Archive for August, 2020



The cradle tower was built around 1350 as a personal watergate entrance for King Edward III. It later became another tower for holding prisoners. Two prominent prisoners held and tortured in the Cradle Tower were John Gerard, a Jesuit priest, who was arrested in 1597 but subsequently escaped and Anne Askew, a protestant martyr who was burned at the stake in 1546 for heresy.

The upper floor of the tower was rebuilt in the 19th century.

Tower of London (8): Ravens

Posted: August 25, 2020 in History, London, UK
Tags: ,



The legend goes that if there are fewer than 6 ravens living at the Tower then the country will fall. The origin of this is unclear. Some writers have suggested that it was created by Charles II in order to resolve a dispute he had with astronomer John Flamstead, whose observatory was in the White Tower and who had complained that the Ravens obstructed its work. Others have suggested that it is a Victorian ‘flight of fancy’. Like the origins of the legends it is is also unclear exactly how the Ravens came to associated with the Tower.



Ravens have been dismissed from service and retired for unbecoming conduct and a few have gone missing despite having their wings clipped. These days the Ravens at the Tower are from a captive bred stock and the current roster stands at 7 – the six required to fulfill the requirements of the legend and a spare, just in case.



The Bloody Tower is probably the most famous location within the Tower of London. It was built in the 1220’s as the Garden Tower and was the main entrance into the Tower from the river. However with the addition of the outer wall, it became the gateway from the outer ward into the inner ward.


Important prisoners held here include the young princes, Edward and Richard, 2 Bishops and an Archbishop and a notorious judge. In 1483 Edward, the heir to the throne as Edward V, and his younger brother Richard were placed in the tower on the death of their father, Edward IV, by their uncle the Duke of Gloucester, who became regent. He then had the boys declared illegitimate and took the throne in Edward’s place as Richard III. The young princes were never seen after the summer of that year. Tradition held that Richard had them murdered, although in more recent times a second theory has been put forward that they survived in prison throughout Richard’s short reign and were in fact murdered by Henry VII when he took the throne following Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth. The princes were a threat to both King’s claim to the throne, but the major difficulty is that 2 year period between the summer of 1483 and the summer of 1485 when there are no records of anyone seeing the princes alive.

Other prisoners have included the protestant Archbishop Cranmer and Bishops Latimer and Ridley before their executions on the orders of Queen Mary; Sir Thomas Overbury, jailed for refusing a diplomatic mission in 1585 and subsequently poisoned by his wife and a close friend and ‘Hanging Judge’ Jefferys who was imprisoned in the tower when caught fleeing the country following the Glorious Revolution during which James II was forced to flee the country and William of Orange was invited to take his place on the throne. Jefferys died a natural death before it could be decided what was to become of him.

The name ‘Bloody Tower’ seems to date from the 16th century. The Tower’s own website says it relates to the murder of the princes although another source says it was because of the suicide within the Tower of Henry Percy 8th Duke of Northumberland, who was found shot through the head, whilst awaiting trial in 1585. It was concluded that he had committed suicide although rumours circulated that he had in fact been murdered.


Traitors’  Gate was built by King Edward I in around 1275. It may surprise many visitors to the Tower that this now infamous gate leading to the river was originally built as the main entrance to the Tower. In medieval times it was far healthier and safer for the members of the King’s court to travel between royal castles and palaces by boat rather than through the crowded and dirty streets of the city. It was part of St Thomas’ tower and was probably known as St Thomas’ Gate. The first record of it being called Traitors’ Gate is on a map of 1544.

The walkway between the two southern walls. The top of the steps leading to Traitor's Gate is just out of shot to the right

The walkway between the two southern walls. The top of the steps leading to Traitors’ Gate is just out of shot to the right

The Gate was connected to the river by a short canal that passed through the river wall, under the outer wall of the tower and into a small pool between the two walls on the southern side.

The blocked up entrance to the Tower from the river. Named the Traitors gate because prisoners were often brought to the Tower by boat.

The blocked up entrance to the Tower from the river.

The inner entrance to Traitors Gate. the steps leading up to the tower can be seen in the bottom left corner

The inner entrance to Traitors’ Gate. The steps leading up to the tower can be seen in the bottom left corner

Here steps led to the walkway between the internal and external walls and to the towers along this way which were used for housing prisoners such as the Bloody Tower. Its most famous prisoners were probably in Tudor times, when such prisoners as Edward, Duke of Buckingham, Queen Anne Boleyn, Sir Thomas More, Queen Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Princess Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I) and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex all entered the Tower by the fearsome Traitors’ Gate.

"Traitor's Gate - - 455483" by Stephen Henley. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Traitors’ Gate as it would have looed when Gate was in use.[“Traitor’s Gate – – 455483” by Stephen Henley. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons]-

Once through the entrance towers, you find yourself within a passageway between two sets of walls.


Immediately as you enter you pass the Bell Tower at the corner of the inner set of walls. Built during the 12th century, on the orders of Richard I, to add to the defenses of the inner bailey it is the second oldest part of the tower.


The name comes from the turret atop the tower which contains the ‘curfew bell’. Originally it was used to summon back prisoners given liberty to leave the tower during the day. In more recent times it is used to tell visitors that it is time to leave as the Tower is closing.


Residents of the bell Tower have included Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher (both of whom went from here to be executed) and the Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I),


The combination of the Middle Tower and the Byward Tower linked by a causeway across the moat form the landward entrance to the Tower precincts.



On the outer side of the moat the Middle Tower, dating from around 1280 protects the access to the causeway. The coat of arms over the door leave no doubt as to whose castle you were entering. At one time the defences would also have been enhanced by the addition of portcullis within the towers and a drawbridge.

Byward Tower

Byward Tower

At the Tower side of the moat is the Byward Tower, which also dates from around 1280. It is believed the name came from its proximity to the warder’s hall – ‘By the warders’ becoming shortened in time to ‘Byward’. The tops of the Tower have been redeveloped in the 17th and 18th century replacing the original medieval structures.



View back across the causeway from inside the Byward Tower

View back across the causeway from inside the Byward Tower

The foundations of the Lion Tower

The foundations of the Lion Tower

As you prepare to enter the Tower across the moat, you pass the remains of the Royal Menagerie. It was founded by King John (1199-1215). Records show that in 1236 Frederick the second, the Holy Roman Emperor gave 3 leopards to Henry III as part of his wedding gift and in 1240 there is the first record of a lion at the Tower. Interestingly 2 Lion skulls and a leopard’s skull have been found in excavations in the moat, which have been dated to the 13th century. DNA testing has indicated that they were probably Barbary Lions (a species now extinct) from north west Africa.

King Louis Ix of France presented James I with an elephant which was kept at the Tower

King Louis IX of France presented James I with an elephant which was kept at the Tower

The collection continued to grow over the centuries reaching its peak in the 17th century and amongst the animals recorded are camels, an elephant, ostriches, monkeys and a polar bear. During the 18th centuries the collection began to dwindle and although it had a brief renaissance in the early 19th century it became clear that the cramped conditions of the Tower were not beneficial to the health of either the animals or of the humans living there. In 1830 the decision was taken to donate the remaining collection to The Zoological Society of London, who founded their own Zoological gardens on the north side of Regents Park, where it is today.


The moat surrounding the Tower of London was originally built by Henry III as a defensive ditch rather than a moat. It was not until the 13th century that it was connected to the Thames and flooded with water. However over time, the changing level of the river meant that there was little water flow between the river and the moat meaning that the moat water became stagnant. In the 19th century, the Duke of Wellington, concerned at the health risk the stagnant moat posed to the garrison ordered it drained and it has remained dry every since.



It has been used as a site for filming and in recent winters as the site of an ice skating rink, but perhaps most memorably as the site of the ceramic poppies display during the World War 1 commemorations in 2014.