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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 Westminster Abbey

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Westminster Abbey is steeped in more than a thousand years of British history, its origins were a small Benedictine monastery founded under the patronage of King Edgar and St Dunstan around 960 A.D.  This monastery Edward chose to re-endow and  enlarge, building a large stone church in honour of St Peter. This church became known as the “west minster” to distinguish it from St Paul’s Cathedral (the east minster) in the City of London. The remnants of Edward’s monastery can be seen in  the undercroft and the Pyx Chamber in the cloisters.

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The Abbey has been used for  coronation’s since 1066 and is the final resting place of seventeen monarchs. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most impressive Gothic buildings in the country.

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Every monarch since William the Conqueror has been crowned in the Abbey, with the exception of Edward V and Edward VIII who were never crowned. Henry III  was responsible for building a magnificent tomb for Edward the Confessor. Remarkably this shrine survives and around it are buried a number of medieval kings and their consorts including Henry III, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, Edward III and Philippa of Hainault, Richard II and Anne of Bohemia and Henry V.

It also has been the scene of more recent historical visits when in 2010  Pope Benedict XVI became the first Pope to visit the Abbey.

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The Abbey contains over 600 monuments and wall tablets and is the resting place for over three thousand people. One of most important graves is the Unknown Warrior which  has become a place of pilgrimage, often visited by  Heads of State .

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Westminster Abbey  houses a large number of paintings, stained glass, pavements, textiles and other artefacts and has a large number of tombs and memorials that pay homage to many of the nation’s great and good.

Westminster Abbey is unusual because it is  neither a cathedral nor a parish church, Westminster Abbey (or the Collegiate Church of St Peter, Westminster to give it its correct title) is a “Royal Peculiar” under the jurisdiction of a Dean and Chapter, subject only to the Sovereign and not to any archbishop or bishop.

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One of the most famous objects in the Abbey is the  Coronation Chair which was made for King Edward I to enclose the famous Stone of Scone, which he brought from Scotland to the Abbey in 1296. . Every monarch has been crowned in this chair since Edward II in 1308, except Edward V and Edward VIII, who were not crowned.

Annual Pass

The Westminster Abbey Annual Pass will allow you to visit as often as you wish during public opening hours. It is valid for a 12-month period from the date of purchase.

  • Adults £40.00
  • Concessions £34.00

Individuals

  • Adults £18.00
  • Concessions £15.00 (Over 18 students (on production of a valid student card) and 60+)
  • Schoolchildren (11 – 18 years) £8
  • Child under 11 free accompanied by an adult
  • Family £36.00 (2 adults and 1 child)
    £44.00 (2 adults and 2 children)
  • Entry for all the above includes a free audio-guide each

If you would like more information or book tickets, visit the Westminster Abbey 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