The Tower of London, or Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress as it is officially called, is famous for being the site of much bloodshed and for being the prison of many hundreds, if not thousands, of people since it was first built by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century, but it has had many different roles during its 900 year history:-

  • Fortess
  • Prison
  • Royal Palace
  • Armoury
  • Mint
  • Place of Execution
  • Home of the Royal Menagerie
  • Jewel house
  • Resting Place

In Tudor times, the Tower of London was used as a prison. Notable prisoners included:-

  • Anne Boleyn and the five men condemned to death for committing adultery with her
  • Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher
  • Thomas Cromwell
  • Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Rochford
  • Anne Askew
  • Thomas Cranmer
  • Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley
  • Princess Elizabeth Tudor and Robert Dudley during Mary I’s reign
  • Sir Walter Ralegh

However, it was not just a prison, it was also a Royal Palace complete with Great Hall and royal lodgings which were used by a monarch traditionally before his/her coronation. Although that royal palace no longer stands, we know that it stood on the area between the Wardrobe and Lanthorn Towers.

The Tower of London and Anne Boleyn

Although the Tower of London is most commonly associated with Anne’s imprisonment and execution, it also played a big part in her coronation in 1533. Henry VIII ordered the Queen’s Lodgings in the royal palace to be renovated and spent the equivalent of over £1 million pounds making them suitable for his new wife and queen. Luxury lodgings complete with a gallery and private gardens! It was in those lodgings that Anne spent the night before her coronation and, ironically, she was also imprisoned in them in May 1536.

Yeoman Warders often point out the half-timbered Queen’s House as the place where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the lead-up to her execution, but this just isn’t true. This building overlooking Tower Green was not built until 1540, four years after Anne’s death. If that doesn’t confuse Tower visitors enough, the glass scaffold memorial on Tower Green does not mark the spot on which Anne Boleyn was executed. We know from primary sources, which describe Anne’s final walk, that Anne’s scaffold was actually located on the present day parade ground between the White Tower and the Waterloo Barracks, where the Crown Jewels are house. When you visit the Tower of London, stand between the White Tower and the entrance to the Crown Jewels and pay your respects there, that’s where it happened!

Another fallacy is that Anne Boleyn entered the Tower of London by Traitors Gate. She didn’t. Anne was taken to the private entrance of the Court Gate in the Byward Tower, she was Queen after all!

After her execution on the 19th May 1536, Anne Boleyn’s head and body were taken away by her ladies, wrapped in a white cloth and placed in an elm arrow chest for burial. She was then buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, which lies in the Tower grounds. When work was carried out on the Chapel in 1876, the Victorians found female remains in the area recorded as being the resting place of Anne Boleyn and after examining the remains she was reinterred in the Chancel area in a box marked “Queen Anne Boleyn”. Her resting place, and those of others including Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Rochford, Lady Jane Grey and Margaret Pole, were then marked by a memorial tile on the beautifully tiled floor. Today, visitors can pay their respects at the Chapel and on the anniversary of Anne’s execution a basket of red roses is delivered to the Tower to be placed on her tile.

Anne Boleyn's resting place

The Tower of London is visited on every single one of our tours because of its link with Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Tudor times in general. It is an incredible building and highlights include:-

  • The Medieval Palace – Built by Henry III and Edward I in the 13th century
  • Traitors Gate – The notorious Tower entrance
  • The Wall Walk – See the Tower, Tower Bridge and the River Thames
  • Tower Green and the scaffold memorial – It may not be the site of Anne Boleyn’s execution but the glass memorial is still an appropriate place to pause a while
  • The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula – Not just the resting place of prominent Tudor people, including Anne Boleyn, but also a tranquil place of worship
  • The Beauchamp Tower with its Tudor prisoners’ graffiti (carvings into the stone)
  • The Bloody Tower – Traditionally thought to be the place where the Princes in the Tower were murdered, and the location of Sir Walter Ralegh’s room.
  • The Crown Jewels
  • The White Tower – See the beautiful St John’s Chapel and various displays and exhibitions, including Henry VIII’s armour
  • The Ravens – Legend has it that the kingdom and Tower will fall if the ravens ever leave the Tower, so seven ravens are kept at the Tower. Visitors can see their lodgings by the Wakefield Tower

I hope that has given you a taster of the Tower of London. Click here to check out our tours which all visit this iconic building and remember our special Early Bird Booking which allows you to save £100 on the Executed Queens and Discover the Tudors tours if you book before midnight on Monday 22nd.

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Have you been to the Tower? Which was your favourite bit?

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17 thoughts on “The Tower of London – Fortress, Palace, Mint and Prison”
  1. I visited the Tower of London in March 2010 and I loved every bit. I especially liked the peaceful atmosphere of the chapel and I was moved by the prisoners’ graffitti. I kept picturing Anne there, happy for her coronation and then unsure of the future during her imprisonment. I also liked the fact that there were interactive features such as voting about who kiilled the princes etc. The two princes’ story was a really sad one.

    Our guide was a female Yeoman Warder with plenty of humor. She didn’t make any major mistakes when she talked about Anne and she told us many stories of execution and one of escape. About a nobleman (Scottish or Welsh maybe?) whose wife dressed him up as one of her ladies to get him out of the Tower the night before his execution. I remember that she told us that the man was very tall with a long red beard, but he managed to pass for a woman nevertheless..

    1. I think the female yeoman warder is called Moira, she is very nice. I think that prisoner was Lord Nithsdale and it is a very funny story.

        1. Yes, I’ve got to know the Tower well! I always take the old plans of the Tower with me when I go with one of our groups so that I can explain where the Royal Palace stood and now on one of the wall walks they actually have some information on the old Royal Palace.

  2. I’ve been to the Tower many, many times – twice this year, and no, I don’t live in London – not even in England. It’s a fabulous place to visit, and it doesn’t matter how many times I visit, I am never bored or disinterested. I like the way they change the exhibitions regularly. I have noticed that the last few times I have visited, the Yeoman warders have pointed out that Anne Boleyn never stayed in the Queens house and never entered the Tower through Traitors gate. And to be fair to the monument, it does say ‘near this spot….’. It’s not too difficult to work out that all those executions didn’t take place in one spot.

    On the downside, the ‘souveneirs’ have got tackier and tackier.

  3. My sons and I visited the Tower in July 2011. We saw everything! I especially enjoyed the chapel. It was beautiful and peaceful. I wanted to see Anne’s burial place, but we were not able to get close enough to see her tile. I also enjoyed visiting each tower. There is quite a lot to see and do. My sons enjoyed the armory and weapons displays.
    Before we left for our European vacation, I watched a film series on the Tower on Netflix. I already knew quite a bit about the Tower, as I am an English History buff, especially the Tudor and Stewart periods, but I was able to get a lot of new information on the tower which made my trip more enjoyable. We also made it to Hampton Court. It was a beautiful palace. Next trip I want to visit Hever castle and Windsor castle.

  4. I went to the Tower back in 1996 and found it very haunting — the stories those walls could tell. Now that I’ve become a student of Tudor history, I’d love to see it again but unfortunately didn’t make it on my last trip to London. But I can’t say I regret it — I made time for Hever and Hampton Court instead! Hopefully one day I can book one of your tours and really focus intensely on these amazing places.

  5. I’ve been twice. The last time I went there was a reconstruction of the death of Anne with an actress giving her scaffold speech. It was quite a chilling moment when the executioner raised his sword and then they both stood perfectly still with the sword only inches away from her neck.

  6. Whle cleaning out boxes of memorbilia of my life and trying to scale down the vast amount of papers and mementos (didn’t get rid of that much!) I came across a long forgotten box of school papers. I marked this poem below as being written for my 6th grade English assignment. I remember reading a novel about Anne Boelyn that year whose title is long forgotten but obviously it made an impression.


    As I kneel to meet my fate
    I contemplate.
    Was my life so sinful to deserve this bloody end?
    Could I have been more kind to those in need?
    More loving to those in my care?
    Did I give of myself rather than give just alms?
    I can not answer, there is no time.
    I pray that G-d will bless me and mine.

  7. I also love the Tower and visit it every time that I visit London! I became a member of Historic Royal Palaces, which is a group of 5 palaces in the London area (Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, the Banqueting House, Whitehall, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace). The cost is 40 GBP per year, and you can visit any of the 5 palaces as often as you wish during that year free of charge, although to see Kew Palace you need to pay to get into Kew Gardens. Plus, the annual fee goes towards supporting the palaces, so it’s a great charity to contribute to! I also make it a point to attend the Ceremony of the Keys during every trip to London (I’m going again on September 25), and I attend services at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula every Sunday that I’m in London. The Tower takes on a whole different personality when you visit during “off” hours, when it’s not full of tourists!

  8. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard’s grandfather was held as a prisoner in the Tower for several years after the Battle of Bosworth.

    I’m trying to determine where Thomas Howard (d. 1524) and his son, Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk, were held during their separate stints in the Tower. Anyone know?

  9. My last visit to the Tower was April 2011, I have been a few times before, way back in the ’80s. It was a welcome suprize to see all the changes,for the better. The exhibits are more lively and interesting, and well presented, people in costume interacting with visitors. No more boring trugging up steps to be only told, so and so died in this tower, and someone else was imprisoned in this one etc. etc, with no elaboration or indepth stories to be told, and what little was explained usually turned out to be half truths anyway. It was wonderful how they have ‘revamped’ the the image of the Tower,encouraging young and old alike to become interested in British history and heritage. It is no longer dull relic of the past, but is as alive now as it was for the previous 900+years.
    I had forgotten how large the Tower is, and how fast time goes once you are in there. To take it all in and be able to stand and soak it all in, I am sure you could go in for a whole week and still feel you hadn’t seen it all….oh to be able to spend a night in there, what I wouldn’t give for that…

  10. I remember visiting the Tower in 1979 as part of a European vacation. It was all so overwhelming. All the buildings and monuments were amazing to someone who had seen a California monastery as the oldest building.

  11. I have visited the tower twice not. Once in May 2009, where it was so beautiful in the sunshine but crawling with tourists it was very difficult to get to some of the displays. I went again December 2010 I appreciated it much more because it was much quieter due to the snow and frost in London that weekend. The tower was also beautiful with the christmas decorations. (Though not as beautiful as Hampton Court around christmas with snow). The one memory I have is feeling a completely irrational fear whilst climbing a staircase in the tower, to this day I have no idea why.

  12. H.V.Morton says in his book on London that Traitor’s Gate and the steps “are a shocking modern sham. When the Tower was tidied up in Victorian times, a senseless act of vandalism was perpetrated by the Board of Works, which not only removed the old steps…but also took down the Traitor’s Gate and sold it to a Whitechapel shopkeeper for 15 shillings”. He in turn sold them to Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. He shipped them to New York where they became one of the great sideshows in his circus.But”, Morton asks, “what happened to them after that? Where are they now? Did they return to England, or are they still somewhere in the United States”.
    Is this true, do you know. If it is, does anyone know what finally happened to the gates?
    Kindest regards,
    Mike Bassett.

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