An enduring symbol of the power and majesty of London and its royal rulers, the Tower of London stands on the north bank of the River Thames close to Tower Bridge. What was once a solitary tower has expanded through the centuries into a castle, around which the history of England has also evolved. Today it is celebrated as a world-famous tourist attraction and important national monument.


When William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England in 1066 and defeated the last Anglo-Saxon king Harold at the Battle of Hastings, not everybody welcomed his victory. London, then with a population of around fifteen thousand, initially resisted the advance of the Norman army, though it soon surrendered. In the 1070s, fearing rebellion and Viking raids, King William I began to build a number of defensive stone forts along the River Thames. The mightiest of these was the Tower of London. Constructed over twenty years with stone from Caen in France, the Tower symbolised his royal power and dominated the London skyline. In 1240, Henry III had the Tower’s central keep painted white; it became a landmark visible for miles around and acquired the name the White Tower.

442 Power and Majesty The Tower of London freeimage

MONEY AND beasts

As the most secure castle in the land, the Tower of London guarded royal possessions and important national assets such as arms and armour, which were made and stored here until the 19th century. Home to the Royal Mint, the Tower produced and controlled the nation’s money supply from 1272 until 1810. Other precious royal possessions held here were rather different: from the 13th century, the Tower housed a menagerie of exotic wild animals, including lions, tigers, a polar bear and even an elephant, all exchanged or given as gifts by medieval monarchs. The menagerie was a form of primitive London zoo, containing animals never seen before in this land, and it continued in use until 1835.


Throughout history, kings and queens have imprisoned their rivals and enemies within the solid, stone walls of the Tower. The stories of prisoners rich and poor haunt the Tower and fascinate visitors. The first prisoner here in 1101 was Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, but he didn’t stay long, escaping through one of the windows using a rope smuggled to him inside a cask of wine! Many other prisoners followed, including the unlucky wives of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, who were both beheaded. The last two prisoners held at the Tower were the notorious East End gangsters Ronnie and Reggie Kray, who were transferred to another prison in 1952. Unsurprisingly, the ghosts of many prisoners are said to haunt the Tower of London today!

jewels and ravens

For centuries, kings and queens have locked away their treasures at the Tower. The most valuable and famous of these, sparkling and wowing tourists today, are the Crown Jewels. Crowns, coronets and royal regalia beautifully crafted using precious metals and gemstones, the Crown Jewels are the most powerful symbols of the British monarchy. Containing more than 23,500 precious stones, the Crown Jewels are closely guarded by the famous Yeoman Warders, known as ‘Beefeaters’, as they have been since Tudor times. One of their jobs is to protect the six ravens that live in the tower (actually, there are seven today): according to legend, the Tower and kingdom will fall if the ravens ever leave.