love castles of all shapes and sizes
and all states of repair. We have our favorites, too, just like we have our favorite music
and painters. In this series we present castles we have enjoyed and hope our enthusiasm
compels the reader to make their own pilgrimage to these great shrines of history and
monuments to imagination.
This article first
appeared in JANUARY, 2004.
MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2013.
hen is a castle not a castle? The Tower of London
was not built to protect
London from invasion,
although it could have served that purpose. The
Tower was never intended to be the principal residence of the kings and queens of England, although many
English monarchs have lived there. So is The Tower of London an accidental castle?
The sprawling collection of buildings, walls,
towers, moats, gates and fields called The Tower of London was begun shortly by William
the Conqueror after the Norman invasion in 1066. In the 900+ years since, the Tower has
been enlarged and modified by successive monarchs. It has seen more history than most
castlesas a royal palace, imposing fortress, feared prison and gruesome place of
execution, royal mint, military arsenal, private zoo, and repository of the Crown Jewels.
Today the Tower of London is one of the worlds most famous castles and a recognized
World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
TOWER OF LONDON,
WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Photo © Home
Londons most popular destination, the
Tower of London, stands just west of
St. Katharines Dock
between the River Thames and Tower Hill. Composed of several towers and other
buildings, the Tower is located the southeast corner of the Roman City of London
borough. The walled, moated complex dates from the reign of William the
Conqueror in the 11th century. Over its 900-year history it has been as a
fortress, royal palace, zoo, and prison. The Tower now houses the Crown Jewels,
as well as the Imperial State Crown made for Queen Victoria’s coronation and
worn by Queen Elizabeth II at her coronation. Visitors can see the location of
the scaffold where two wives of
Kathryn Howard) were executed. The Yeomen of the Guard (also known as
Beefeaters) in their distinctive red and black costumes, patrol the
and serve as friendly
sources of information. Less friendly are the large ravens that lived at
the tower for centuries.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE TOWER OF LONDON
When the Normans arrived in England in 1066, it
was critical that they secured the most important cities, ports, and road junctions. No
city was larger or more powerful than London. Shortly after his coronation at Westminster
Abbey William the Conqueror ordered many castles built across the land, including the
first tower the so-called White Tower
of the complex that we now call The Tower
of London. The site chosen was near a key river crossing and close to port landings at the
southeast corner of the old Roman walls of London.
Because the Normans were a conquering minority
in a land of potentially hostile Anglo-Saxons,
Roman Emperor Trajan greets travelers
at Tower Hill Underground Station
by the Tower of London and
the Roman wall of London.
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The Tower was built to provide a royal seat of power
in London and be a secure fortress to protect the Royal Family against
years later, famed castle-
The Tower of London: England's largest and
strongest castle of concentric fortifications.
King Edward I
added massive walls to the Towers
defensive works that his father had begun. The resulting fortress was Englands
largest and strongest concentric castle with one line of defenses inside the perimeter of
another. The new construction was tested by Edwards son Edward II, first Price of
Wales, a regular resident who used the Tower to protect him from rebellious nobles
disputing his authority over England.
It was also during this time that the Tower
took on its first non-military and non-residential uses, when Edward I established the
on its grounds. The Tower’s reputation as a
feared prison began during the reign of Edward’s father, Henry III. One
of the Tower’s first prisoners
Welsh Prince and enemy of the England Crown
died trying to escape by climbing out of
the Tower. And, during Edwards reign that the Tower became a royal treasury when, in
1303, the Crown Jewels were moved there from Westminster Abbey. Edward Longshanks (King
Edward I) also is credited with being the first monarch to have his exotic animal
collection (the "menagerie") exhibited at the Tower. This tradition lasted five
centuries until, in 1834, the menagerie was moved to a new location in Londons
Regents Park as the foundation of the now world-famous London Zoo.
During the 30-year struggle for the throne
known as the War of the Roses, monarchs from both competing houses (Lancastrians and
Yorkists) used the Tower for various purposes. Court was held there, as were numerous
victory celebrations, and, most infamously, executions and royal murders. Lancastrian King
Henry VI was imprisoned for several years in the Tower before briefly regaining the throne
and then quickly losing it. Yorkist King Edward IV, himself regaining the throne he once
held, had his rival put to death in the Tower. But it was the disappearanceand
probable murderof the young sons of Edward IV by their uncle, King Richard III that
became the most infamous acts the Tower of London had witnessed. William Shakespeare wrote
extensively about these times in his plays "Henry VI" (Parts 1, 2, & 3), and
After Richard III had his comeuppance
at Bosworth Field, the Tudors took over the monarchy. Within a few decades,
during the reign of
King Henry VIII,
the Tower would witness more famous residents —
and more famous
The White Tower, where English
monarchs and nobility lived and
sometimes were imprisoned.
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power rivals Sir Thomas More (who
sided with Rome when King
Henry VIII formed the Church of England), and Thomas Cromwell. Most
famous of Henry VIII’s guests in the Tower of London were his wives who
lost their heads there:
(wife #5). Henry’s daughters learned well from their father: Queen
("Bloody") Mary had predecessor Lady Jane Grey (Queen of England for 9
days) executed in the Tower, and her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth,
imprisoned there for 3 months. When Elizabeth succeeded Mary to
the throne in 1558, she, too, used the
Once upon a time a
moat prevented easy access TO
The Tower's many layers of walled fortifications.
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Tower ruthlessly, imprisoning numerous high clerics and nobles fir
months and years, and beheading many.
The traditions of the Tudors were passed on to
the Stuarts. King James I enlarged the menagerie and the armory, and continued to imprison
celebrities, most famous of which was Sir Walter Raleigh. Was James fearful of Raleigh,
the hero of the war against the Spanish Armada, early colonist of Virginia, noteworthy
poet and confident of Queen Elizabeth I? Maybe. He had Raleigh beheaded in 1618 on trumped
Over the last four
centuries the Tower has
continued to evolve. Its importance as a garrison and armory took on real importance
during the English Civil War of the 17th century, and its importance as a prison was
rekindled during the World Wars of
the 20th century, when several German spies
were held and executed there. And, like much of London, the Tower was
bombed by Germans during the Blitz, suffering some significant damage.
The menagerie had been removed to
Regents Park in 1834, but the Royal Mint remained in the Tower until moving to
Wales in 1968. Its armory and record offices had both moved to other locations
by the mid-19th century. But the Crown Jewels remained at the Tower, except for
during World War II when they were taken to a still undisclosed location for
safekeeping. Reopened to visitors after WWII, the Tower of London became the
city’s busiest attraction, with over 2,500,000 visitors a year. In 1988 UNESCO
named the Tower of London an official World Heritage Site.
As The Tower evolved
over a millennium,
its concentric walls became a warren of
spaces of differing architectural styles with
purposes as varied as royal household, zoo,
national treasury, top-security prison, guest
quarters, tobacco garden, royal mint, place
of execution, chapel, and private cemetery.
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The Tower of London is easily reached from
HOME AT FIRST’s
The Apartments at St. Katharine's Marina:
walk through the
marina to the riverside Thames Path. Follow the path west
through the tunnel underneath the Tower Bridge Road approach
that leads to the Tower of London's river frontage. Follow the
path to the west side of the Tower of London, where the
entrance is located. Walking time: 5-10 minutes traffic-free.
on foot or by bus, follow Tower
Bridge Road north across the iconic bridge to the Tower of
London. Proceed around the Tower's walls to the western
entrance. Total travel time: 10-15 minutes.
• March—October: Tu-Sa 9AM-5:30PM, Su-Mo 10AM-5:30PM.
• Nov—Feb: Tu-Sa 9AM-4:30PM, Su-Mo
4 days a year: December 24-26 and
• Last Tour of Day led by Yeoman Warders:
charges are (subject to change):
• Children 5-16: £10.75 (children under 5 are free)
• Seniors (60+):
• Students (16+, with ID):
• Family (up to 2 adults + 3 children): £57.20
You can visit all
kinds of castles as easy day trips
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have dozens of pages of suggestions for things to see and
do when you travel with Home At First
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