The Tower of London ~ Home Sweet Prison
On Wednesday you can find me over at Marcia Richard’s blog where I’ll be guest posting about what makes Queen Elizabeth I sexy, smart, and from the heart. Since the Tower played a huge role in Elizabeth’s life, I thought today we could have some fun with this iconic landmark.
Ask any Londoner where you can find ‘the Tower’ and they’ll point you in the direction of the Tower of London. Fortress, home, prison, place of execution, the Tower encompasses a wide array of responsibilities.
William the Conquerer was a wily man. He built the Tower in 1066 with the express idea to dominate the people of London and destroy any ideas of rebellion they might be concocting. It worked. Only once in all of the Tower’s history has it been breached ~ by a bunch of peasants armed with nothing more than pitchforks and mallets. Most historians agree there was collusion from the Tower guards who had to let the peasants inside the grounds. Otherwise, how did they manage to get past the six gates, three with drawbridges, two portcullis, past the 150 foot moat, and through two rather impressive concentric walls? They must’ve had help!
When William built his fortress, it was the tallest structure in all of England at 90 feet tall. Imagine riding in from the countryside and all you can see is this huge white castle for miles. The closer you get, the bigger it looks. I imagine many a courtier worried over a summons to the White Tower.
Of course, all the prisoners were brought to the Tower from the riverside gate, commonly known as Traitor’s Gate. It is said when Princess Elizabeth was brought to the Tower she sat on the stairs and refused to enter, claiming her innocence.
Eventually they got Elizabeth to her ‘prison cell’. For a high ranking person like Elizabeth, they would stay in one of the rooms near to the Warders. This would’ve been a typical bedroom for the princess. She also had privileges including being able to walk in the gardens and import fine foods for her table.
It’s interesting to note ~ Elizabeth’s rooms overlooked the spot where, eighteen years earlier, her mother Anne Boleyn was beheaded. It was also where Lady Jane Grey was executed just a short time before Elizabeth arrived. I would imagine that was intentional on Queen Mary’s part. Talk about intimidation.
Other notable prisoners in the Tower: in 1360 King John I of France was imprisoned in the Tower while England negotiated a ransom for him. Despite being a captive, his lifestyle was incredibly lavish. Every day he ordered meats and spices for him and a rather large entourage. The negotiations ran so long the King eventually died while at the Tower. He was such a good prisoner and so well liked that they named the chapel after him.
Another notable resident was Sir Walter Raleigh, one of Elizabeth’s favorites. Raleigh upset King James I and was put under arrest for several years. He also died while a prisoner and it was only then that his family was allowed to leave the Tower. Back then, if you were held as a prisoner, your family was able to live with you.
An American was kept in the Tower in 1780 as a war spy. Henry Laurens was an American Revolutionary from South Carolina who went to England to drum up support for the Colonies. Okay, who else here thinks that was a lame idea? If he’d gone to France, maybe. But going to England to get support against England? He should’ve been thrown in the dungeons!
Luckily, Henry was traded for the Tower Constable who just happened to be a prisoner over in America.
The last prisoners kept in the Tower were twin brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray. They were leaders of an East End gang, mobsters if you will, and about fifty years ago they occupied cells in the clock tower. They didn’t get the cushy rooms like Elizabeth and Sir Walter. Their cells were small, dark, and constantly loud from the huge ticking of the clock. After their sentencing they were moved to another prison where they eventually died of old age.
We’ll end our tour of the Tower here today. There is so much to this great building that I’m going to have to revisit it another day when we’ll talk about the Crown Jewels or possibly the Wardens and their Ravens.
Have you ever been to the Tower of London? Did you feel the presence of any ghosts that might be lurking there?