Virtual Tour: The Council Chamber in the King's House

At the Tower of London

By Historic Royal Palaces

Alden Gregory, Curator

The King's House, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The King’s House

This beautiful timber-framed house contains one of the Tower of London’s most important rooms, the Council Chamber. Today it is a private house, but this virtual tour will give you a rare glimpse inside.

A home for the Lieutenant

The house was built in c.1539-40 as the home for the Lieutenant of the Tower. Today it is known as the King’s House, but in the past it was called the Lieutenant’s Lodgings.

View from the Council Chamber, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

A working house

Over the years it has been home to many different Lieutenants. The Lieutenant of the Tower was one of the fortress’s chief officers and it was from here that he oversaw the daily operations of the Tower.

View from the Council Chamber, Tower of London (2024) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

A commanding view

The house is located in the corner of the Tower with views of the river Thames and of Tower Green. From here the Lieutenant was able to monitor all the activities of the Tower and ensure that nothing escaped his attention.

The Council Chamber

This is the Council Chamber, the most important room in the King’s House. It was in this room that the Lieutenant interrogated prisoners held in the Tower. Take a look around using the arrow and click-and-drag functions on your device.

The Council Chamber, Tower of London (2016) by Robin Forster PhotographyHistoric Royal Palaces

A great hall

When the house was first built this room looked quite different. The floor didn’t exist and the room was a large double height space open to the magnificent timber roof. This was the Lieutenant’s hall where he and his family ate dinner and where he conducted business.

LIFE Photo Collection

The Gunpowder Plot

It was in the Lieutenant’s hall in 1605 that the Gunpowder Plot conspirators were interrogated. Here the notorious plotter Guy Fawkes confessed to his part in the scheme to assassinated King James I by blowing up parliament with gunpowder.

His Euro (Bri) 1603-1625. James I Gunpowder Plot. 3 Scenes 18-19LIFE Photo Collection

Lieutenant William Waad

Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators were interrogated by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir William Waad. Waad had a fearsome reputation for pursuing Catholic rebels and oversaw the torture of prisoners at the Tower, including Guy Fawkes.

The Council Chamber, Tower of London (2016) by Robin Forster PhotographyHistoric Royal Palaces

Adapting the house

It was Waad who created the Council Chamber that we see today. In 1607 he ordered builders to install the floor which split the hall in two. In the space downstairs he created a new dining room so that the Council Chamber upstairs could be reserved as a place for interrogations.

A court room

This was a sort of court room in which the Lieutenant and members of the Privy Council, a group of the monarch’s closest advisers, could question prisoners of the Tower and try to extract their confessions.

Monument commemorating the failure of the Gunpowder Plot Monument commemorating the failure of the Gunpowder PlotHistoric Royal Palaces

A unique memorial

To furnish the Council Chamber, Sir William Waad commissioned this extraordinary memorial. The Latin text on it commemorates the failure of the Gunpowder Plot and the triumph of the State over the conspiracy.

A grisly reminder

The monument was probably intended to remind prisoners being interrogated in the Council Chamber of the grisly execution of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpower Plot conspirators. It warned prisoners that if they didn’t cooperate they might be hanged, drawn and quartered too.

Carved stone portrait bust of James VI and I (c1608) by Attributed to Maximilian Colt (fl 1595-1645)Historic Royal Palaces

King James I

Alongside the Gunpowder Plot memorial is this fine stone bust of King James I. This was probably also commissioned by Sir William Waad and may have been made by a Flemish carver called Maximilian Colt, who also carved royal tombs for Westminster Abbey.

The power of the State

This life-like bust is an intimidating presence in the room and looked the prisoner in the eye as they entered! It was probably intended to remind them of the legitimate legal power of the State.

A fearful interior

Descriptions of the room made in the 1800s suggest that it may once have been decorated with terrifying wall paintings.

“The walls of this ominous chamber are painted over with  representations of men inflicting and suffering torture in various shapes”. [Book name], 1850

The wall paintings no longer survive so we can only guess what they looked like and when they were painted. Perhaps they were also commissioned by Sir William Waad in 1608 and were also intended to scare prisoners into confessions.

A peaceful room with a hidden history

Today the Council Chamber is a peaceful space used by the Constable of the Tower and his family, who live in the house, to host receptions. But the monument and the bust serve to remind that this room has had a grim past.

Learn more about the King's House in Alden's 'A Space I Love' podcast.

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