The Tower of London

The first in a series on historic secular buildings of the Cities of London and Westminster …

The Tower today
The eleventh-century Chapel of St John

The Tower of London was originally built under William I, William II and Henry I in the late eleventh to earliest twelfth century, between 1076-1101, and subsequently extended by Henry III in the late thirteenth (inner curtain wall), Edward I in the late thirteenth to early fourteenth (outer curtain wall), and a succession of later kings and queens, many of whom used it as a royal residence, through to the seventeenth.  The chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within is arguably of even older, Saxon origin. 

The Tower features in the earliest known painting of London, by an unknown artist, dating to the late fifteenth century, and commissioned to illustrate a book of poems written by Charles, Duc d’Orleans, who was imprisoned here for twenty-five years after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.  

The Tower in the fifteenth century, with London Bridge in the background
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The Tower in the sixteenth century (“Agas” Map/Map of early Modern London)

Hundreds were imprisoned in the Tower over the centuries; and scores tortured, and/or executed,  in a variety of horrible ways.  One wonders how much better a world it would have been if all the imaginative effort expended in  devising means of inflicting suffering had instead been channelled elsewhere. 

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One of the more comfortably appointed cells
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Tudor graffito

The remarkable menagerie established here in the thirteenth century  was eventually closed down in the nineteenth by the then Constable of the Tower, the Duke of Wellington, who did not want it interfering with military matters any longer. The animals were rehomed in  Regent’s Park, in what was to become the zoo there.

Beasts of the Menagerie

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