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Book Review : The Story of the Tower of London by Tracy Borman ( Merrell Publishers)

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The story of the Tower of London is intrinsically tied to the story of England, since the building was built just after the Norman Conquest of 1066, the fortress has  stood as a symbol of royal power, tradition, heritage and military might. Whilst many people may be familiar with stories related to those murdered or executed within its walls including the ‘Princes in the Tower’, Henry VI, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey. These are just a small number of stories related to the incredible history of this remarkable site.

Tracy Borman in this new book of the Tower of London explores many of the stories, events and characters of one of the most iconic sites of London. The author in the introduction makes the important point that the Tower of London “is not just a backdrop, but also the lead actor of some of the most momentous events of our history.”

There is evidence of Roman buildings on the site before building work began on the fortress after the Norman Conquest of 1066, however it was the concerns of William the Conqueror and his less than enthusiastic welcome from Londoners that led to the construction of the Tower. When it was completed it was one of the largest castle keeps in Europe and dominated the surrounding area, it was a clear statement of intention that the Normans were here to stay.

William the Conqueror’s successors made full use of the Tower as a Palace and a Fortress over subsequent centuries, however one of many colourful characters described in the book from this period was Geoffrey de Mandeville who was a constable of the Tower. Geoffrey de Mandeville became infamous for quickly changing sides in times of war if there was a profit to be made. He acquired a great amount of wealth but developed a less than honest reputation. King John in the thirteenth century was particularly fond of the Tower and stayed there for long periods, part of its appeal may have been King John feared for his life after making a large number of enemies.

It was King John who established the Tower Menagerie and collected a large number of exotic animals that were caged within the Tower’s walls. The section on the Menagerie in the book is full of wonderful stories of this curious collection of animals. Over the centuries, the citizens of London became used to a number of strange and unusual sights including a polar bear from the Menagerie who was allowed to fish in the Thames in 1252 and the first elephant in London in 1255. Many of the animals in the menagerie had a short and unhappy existence, James I was particularly sadistic, pitting animals against each other in fights to the death. The book also relates that it was not only animals that suffered, visitors were occasionally maimed or killed by animals in the collection. Away from all the cruelty, people were given the opportunity of  seeing wild animals in the flesh which inspired artists in particular. William Blake wrote and illustrated his famous poem The Tyger after seeing a real tiger in the Menagerie and Edwin Landseer was a regular visitor sketching the lions before making his sculptures for Trafalgar Square.

If the Tower was a place of cruelty to animals, from its earliest existence it also gained a reputation for terror, torture and murder to humans. In 1278 Edward I had 600 Jews rounded up and thrown in the dungeons under the dubious claim of debasing the currency, many were hanged whilst others were released only after ransoms were paid. In 1380 the tables were turned on the elites when peasants supporting the cause of Wat Tyler stormed the castle and murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The reigns of Richard III and Henry VIII cemented the Tower’s grisly reputation for dark deeds with the ‘Princes in the Tower’ murders and the executions of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. The long list of prisoners held in the Tower including many of the most important and influential people in English history including a surprising number of Kings and Queens. It is worth noting that all these dark deeds are not in the distant past. In the First World War, eleven spies were executed within the Tower and in 1941, German spy Josef Jakobs achieved an unwanted  notoriety by became the last person to be executed at the Tower.

The Tower as a prison is only one of the functions it has undertaken over the centuries, as well as being a fortress and a royal residence, it has been a weapons factory, royal mint and a secure repository for the Crown Jewels. However, it was not that secure when famously Colonel Thomas Blood stole and damaged the Crown Jewels in 1671, interestingly rather than suffering the usual grisly fate of other criminals, he became a celebrity and was given land and a pension by the King.

This lavishly illustrated and wonderfully entertaining book presents the many and varied stories that make up the Tower’s extraordinary history from its Roman origins to the present day. Many of the stories may be familiar, however there are plenty of surprises as the book illustrates that the Tower’s history is far richer and complex than many people would realise. It also reminds us that the Tower of London is not just a monument of the past but remains a living institution with a rich ceremonial life, and still attracts millions of visitors from across the world each year.

This book, specially commissioned by the Tower of London and published in association with Historic Royal Palaces is wonderful resource for anyone interested in one of the most enigmatic and popular historic monuments in the world.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like more information or buy a copy of the book, visit the Merrell Publishers website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide.com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch , we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website here

A Short Guide to the Tower of London

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The Tower of London  is one of the most popular attractions in London, the  historic castle was built after the Norman Conquest of England . The White Tower, which is the core of the castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1078.  The Tower of London has had many uses over the centuries, it has been a Royal Palace, a prison, an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels.  Over the centuries the Tower  has developed into  a complex of  buildings protected  behind two rings of defensive walls and a moat.

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The Tower of London has been the centre of many important events in English history especially in the 16th and 17th centuries when it was used as a prison for many high ranking figures who had fallen from grace. Elizabeth I was held here before she became queen, however the Tower’s reputation as a place of execution was mostly due to the demise of  three queens of England: Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII,  Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife and Lady Jane Grey.

Execution inside the Tower was actually considered a privilege reserved for those of high rank, many more executions were carried out on the Tower Hill outside of the walls.

Executions in the Tower were not confined to the distant past, in the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was used as a prison and was the site of the executions of 12 men for spying.

One of the main attractions of the Tower is the Crown Jewels a collection of royal regalia which are still used by The Queen in important national ceremonies, such as the State Opening of Parliament. Considering the age of the Tower, the Crown jewels are fairly modern, almost everything in the Jewel House was made after 1660 – the earlier Crown Jewels  were destroyed following the abolition of the monarchy in 1649.

Other highlights of  a visit to the Tower are the White Tower, the Royal Armouries Collections, an exhibition about torture at the Tower, the execution site where Anne Boleyn and others died, you can walk the Tower walls and visit the many towers.

You will also see the  resident ravens who are forbidden to leave the Tower, an old legend says that if the ravens leave, the kingdom and the Tower will fall. Therefore the ravens are looked after by their own Raven Master and live in protected lodgings  next to the Wakefield Tower.

For many visitors, the tours given by the Yeoman Warders commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’ are a highlight of the visit, all the Yeoman Warders are required to have served in the armed forces with an honourable record for at least 22 years. They will entertain you with tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution, torture and much more…

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The Tower of London isn’t just a historic fortress – it remains a working fortress today with a strong military presence. You will see soldiers guarding the Jewel House and Queen’s House as well as the famous Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters) who have been guarding the Tower for 500 years. It is still under the ceremonial charge of the Constable of the Tower and is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site.

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Recently the highly successful ceramic poppies installation were planted in the moat and were seen by millions of people.

Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday 9.00-16.30, Sunday – Monday 10.00-16.30. Last admission: 16.00

Tickets
1 March 2014 – 28 February 2015

Gate price

Adult  £22.00

Child (5-15 years)
Under 5s are free of charge.
Children must be accompanied by an adult.

£11.00

Full-time student (16 years and over), disabled visitor, over 60 with ID

£18.70

Family
Up to 2 adults and 3 children

£59.00

For more information and to book tickets, visit the Tower of London website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
here