A beginner’s guide to the Tower of London
One of the highlights of a visit to the ancient city of London is its iconic castle known as the Tower of London.
Here’s a quick guide as to why you should consider including the Tower in your itinerary.
The Tower of London was built around 1066 as part of the Norman conquest of England. It was William the Conqueror who oversaw the completion of the white tower that gives the castle its name – this was probably completed around the year 1078.
The white tower was a powerful symbol of Norman control and suppression of the surrounding lands – it served as a prison for hundreds of years.
The tower has a bit of a reputation as a place of torture and death. Not many people were actually executed within the walls of the tower - you had to be quite special for that honour – most executions were held on nearby Tower Hill.
It was always believed that if you controlled the Tower of London then you controlled the country.
The precinct known as the Tower of London consists of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls that are then surrounded by a moat. This is a classic Norman design for the construction of a castle, but the Tower as we know it today includes several modifications that were made during the 12th and 13th centuries.
The Tower of London visually dominates the surrounding area, standing beside the River Thames which connects directly into the castle through its moat.
The white tower built by William the Conquerer is one of the largest keeps in the world, rising to nearly 30 metres in height.
The tower is constructed from stone which is believed to have been sourced from nearby Kent, plus some of the detailed work required stone imported from northern France.
There are some tremendous stories about what went on in the Tower across the centuries. One of the most famous tales is that of the murder of the young princes.
Legend has it that it was in the year 1483 that the heir to the throne – a 12 year old prince called Edward – and his younger brother Richard were confined to the Tower of London under the protection of their uncle, Richard the Duke of Gloucester. The princes were never seen again and the Duke of Gloucester was proclaimed King Richard III that same year.
Ravens are also synonymous with the Tower of London. It’s believed that if the ravens ever leave the Tower then the monarchy will fall.
While not essential, a guided tour of the Tower helps to bring all of its stories to life.
One of the biggest attractions for visitors to the Tower of London is to see the Crown Jewels. The tradition of holding the treasures of the monarch at the Tower dates back to the early 13th century. A specific Jewel House was built within the complex of the Tower of London.
During the English Civil War of the 17th century, the treasures contained with the Tower’s jewel house were completely destroyed - melted down and re-used. By the time that the monarchy was restored, virtually nothing remained, and the Crown Jewels had to be recreated.