Visit to the Tower of London


White Tower

So, as you might have guessed from my previous post on the ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ exhibition (click here) I have been on holiday in London. How could I not visit some Tudor-related sites? I was with a friend who had never visited the Tower of London before, so we used the tickets that had been booked way back at the beginning of 2020 when the pandemic hit.

We arrived early and spent five hours wandering around, stopping for a café break as well. We walked the walls, and took in the exhibitions, seeing displays on the Medieval Palace, Imprisonment at the Tower, and the Tower in War. We were using my guidebook from 2010 as I haven’t got an updated version and, in one display, there were guidebooks from the past and the same copy as mine was in a glass case! That was weird.

Dudley coat of arms carved in the Beauchamp Tower

The Beauchamp Tower is where we saw all of the graffiti left by those imprisoned there, notably this coat of arms likely carved by one of the Dudleys in 1553-4 after Jane Grey’s failed reign (the photo isn’t great because of the light from behind). There were also several pieces of graffiti left by those involved in rebellions against Elizabeth I which was especially interesting for me to see.

The Bloody Tower includes Walter Raleigh’s study and an exploration of the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, something that I’ve read quite a lot about. Raleigh wrote his ‘The History of the World’ while imprisoned here. The Salt Tower was the place of imprisonment of Hew Draper who was incarcerated for sorcery during the reign of Elizabeth I. There are some fascinating astrological drawings on the walls of various places in the Tower where he was kept. A zodiac design contains the date 30 May 1561.

Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

Of course, a visit to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula (Peter in Chains) was a must. It’s an absolutely beautiful space where lie buried the remains of Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset, John Dudley Duke of Northumberland, and Guildford Dudley within the main body of the chapel. In the crypt are the remains of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher of Rochester who were executed on nearby Tower Hill.

The armouries in the White Tower were fascinating, though I had seen them before. I almost looked at the rooms anew and visited St John’s Chapel in the White Tower for the very first time. It’s starkly simple but incredibly profound with plain walls and some stone carving, quite a contrast to the better-known St Peter ad Vincula in the grounds. The armouries themselves contain armour from Henry VIII, Charles I, and James II, and a collection of swords, cannon, and other arms from across the ages and across the world. Possibly of more interest to a military historian but seeing the detail on the armour was a highlight of the White Tower for me.

Tower Hill Memorial

On the way back to our hotel we visited the memorial on Tower Hill where the likes of Edward Stafford 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher of Rochester, and Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex were executed, among many others. The names and dates of execution are places on blocks around a small square within the First World War memorial gardens. It’s very easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. More were executed there than are named, but the names of those who were the most notable are written. It is worth a visit if you’re going to the Tower of London as many of those executed there spent time in the Tower itself.

All in all, an incredibly fascinating historical day out, even if we were exhausted afterwards having been on our feet most of the day and then going on a Jack the Ripper walking tour that evening! A blog post on that to follow …

On This Day in History – 19 May – Execution of Anne Boleyn


White Tower at the Tower of London
White Tower at the Tower of London

Event– Execution of Anne Boleyn

Year– 1536

Location– Tower of London (England)

Anne Boleyn was arrested on 2 May 1536 and sent to the Tower of London, accused of adultery, incest and treason. She was tried and found guilty of all charges against her on 15 May 1536 with the sentence pronounced as burning or beheading at the king’s pleasure.

Anne’s so-called lovers were executed on 17 May – Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, William Brereton, Francis Weston and her brother, George Boleyn. All had been found guilty of adultery with Anne. Richard Page and Thomas Wyatt were arrested but never charged with anything. They were released after the executions.

It is generally accepted that Anne Boleyn wasn’t guilty of the charges against her. Perhaps she had been a little reckless in her speech, and a little too flirtatious, but that doesn’t automatically convert to adultery. From what I have read, the only historian who thinks it possible that Anne was in fact guilty was G.W. Bernard, though I personally don’t buy his arguments.

Anne was beheaded on Tower Green within the Tower of London on 19 May 1536 by the swordsman of Calais, rather than the more cumbersome English axe, and was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower grounds. There is a memorial slab commemorating her place of burial there today.

Further Reading

  • Paul Friedmann, Anne Boleyn (1884)
  • Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (1986)
  • Retha Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn (1989)
  • Alison Weir, The Lady in the Tower: the Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)
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