Tower of London
ABOVE: Actors portray inmates at the
Traitors' Gate, the Tower's main entrance on the Thames. Left to right: A German
WWII prisoner, Ann Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Bishop Ranulf Flambard.
The Tower of London was the celebrity prison of medieval and
Tudor times, attracting a better class of inmate than your common-garden
dungeon or gaol.
The Tower's first prisoner (and escapee) was Bishop Ranulf
Flambard, who received Concierge Floor treatment in the White Tower after
being imprisoned by Henry I in 1100. The bishop subsequently hosted a party his
guards, then slithered down a rope and escaped in a waiting boat while they were
Sir Walter Raleigh inhabited the Garden Tower (a.k.a. the
Garden Tower) for 13 years with his wife and children as companions. Raleigh,
who is said to have taught Queen Elizabeth I how to smoke, raised grew tobacco
on Tower Green when he wasn't occupied with writing The History of the World.
Guy Fawkes, whose role in the Gunpowder Plot is still
commemorated with bonfires and fireworks, was interrogated in the tower before
being hung, drawn, and quartered at Westminster.
Lord Nithsdale earned "famous prisoner" status as the
Tower's first and only cross-dressing escapee. On the eve of his scheduled
execution, his wife and two servants brought him a disguise of women's clothing.
(See our short piece on Lord Nithsdale's
The Tower continued to be used as a prison during two World
Wars, and the presence of German soldiers and spies in the Tower may well have
protected it from bombing. The most famous German prisoner was Rudolf Hess,
the Deputy Führer of the Third Reich, who
spent five days in Queen's House after flying from Germany to Scotland in May,
Contrary to popular belief, only a small number of executions
have taken place within the Tower of London. Most condemned prisoners were taken
to Tower Hill or other places in London for beheading or to be hung, drawn, and
Six beheadings have occurred on Tower Green. Anne Boleyn,
the second wife of Henry VIII, was executed by a French swordsman in 1536;
Catherine Howard, Henry's fifth wife, lay her head on the block in 1542.
Lady Jane Grey, who reigned as Queen for only nine days in 1553, died by the
axe in 1554 for "usurping the throne of England." Less famous victims were
Margaret Plantagenet Pole, the 68-year-old Countess of Salisbury, who
refused to go quietly and required several blows of the axe to die in 1541. The
last prisoner to beheaded at the Tower was Robert Devereux, Earl of
Essex, who was arrested after plotting against Queen Elizabeth I in 1601.
somewhat larger number of prisoners have been executed by shooting: three
Black Watch Mutineers in 1743, 11 German spies in World War I,
and--on August 15, 1941--Josef Jakobs, a German who parachuted into
England and later was shot while seated in a chair (see photo at right) because
he'd injured his leg in the jump. The World War I and II executions took place
in the Tower's East Casemates Rifle Range.
Yeoman Warders (Beefeaters)
Top photo copyright © HRP.
Chair photo copyright ©
The Royal Armouries.
Used by permission.