Where Is the Tower of London?
In 1934, a song called “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” became popular in England. The song was about a ghostly woman. Every night she could be seen gliding along the halls of the Bloody Tower in London. Her head had been chopped off, and she carried it under her arm like a soccer ball.
Who was the song talking about? A queen. A queen of England. Her name was Anne Boleyn. She was one of the wives of King Henry VIII, who had her head cut off in 1536. The Bloody Tower is part of the great Tower of London. It earned its name even before the days of Anne Boleyn. Two children who were imprisoned there were murdered. Many others suffered the same fate as those children and Anne Boleyn. Others were hanged or tortured.
But the Tower of London is not just a prison where many people met bloody deaths. It has also been a grand palace, an armory for weapons, a jewel storehouse, and a zoo. It has stood for almost a thousand years. During this time, it has been the home of kings and princes. For years, all the coins in England were made here. It has the world’s most famous diamond on display. And the first elephant in England lived here. Chapter 1: William the Conqueror
The one date that every English schoolchild knows is 1066. This is the year William the Conqueror became king of England. It marks the beginning of modern English history.
Before 1066, people in England were known as Anglo-Saxons. One of their last kings was named Edward the Confessor. (All Anglo-Saxon kings had names like this. Edward’s father was called Ethelred the Unready because he always lost battles against invaders.)
Edward was a very good man. He ruled for many years. After his death, he was made a saint. Unfortunately, he did not have any children to leave his throne to. And he did not give clear instructions about who should rule after him. A powerful Anglo-Saxon lord named Harold Godwinson took the throne after Edward died.
However, over in Normandy, part of northern France, another lord believed he
should be England’s next king. This was William, the Duke of Normandy. (He later became known as William the Conqueror.) William was only Edward’s second cousin, once removed. So he was not a close relative. He was not next in line for the throne. But William swore Edward had promised the throne to him.
William and the Normans invaded England, landing on the southern shore. In the Battle of Hastings, they defeated the Anglo-Saxon army. Harold was killed. William was now king of England. He took large areas of land that had belonged to Anglo-Saxon lords and gave them to his followers. Of course, the Anglo-Saxon lords were very angry about this. Many of them were ready to fight William to take back their country. They wanted an Anglo-Saxon king. William knew he could only hold on to England if he and his men were strong, protected themselves from their enemies, and were always prepared to fight.
So William started building fortresses all over England. People think there may have been as many as five hundred of them. These forts would keep him safe from the angry, conquered people. And soldiers living in the forts would quickly stop any people who tried to protest.
William was crowned in London, the city where England’s kings lived. During the ceremony, a hostile crowd of London citizens protested outside. A group of William’s men with swords had to rush out to stop them. This showed William that he needed to build his strongest fort in London, to control its citizens and keep him safe from angry mobs. Chapter 2: Building the Tower
The spot William chose for his fort had already been built on almost a thousand years before he was born. London was settled by the ancient Romans around the time that they conquered England, in the year AD 43. It was a good place for a city. It was on flat ground that was easy to defend, and it was right on the river Thames, so it was easy for ships to reach. It soon became the biggest and the richest city in England.
In the second century, the Romans built a great wall around their city to protect it. By the time William the Conqueror arrived, the Romans had left England hundreds of years before. But some of their London wall was still there. When William built his fort in London, he used the Roman wall as part of it. It is still there today. This means that the oldest parts of the Tower of London are almost two thousand years old.
William’s original building was probably what is called a motte and bailey
castle. A motte is a hill. If there wasn’t a natural hill where the Normans wanted a castle, they would pile up earth to create one. On the top of the hill, they built a fortress. All around the hill, they dug a deep ditch. The area inside the ditch was called the bailey. Around the whole thing, they built a wooden fence.
The original tower that William built in London was finished in only three days. It was made of wood. Soon William decided that he needed something stronger to impress the people of the city. In place of the wooden tower, he decided to build a great stone tower.
He chose a monk named Gundulf to design it. The tower Gundulf built was called the White Tower. He used pale white stone imported all the way from Normandy. It was the biggest building in all of England that wasn’t a church. It could be seen from miles away. It was ninety feet tall with a smaller tower at each corner. The walls of the building were fifteen feet thick at the bottom.
The most important thing about the Tower was that it was a strong fort. To keep everyone safe, there was only one entrance. This was a wooden staircase leading to the middle floor, where a group of soldiers lived. The staircase could be pulled up if necessary. Then no one could get in. The bottom floor stored arms and armor.
The Tower was also a grand castle where the king and his family could live. The upper floor was made rich and comfortable for them. The whole tower was put in the charge of a man called the Constable of the Tower.
Over the years, many smaller towers and buildings grew up around the first tower. In 1097, King William II added a wall that ran all around the outer edge. In the 1220s and 30s, Henry III added ten new towers and a special ditch called a moat. It was filled with water and surrounded the wall. He also had the White Tower painted with whitewash in 1241, so it was truly gleaming white.
Starting in 1275, Edward I added a second wall closing in a large area around the first wall. This meant the Tower was surrounded by two rings of walls. Attackers would have to break through both of them before they could reach the White Tower.
When these kings were finished, in 1285, the Tower of London looked more or less the way it still does today. Gundulf’s huge White Tower stood in the center. It gave the whole collection of buildings and walls its name: the Tower of London.
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