Monday, July 23, 2007
Tower of London
The Tower of London has a very interesting story behind it. It was begun by a man who was not even English, William of Normandy. At the time he was the cousin of England's Kind Edward. It all started because William became outraged when Edward backed down on his promise to give the throne to William and ended up giving the throne to his English brother-in-law, Harold. William sailed his army across the English Channel to conquer England. On October 14, 1066, he met Harold at Hastings and conquered him. On Christmas Day later that year, William - now called William the conqueror - was crowned King of England. Immediately after William took over as king, he built forts everywhere. One stood in the southeastern corner of London, near an old Roman wall on the north bank of the Thames River. William ordered that this fort be removed in 1078 to be replaced by a huge stone stronghold. This would be the "symbol of his power, a fortress for his defense, and a prison for his enemies". (Fisher, 1987) He named it the Tower of London.
The Tower was finished twenty years later, rising nearly one hundred feet high, with its walls fifteen feet thick in certain places. Inside was a chapel, apartments, guardrooms, and crypts. The Tower was protected by a wide ditch, a new stone wall, the old Roman wall, and the river. This was done to secure the fact that this tower was a prison that no prisoner would escape from.
The Bishop of Durham was probably the Tower's first distinguished prisoner. He was very fat, greedy, and unpopular. He was dragged to the prison by his brother with his servants and bags of money. But the Bishop lived very well inside the Tower because he could bribe the guards with gold. One night in February,1101, he gave a huge banquet with a lot of food and liquor. When he had gotten the guards very drunk, he pushed his bags through a window and slid down a rope to freedom.
Around the year 1240, King Henry III made this tower his home. He whitewashed the tower, widened the grounds to include a church, a great hall, and other buildings. He renamed the entire new area the Tower of London, and renamed the Tower the White Tower. Although the tower was still a prison, Henry had turned the White Tower into a breathtaking palace. He entertained many important visitors, many of which came with animals as gifts. Near the drawbridge of the tower, Henry built the Lion Tower, a zoo where visitors would be greeted with roaring beasts.
In 1377, when Richard II was king, the Tower continued to be a stronghold. But four years later, on June 14, a group of overtaxed farmers stormed the Tower. Richard and his brothers safely hid themselves inside. But the farmers found the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Royal Treasurer, a tax official, and a doctor. These men were taken to Tower Hill where their heads where chopped off. Richard later made peace with these farmers. The leader of the farmers, Wat Tyler, was beheaded. Richard was eventually thrown into a Tower dungeon, where he was forced to give up the throne to Henry IV.
Several monarchs died in the Tower of London. One was thirteen-year-old King Edward V. When his father, King Edward IV died, his uncle Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, plotted to take the throne for himself. Richard had the thirteen-year-old king and his younger brother, the Duke of York, taken to the tower. Lord Hastings, a royal officer, tried to protect Edward, but was unsuccessful. Hastings' head was chopped off on the Tower Green, and Edward and his brother were murdered. These murders most likely took place in the Garden Tower, which was later renamed the Bloody Tower.
Since the Tower of London was so dangerous, King Henry VII formed a personal bodyguard. Henry moved into the Tower in 1485 after killing Richard III in a battle. His protectors were called the Yeoman Warders, who to this day still guard the tower. King Henry was a very frugal man. He seldom gave parties and tried very hard to avoid war, which both cost a lot of money.
After the death of Henry VII, the Tower of London was never again used to house an English queen or king. The dungeon was still used to hold England's enemies, and the Tower was still used for many celebrations. The marriage of King Henry VIII to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, took place at the Tower on May 19, 1533. A huge party was thrown for the next 11 days at the Tower, topped off with an enormous feast.
But the Tower of London was not always a place of celebration. On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed under Henry's orders at the Tower Green. Anne had been accused of misconduct, but the plain truth was that she had born a daughter rather than a son, who would become a future king of England. This daughter was Elizabeth I, who would later become the Queen of England. Elizabeth was held prisoner in the Tower for two months by the order of her half sister, Queen Mary. Mary felt that her throne was being threatened by Elizabeth, so she imprisoned her in the Tower. If you look really carefully, you can see Anne Boleyn's Ghost about the tower. She will tell you about the royalty.
Elizabeth was innocent, and people knew it, leading to a public outcry. Elizabeth was released on May 19, 1554 (ironically, May 19 was the day on which Anne Boleyn was married and killed, and the same day that Elizabeth was released from jail.) In 1558, Elizabeth became the queen of England. She spent three days on her coronation in the Tower, to symbolize that it was her duty to "take possession" of it as the royal monarch of England. (Fisher, 1987) On January 15, 1559, she left in a festive parade to be crowned at Westminster Abby. Elizabeth would never return to the Tower.
In 1603, part of the Tower of London became a museum. King James I had ordered that the royal jewels be kept in the Tower Jewel House and be put on display for the Tower visitors. Though its roots trace back to a non-Englishman, the Tower of London has had a very interesting place in English history. It has been the sight of murders, marriages, uproars, museums, and zoos. But the Tower of London will always be remembered as a "symbol of royal power, a fortress for the monarch, and a prison for the monarch's enemies". (Fisher, 1987)