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Touring the Tower of London

The Tower of London as seen from the River Thames
The Tower of London as seen from the River ThamesPhoto by Pikous

The Tower of London sits on the edge of the River Thames in London, England. Throughout the years, it has been used as a residence for royalty, as a museum for priceless and ancient artifacts and most notably, as a prison.

In the late 1070s, William the Conqueror had the Tower built, but it was the Tudors, especially Henry VIII, who used the Tower of London mostly as a prison. Men or women could be held here for whatever the king wanted. There were sections of the Tower where prisoners were tortured, although there was no specific torture chamber. Depending on the crime, some prisoners were free to “wander” around the Tower during the day. Unfortunately, some people were brought to the Tower to die. Two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were executed at the Tower of London.

Two other famous Tower prisoners were Elizabeth I and Guy Fawkes. Elizabeth I was held here (as a princess) for a short time when she was suspected of being involved with a plot to kill the queen, her half-sister. Fawkes was imprisoned here in 1605 after being arrested for his involvement in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up Parliament.

Now, you might think that being so important to the kings and queens that there would be perfect security within the Tower, but this was not always the case. A man named John Gerard who had been brought to the Tower for interrogation and torture managed to escape. He climbed down the rope off one tower and straight into a waiting boat.

From the River Thames you can see the “Traitors’ Gate.” Prisoners were brought to the Tower by barge along the Thames. They would pass Tower Bridge where they would see the heads of recently executed prisoners and then they’d be brought to Traitors’ Gate for the start of their prison sentence.

Today, the Tower of London is a first-rate tourist attraction with its rich history, interactive tours, and excellent shopping. To find out more about the Tower of London, visit the Tower of London pages on the Historic Royal Palaces website.

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