TudorHistory.org Blog

Questions & Answers Blog


Tower of London Gallery 1

Tower of London Gallery 2

About this Site

Contact Information




The Tower of London played an important role in Tudor history. Although it wasn't a major residence for the Tudor monarchs as it had been for the Plantagenets and earlier dynasties, it did serve as a prison very frequently.



When you first arrive at the Tower, you walk by the water entry which has come to be known as Traitor's Gate.

Many famous prisoners arrived at the Tower this way, including Elizabeth I before she became Queen, when she was imprisoned by her sister Mary. Elizabeth is said to have proclaimed upon that landing in 1554: "Here lands as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs."


There is a plaque showing the site of the scaffold used for the private executions on the Tower Green. Seven famous prisoners were executed here. The private executions took place on the Tower Green within the walls of the Tower to avoid embarrassing the prisoner or the monarch. Normally, the executions took place outside on Tower Hill and were usually viewed by thousands of spectators.

A plaque shows the names of those executed on the Tower Green along with the dates.


The original Chapel of St. Peter's was outside the Tower walls until they were expanded by Henry III. The Chapel has served as the place of worship for the Tower community from that time onward. (The Chapel in the White Tower was only for the sovereign and the court)

The present form of the chapel dates from 1519-1520 and is a rare example of early Tudor church building.

All of those executed on the Tower Green were buried in the Chapel and many executed on Tower Hill were buried here as well. The executed prisoners had their bodies hastily buried without markers. The Chapel was renovated in 1876 during the reign of Queen Victoria. The remains uncovered in the nave of the church (some with still intact coffins) were re-interred in the crypt.

The remains that were uncovered in the chancel were reburied under the marble in front of the altar. Some of these skeletons were identified: Anne Boleyn and her cousin Kathryn Howard notable among them.


Built in the reign of Henry VIII, the Queen's House is currently the home of the Resident Governor of the Tower of London. Originally, the Lieutenant of the Tower lived here and was the custodian of several famous prisoners: Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawlkes and the last prisoner held in the Tower: Rudolf Hess in 1941. Anne Boleyn is said to have stayed here before her execution as well (although the current buildings date from after her time as Queen).


The oldest part of the Tower complex, construction is thought to have begun in 1078 under the orders of William the Conqueror. It is the oldest example of a Norman keep in England. Its dimensions are 90 feet tall and 107x118 feet across.

The entrance to the Tower is on the first floor (second story in America) via a removable staircase, designed to make invasion of the Tower more difficult.

The name "White Tower" probably comes from when it was painted white during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272). The onion domes were added to the turrets in the 16th century. The earlier ones were probably cones or pyramids.

The Chapel of St. John the Evangelist is located on the second floor of the White Tower. It is one of the earliest church interiors preserved in England. At one time the columns were possibly painted in bright colors.

This was the place of worship for the sovereign and court when they were at the Tower. (Regular residents would, and still do, attend services in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.)

Some famous events in royal history took place here: Elizabeth of York (Queen to Henry VII) lay in state here after her death in childbirth in 1503. Mary I was betrothed to Philip of Spain by proxy here in 1554.

The White Tower has been used as a residence, a prison, a place for state events, an astronomical observatory and a repository for papers.

The first record of the Armouries in the White Tower is from the reign of Elizabeth I in 1565. In 1599 there is record of a servant appointed to collect entrance fees. Soon after though, it became a storehouse for arms and records. (Some genius even decided to put a lot of papers next to the gunpowder stores!) In the late 19th century, it was opened to the public.


Several famous prisones were held in the Bell Tower during Tudor times, including Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and the Princess Elizabeth. During special celebrations for the year 2000, the cell of Thomas More was opened to the public.


This tower was where the sons of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland were held after the attempt to put Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary I. It has a large number of carvings etched into the walls by various prisoners.