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The Story Behind The Tower Of London

Tower of London, London, England

When most people think of the Tower of London, they think of the Crown Jewels. While it’s certainly home to the Crown Jewels, it’s also a place of rich history. The Tower is a 900 years old historic structure that sits next to the River Thames in the heart of London, England. Just a short distance away is the world-famous Tower Bridge that crosses the Thames River.   

This famous British landmark is one of Britain’s most famous castles and easy to find. The best way to get there is by London underground transit. The Tower Hill station is just across the street and a short walk from the entrance.

However, it would be best if you planned to arrive early as the Tower is a bustling tourist spot that gets overcrowded quite quickly. The best place to visit first is the crown jewels inside the Jewel House, as the line-up gets exceptionally long by the afternoon.

Despite the Tower’s history as a place of grim torture, there is much to see and learn inside the wall.

A Yeoman Warder at the Tower Of London
A Yeoman Warder at the Tower Of London

The Tower Of London’s Yeoman Warders

If you’re a history buff and want to learn the history, take a Tower of London tour with a Yeoman Warder. The Yeoman Warders, nick-named “Beefeaters,” offer a delightfully informative tour with a typically British sense of humor.

The Yeoman Warder tour is included in your admission price and offers visitors stories of betrayal, imprisonment, torture, and more.

The Yeomen Warders normally wear a uniform of dark blue with red trimmings. They reside with their families inside the Tower of London in separate residences.

To become a Yeoman Warder, you must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, reaching the warrant officer’s rank. Also, you must have received the long service and good conduct medal.

The Tower of London continues a traditional ritual that’s a secret to most Londoners and visitors. It’s called the Ceremony of the Keys. It involves the Yeoman Warders and the formality of locking up the Tower each night. Tickets to watch the event are free but must be reserved in advance.

The Tower Of London Ravens

Raven at the Tower of London

No visit to the Tower of London would be complete without seeing the famous ravens. It is said that Charles II was the first to keep ravens at the tower and has now become an old-age tradition.

It is thought that the Tower of London would fall if the six resident ravens left the fortress. For this reason, there are currently seven ravens at the tower; the required six and one extra. The Ravens’ names are Poppy, Jubilee, Erin, Rocky, Gripp, Merlina, and Harris.

While visiting the Tower, be on the lookout for the Ravens because they are free to roam the grounds throughout the day. Do not approach or feed them as they can bite. These amazing creatures are trained to respond only to the Ravenmaster.

I was fortunate enough to see one hopping around on my visit. It’s startling to see how enormous these birds are, probably due to being well fed by the Ravenmaster.

The Ravens’ diet consists of a special feast of mice, chicks, rats, and assorted raw meats. As a special treat, the Ravens receive biscuits soaked in blood. Eww, thankfully, I’m not a raven!

The Crown Jewels

The majority of tourists flock to the Tower of London to view the crown jewels, an impressive collection of over 140 items containing over 23,000 precious gems. The Cullinan and Cullinan II diamonds are the most famous, cut from a massive 3,106 carat Cullinan Diamond.

When viewing the collection, the first question everyone asks is, “Are the Crown Jewels real?” Well, the answer is yes. What you observe at the Tower of London is the REAL royal family collection of jewels, including the coronation regalia.

The Tower of London has housed the crown jewels and robes, and other precious items for over 600 years. For apparent reasons, no photography is allowed when viewing the Crown Jewels.

The Crown Jewels entrance
The Crown Jewels entrance

While the Crown Jewels are real, what you view are not the 11th-century originals. With the execution of King Charles I in 1649 came the decision to destroy the Crown Jewels. Parliamentarians insisted on removing all symbols of the monarchy after the Civil Wars.

Today’s Royal Coronation Regalia was first used to crown King Charles II in 1661 and will be used to crown the next King/Queen of England. The Sovereign’s Sceptre and rod showcases the most substantial, top-quality cut white diamond globally, weighing in at a massive 530.2 carats. Wow, just wow!

As I walked through the gallery of exquisite Royal Jewels, I couldn’t help but think some of the crowns must weigh a significant amount.

For instance, the Imperial State Crown contains 2868 diamonds, 17 emeralds, 269 pearls, four rubies, and a tremendous amount of gold. Imagine wearing that on your head for a few hours? Thankfully, I will never have to deal with that problem, haha.

The White Tower

The White Tower
The White Tower

In the center of the Tower of London stands the White Tower. It is one of the most famous castle keeps globally and part of a World Heritage site. Here, visitors can view the Royal Armoury Collections and learn the history of the Line of Kings.

The armoury is an impressive collection of artifacts worn not only by noblemen and kings but ordinary soldiers too. As I toured the stunning array of horse armoury displayed on wooden horses, I couldn’t help but be enchanted by what I saw.

The Line of Kings was created in the 17th century and is one of the oldest museum exhibits. When you visit the Line of Kings, bear in mind tourists have visited this exhibit for over 350 years.

Part of the new exhibit in the White Tower allows visitors to experience the armoury in action. Learn how to fire a cannon or try your hand at shooting some arrows. In reality, it’s not nearly as easy as it looks.

In any event, I’m certainly glad I did not grow up in the days of Robin Hood.

Imprisonment and Torture

“Take him to the tower” might be words you would have heard in medieval times. No visit to the present-day Tower of London is complete without learning the Bloody Tower’s history, imprisonment, and torture.

This grim history is not what most people associate with the Tower of London, but it is still an essential part of its history.

Throughout the years, many prisoners were held captive in the Beauchamp Tower. Suffering from depression and boredom, some carved graffiti into the tower’s walls. Today, those carvings can still be viewed and remain a reminder of the Tower of London’s sordid history.

In the Lower Wakefield Tower, visitors will discover the grim methods of torture imposed upon prisoners of the tower. The manacles, the rack, and the scavenger’s daughter were common devices used to inflict pain.

While most people are familiar with the rack, I had never heard of the scavenger’s daughter before. Apparently, the prisoner’s body is folded into three and locked into a device that almost crushes the body. Sounds absolutely hellish to me.

The Bloody Tower at the Tower of London is best known for its imprisonment of the young brothers, Edward V and Richard in 1483. It’s believed their imprisonment was ordered by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

While the actual story may never be known, many assume their deaths came about so Richard could claim the throne. In 1674, workers dug up a wooden box containing the remains of two small children.

Their mysterious disappearance and subsequent deaths dubbed the tower its morbid name “The Bloody Tower.”

The Royal Zoo

Wire monkeys at the Tower of London
Wire monkeys created by Kendra Haste are scattered around the tower’s grounds

Overall, many visitors might be surprised to learn the Tower of London once housed a collection of Royal Menagerie.

Started in the early 1200s by King John, the tower became home to over 60 different animal species. Over the years, Kings and Queens sustained their fascination for animals. As a result, the Royal Beasts continued to live in the Tower.

The Tower of London has been home to lions, tigers, zebras, bears, kangaroos, and even an elephant. Walking around the Tower of London, it’s hard to believe it once housed a partial zoo.

Wire elephant at the Tower of London
An elephant once lived at the royal residence

In 2010, the Historic Royal Palaces commissioned UK artist Kendra Haste to fabricate thirteen sculptures to display at the Tower of London. These playful wire structures will remain at the tower for viewing until 2021.

As you explore the Tower of London, see if you can spot the different species placed around in the locations where they were usually kept all those years ago.

From time to time, look towards the River Thames for great views of Tower Bridge. If you’re spending some time in and around London and love the opulence of royalty, be sure to check out one of the amazing Royal Palaces.

Happy travels ~ Karen