Of the many historic attractions in London one of its most popular is the famous Tower of London, which is known to house the crown jewels of the country, besides having served a variety of purposes over the centuries.
If you do plan to visit London this summer a visit to the Tower must form a part of your travel itinerary in the city. Finding a suitable hotel to stay in the city is never a problem with fine hotels like the Grand Royale London Hyde Park hotel, which is reasonably priced and conveniently located in central London.
Image Credit: Claudio Divizia
Staying at any Hyde Park accommodation, offers relatively easy access to the tower as it is less than six miles from hotels in the Hyde Park area. The Tower of London is close to a thousand years old and through its history has served as a royal residence, a menagerie, a royal mint, an armoury, and a barrack for troops to stay.
It was constructed on instructions from William the Conqueror, the Norman Invader who had the earliest fortifications built in the area, after he conquered London in 1006 A.D. He wanted to build a fortress that would shelter him and his soldiers from the local inhabitants, who viewed him as an invader. As per a writer from the time William of Poitiers account, there were strongholds made in the area to protect William and his men from the fierce local population. Of the fortification built then, the white Tower which was the innermost edifice in the castle was built. It continued to expand over two and half centuries with it eventually being spread over its current area of over 12 acres.
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All through its bloody history it was used as a prison to incarcerate a variety of prisoners who ranged from deposed monarchs to common crooks and criminals. This included Lady Jane Grey who was known as the nine days queen (as she only reigned for that long), before she was found guilty of treason and publicly executed here. Other prominent prisoners here included the hapless sons of Edward IV, Princes Richard and Edward aged 9 and 12. They were thought to have been done away with by their uncle Richard III who claimed the throne for himself. Also imprisoned here was Henry the VIIIs two wives, Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyne. They were later executed on orders of the King after falling out of favour with him. Henry VIII who became a Protestant also converted the state religion to Protestantism. As a consequence he had a number of Catholic clergymen imprisoned and executed here, including Thomas More his former counsellor. Another well known prisoner was the dissenting Guy Fawkes, who attempted to blow up the British Parliament with gunpowder. He was caught and imprisoned in the Tower, tortured excruciatingly and eventually executed.
It was only during the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, that it became less commonly used as a prison. The last notable prisoner to be interned here was Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, who spent time here briefly until he was transferred elsewhere.
In contemporary times the famed crown jewels are probably the most popular attraction within the Tower. These include the crowns that are worn by the reigning monarch at the opening of Parliament and during the coronation ceremony. The Tower began to be used as a repository for royal jewels and treasure in 1303. This was after a large volume of treasure was burgled from the Abbey of St. Peter situated in Westminster. To prevent any such robbery from happening again it was decided that the remaining jewels and treasures be brought to the Tower of London for safekeeping. To accommodate the treasures a new jewel house was constructed in 1508 in the south part of the White Tower.
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When in the mid 1700s, England became a republic for a brief period of time quite a bit of the royal regalia was destroyed. OF the current royal regalia that still is surviving is the gold Anointing Spoon from the 12th century. It is used in the coronation ceremony to anoint the monarch with holy oil. Besides the anointing spoon other remaining relics are the three steel coronation swords i.e. the Swords of Mercy, Temporal Justice and Spiritual Justice. It also is home to an extensive collection of rare battle armour which is priceless. These are exhibited in a special show known as the Line of Kings. This exhibit began more than 3 centuries ago and includes rare items such as a set of gilded gold armour belonging to Charles I and a life-size wooden horse made about 1690.
The fearsome Beefeaters:
The Beefeaters are the legendary guards or yeoman warders who protect the Tower. They first earned a mention about 5 centuries ago, when they were termed as Warders or Waiters. The post of Yeoman Warder was mostly handed down the generations of a family or sold. All of this changed when the Duke of Wellington in 1826, served as Constable of the Tower and decided that henceforth the post of Yeoman Warder was only to be given to capable non-commissioned officers belonging to the Infantry of the Line Foot Guards and the Household Cavalry. This was to be done solely on the basis of recommendation of their regiment.
Image Credit: Claudio Divizia
The famous Ravens:
There is a flock of ravens that inhabit the tower and are taken care of by the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster. There is a legend associated with them that if six of them were to leave the fortress, both the monarchy and the tower will fall. Whatever the truth may be, they definitely add to the mystique of this formidable yet intriguing tourist attraction in London!