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The Tower

HE Tower of London - at once a palace, a fortress, and a prison - is most closely associated with the events English history. When we say a palace, we must add, that of the palace of the Tudors that existed within those walls as a splendid building, with a painted hall, spacious galleries and noble courts, not a vestige now remains. Its place has been taken by the Ordnance Offices. The Tower itself has remained as we see it, though the dwelling-place of kings within its walls is gone.

Yet how grand that painted hall must have been! Here King John of France was feasted by King Edward III. Here Henry of Lancaster wore the crown torn from Richard II.'s brow, and Henry VIII. banqueted with his queens, two of whom were destined to die in that fatal fortress.

The Tower is always a weird place, by night especially. The writer spent many days and nights, during childhood, as a guest there, and has often walked in the solemn moonlight round it, on the platform under the old trees, passing the Devil's Battery, the Stone Battery, and the Wooden Battery, and again the White Tower, all clothed in the solemn light - awesome, and full of terrible memories; for the past scenes of three or four hundred years seemed to be absolutely' present under the charm of the hour, and one could almost see the victims of the savage Yorkists and Tudors passing in shadowy procession before one. The boy princes; the unhappy Anne Boleyn clasping her little throat; the saintly Jane Grey; the gallant Raleigh.

Tower of London

Gray has apostrophised the Tower thus:

"Ye towers of Julius, London's lasting shame,
With many a foul and midnight murder fed;"

and Shakspeare asserts the same origin of the Tower in the scene where young Edward V. objects to the Tower as his residence.

Prince. I do not like the Tower, of any place:-
Did Julius Caesar build that place, my lord?

Buck. He did, my gracious lord, begin that place;
Which, since, succeeding ages have re-edified.

Prince. Is it upon record, or else reported
Successively from age to age, he built it?

Buck. Upon record, my gracious lord.

Prince. But say, my lord, it were not register'd,
Methinks the truth should live from age to age,
As 'twere retail'd to all posterity,
Even to the general all-ending day.

Glo. [Aside.] So wise so young, they say, do ne'er live long.

Prince. What say you, uncle?

Glo. I say, without characters fame lives long.

But in fact Julius Caesar did not build the Tower. It was built by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester (who also erected Rochester Castle), in 1078, for William the Conqueror. Rufus added to the keep, Henry I. strengthened it, and Stephen kept his court here.

It is a singular fact that Ralph Flambard, Bishop of Durham, who assisted in completing the Tower, was the first person imprisoned in it. He managed, however, to escape. His friends conveyed a rope to him in a flagon; he made his keepers tipsy (therefore doubtless wine had been sent with the flagon), and then, when they were so intoxicated as to be blind and incapable, he let himself down from a window in the south gallery, taking his pastoral staff with him. The rope broke, and the bishop had a serious fall; but though he was injured by it, he managed to escape to Normandy, and lived to recover his See.

King John held his court here; Edward II. found refuge in the fortress; and here were imprisoned two monarchs - David, king of Scotland, and John, king of France, the captives of our third Edward. Richard II. found safety in the Tower from, Jack Cade and his rebels, and was imprisoned here when first brought to London by usurping Bolingbroke.

Here his grandson, the saintly Henry VI., expiated his grandsire's crime by his death, - murdered, it is said, by Gloucester.

In a strangely small and dark room in the Bloody Tower the two young princes of York are said to have been murdered.

The room is not generally shown, as the tower is inhabited; but we have seen it, and no spot could have been better adapted for a foul midnight murder. A passage runs between it and the wall of the tower, and the light in it is borrowed from the loophole or window, the side of the room towards the passage being glazed half-way from the top. Through this window tradition says that Tyrrel watched the ruffians execute their deed of blood. The bed is placed sideways to the window.

We cannot resist giving Shakspeare's account of this sad tragedy.


Tyr. The tyrannous and bloody act is done;
The most arch deed of piteous massacre
That ever yet this land was guilty of.
Dighton and Forrest, whom I did suborn
To do this piece of ruthless butchery,
Albeit they were flesh'd villains, bloody dogs,
Melting with tenderness and mild compassion,
Wept like to children in their death's sad story.
"O thus," quoth Dighton, "Lay the gentle babes," -
"Thus, thus," quoth Forrest, "girdling one another
Within their alabaster innocent arms:
Their lips were four red roses on a stalk,
Which in their summer beauty kissed each other.
A book of prayers on their pillow lay;
Which once," quoth Forrest, "almost chang'd my mind;
But 0, the devil" - there the villain stopp'd:
When Dighton thus told on, - we smother'd
The most replenished sweet work of nature,
That, from the prime creation, e'r she fram'd."
Hence both are gone with conscience and remorse
They could not speak and so I left them both,
To bear this tidings to the bloody king:
And here he comes, -


All health, my sov'reign lord.

K. Rich. Kind Tyrrel, am I happy in thy news?

Tyr. If to have done the thing you gave in charge
Beget your happiness, be happy then,
For it is done.

K. Rich. But didst thou see them dead?

Tyr. I did, my lord.

K. Rich. And buried, gentle Tyrrel?

Tyr. The chaplain of the Tower hath buried them;
But where, to say the truth, I do not know

K. Rich. Come to me, Tyrrel soon, at after supper,
When thou shalt tell the process of their death.
Meantime, but think how I may do thee good,
And be inheritor of thy desire.
Farewell, till then.

Grave doubts have at different times existed as to the death of at least one of the princes - York; but upon the whole the evidence is strongly in favour of the tradition. In Charles lI.'s reign a box was found at the bottom of the staircase which leads to the chapel of the White Tower. It contained bones, supposed to be those of the young princes, for Sir Thomas More, who wrote a century and a half before the box was found, says the bodies had been removed from the Bloody Tower by a priest, at the king's request, and buried elsewhere; but both king and priest dying suddenly, the place of their burial remained a secret, and when Henry VII. would have given anything to exhibit them, in order to disprove Warbeck's claims, he could not find them.

Charles II. caused the skeletons of the boy princes to be removed to Henry the Seventh's Chapel, where a Latin inscription upon marble records the discovery, after a lapse of a hundred and ninety-one years, of these remains of Edward V. and the Duke of York, who were confined in the Tower, put to death, and secretly and ignominiously buried by Richard III.

A singular discovery was made in this Tower in 1868.

The Bloody Tower

An opinion had long been entertained that a staircase existed between the Bloody Tower and the Wakefield Tower, and at the period mentioned an investigation of them led to the discovery that in the thickness of the walls connecting the Bloody and Wakefield Towers there is a small passage which leads past the chamber containing the windlass for raising the portcullis, and ascends in a spiral course to the top of the ballium wall; thence it leads into a passage which connected the Bloody Tower with the Lieutenant's lodgings, and communicated immediately with the room in which the princes are traditionally said to have been murdered. At the bottom of the staircase, the stones of which are sharp and clean, was a small cell, with a chimney 'due, which (both cell and flue) were crammed with bones and earth. The bones were at first said to be human, as might be expected; but upon careful examination, they were found to be entirely the bones of animals, principally deer and oxen. It has been conjectured that the staircase may have been closed immediately after the murder; that the bodies were concealed in the flue, so closely adjoining, in order to escape the notice that their removal and burial elsewhere would occasion, and that both flue and stairs were at once closed up by Richard's own orders. The work is carefully executed, the openings being closed with stone so as exactly to match the walls and thus escape observation, as it did so many years "At all events, it is very singular," says Mr. Timbs, "that a convenient staircase, already made, should be closed, thereby necessitating the formation of another on the farther side of the tower to reach the chambers above."

In front of the foot of the stairs is an arched opening, which has all the appearance of a doorway, but it is at a consider. able height from the ground.

The Bloody Tower gateway opposite the Traitor's Gate is the main entrance to the inner ward. It has massive gates and a portcullis, said to be the only one in England now fit for use.

The Traitors Gate

The Traitor's Gate was a small postern with a drawbridge, which was seldom let down but for the passage of some distinguished prisoners.

By this gate the unhappy Anne Boleyn entered the Tower in hysterical agony; and her daughter, the dauntless Elizabeth, stepping boldly from the boat that bore her to prison and possible death, declared her spotless loyalty. She was confined in the Bell Tower with great severity. Mary's counsellors do not seem to have intended to let her live, but the murmurs of the Londoners and the threats of Lord Howard and his fleet compelled the Queen to show some courtesy to the royal prisoner, on whom Mass had been forced and who had not been suffered to take outdoor exercise in the Queen's garden. When at last this privilege was accorded her, she found amusement and consolation in the children who lived in the fortress. A boy of four years old took a great fancy to her, and carried her flowers whenever he could get them. This infant was actually brought up before the council and strictly examined, with promises of figs and apples, if he would tell who had sent him to the Princess. He said, "I will go to the Earl of Devonshire, and ask what he will give me to carry to her." The Chancellor exclaimed, "This same is a crafty child." "Ay, my Lord," said the little boy, who evidently did not under stand the word "crafty," "but pray give me the figs." "No," said the Chancellor. "Marry, you shall be whipped if you come any more to the Lady Elizabeth."

It is pleasant to think of the royal Elizabeth's captivity being cheered by the innocent love of children. When walking in the garden, the little ones gathered round her; and tradition says they found a little key, and offered it to her, hoping that she might escape by means of it, but begging her to return sometimes to see them, for they loved her.

Sir Walter Raleigh was thrice imprisoned in the Tower. For twelve long years in the Bloody Tower, where Prince Henry, the son of James, visited him, and was heard say that no being save his father would keep such a bird in a cage. The great seaman and historian wrote his "History of the World" in the Tower. It is one of the great prison books, among which we may also name "Don Quixote" and the "Pilgrim's Progress."

Raleigh never left the Tower after his third incarceration till he went to the scaffold; given up by the cowardice of James I. to the vengeance of Spain.

The walls of the Beauchamp Tower are rich in inscriptions left by the prisoners kept in it In one of the state prison rooms are cut the letters, -JANE, JANE, supposed to have been done by Lord Guildford Dudley during his imprisonment and separation from his wife, who was at the same time a prisoner.

Amidst all the horrid memories of the Tower there is one amusing story. It dates from the time of the conflict between the Red and White Roses.

Sir Henry Wyat was a Lancastrian, and in the reign of Richard III. found himself a prisoner in the royal fortress. He was in a cold narrow cell, "where," the Wyat Papers say, "he had neither bed to lie on, nor clothes to warm him, nor meat for his mouth. He had starved there had not God, who sent a crow to feed His prophet, sent this and his country's martyr a cat, both to warm and feed him. It was his own relation unto them from whom I had it. A cat came one day down into the dungeon unto him, and, as it were, offered herself unto him. He was glad of her, laid her in his bosom to warm him, and by making much of her won her love. After this she would come every day unto him, divers times, and, when she could get one, bring him a pigeon. He complained to his keeper of the cold and his short fare. The answer was, 'he durst not better it.' 'But,' said Sir Henry, 'if I can provide any food, will you promise to dress it for me?' 'I may, well enough,' said the keeper; 'you are safe for that matter,' and being urged again, promised him, and kept his promise, for he actually dressed for him such pigeons as his caterer the cat provided."

Sir Henry was released and restored to his estates by Henry VII., and had a portrait of himself and of his friend, the cat, painted, with a pigeon in its paws, offering it through the grated window of his dungeon to the captive.

The poets Surrey, Wyat, and Raleigh were preceded in their captivity in the Tower by one of the earliest of the French poets, Charles, Duke of Orleans, taken prisoner at Agincourt, and brought to England by Henry V. He spent twenty five years in captivity; partly in the Tower, partly at Pontefract; but many of his poems were written in the Tower, an admirable view of which adorns one of his MS. The Duke of Orleans was one of the best of the early French poets, and of excellent moral character. He was left for dead on the field of Agincourt; but Henry V. ordered all care to be taken of him, and he was conducted to Calais with the other prisoners. He refused on the road to take any nourishment, and Henry remonstrated with him, saying, " Fair cousin, be of good cheer; it is to the protection of Heaven that my victory alone is due. Heaven was determined to punish the French nation for their bad conduct." And Charles, whose father had been basely murdered in Paris, could scarcely fail to acknowledge the truth of the conqueror's words. Whilst he was a captive his wife died. We will give some of his poems (translated by Miss Costello) which were probably written in the Tower.


My only love, my dearest, best,
Thou, whom to love is all my care
Be not thy heart with woe opprest,
Nor yield thy thoughts in dark despair.
One sole design my thoughts can move-
To meet, and cast our woes to air,
My dearest, best, and only love,
Thou whom to love is all my care!

Alas! if wishes had the power
To waft me on their wings to thee,
The world could give no brighter hour
Nor one desire be left for me,
Wert thou to this fond bosom prest
My only love, my dearest - best.

I stood upon the wild sea shore,
And marked the wide expanse,
My straining eyes were turned once more
To long loved, distant France.

I saw the sea bird hurry by
Along the waters blue;
I saw her wheel amid the sky,
And mock my tearful, eager eye,
That would her flight pursue.

Onwards she darts, secure and free,
And wings her rapid course to thee!
Oh, that her wing were mine to soar
And reach thy lovely land once more!

0 Heaven! it were enough to die,
In my own, my native home-
One hour of blessed liberty
Were worth whole years to come.


No more, no mere my trembling lute
Can wake for love some mournful story,
Alike its altered chords are mute
To gentle lays or themes of glory;
My art is lost, and all forgot
The tender strains, so sweet, so moving;
I ponder but my hapless lot,
And start when others speak of loving.
My soul declines in pensive thought,
A dreary gloom around me lingers,
My lips with idle words are fraught.
And wildly move my wand'ring fingers.
A cloud no sunshine can remove
Hangs its dark shadowy pall above me;
I must not - cannot sing of love,
For none are left on earth to love me.

The writer of these touching lines was at length ransomed for an immense sum by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, and after his release married the Princess Marie of Cleves, Philip's niece. She became the mother of a son, who succeeded to the throne of France as Louis X l., and married Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII.

The Armouries in the Tower are worth careful notice. Here we have defensive and offensive armour and arms from the time of the Crusades. Gambuised armour was made of stitched padded work, the shirt of mail was formed of rings, or of small metal plates, covering each other like the scales of a fish Over the armour surcoats were worn, to prevent the sun heating the metal. Armour was at times so expensive that it was said of Sir Walter Raleigh, who had a suit of silver armour, that "he bore a Spanish galleon on his back."

There are terrible instruments of torture also in the Tower, some of which are said to have been brought over in the Spanish Armada. There are thumbscrews, one of which William III. insisted on trying on himself, but declared, when it was screwed to the uttermost, that he would have agreed to anything rather than bear such agony. There are also yokes, cravats, and a collar of torment. We do not know if a rack still remains. Another kind of torture in the Tower is a cell called "Little Ease." It is so small that the prisoner in it could neither stand, sit, nor lie at full length. He was compelled to draw himself up in a squatting position, and remain thus day and night.

The Crown Jewels are also kept in the Tower. Their attempted robbery by Colonel Blood is one of the mysteries of Charles II.'s disgraceful reign. Our Queen has added to them the famous Koh-i-noor, - a gift to her from her army. It is said to be the finest diamond in the world.

It may interest our readers to glance at a plan of the Tower, which will explain how it was that it contained a palace, and was also a prison and a fortress. A clear notion of its extent may be gathered from the above, which was engraved from a survey made in 1597. Very few changes have taken place since.

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004