8 things you need to know about the Tower of London

The White Tower, Tower of London, looking south-east (2019) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

1. The White Tower: 1000 years of history

William the Conqueror started building the White Tower shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The mighty Norman castle was a symbol of royal power not seen before in England. It was intended to both protect and intimidate the City of London.

It’s hard to imagine in the hustle and bustle of modern London, but the White Tower would have soared over medieval London, challenged only in height by Old St Paul's Cathedral. 

2. Uses of the Tower

The Tower of London has been many things throughout its long history. It was designed to be an important royal fortress, palace, and prison. It has also been home to the Royal Armouries, The Crown Jewels, and even the Royal Menagerie. 

The Tower of London has welcomed visitors since at least the 1500s. Millions of visitors come to marvel at the Tower's sights and learn about its history. Since 1988 the Tower has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

Portrait of Henry VIII of England (Around 1537) by Hans Holbein, the YoungerMuseo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

3. Famous inhabitants of the Tower

Some of the most famous people in British history have lived or stayed at the Tower. These have included monarchs Edward I, Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Queen Elizabeth I. Other famous inhabitants included poet Geoffrey Chaucer, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the Duke of Wellington. 

Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London (2017) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

The Tower has also been home to centuries of people who have run the day-to-day business of the Tower. These have included the Constables, Governors, and of course quite a few ravens! The Tower has also been home to Yeoman Warders and their families for more than 500 years. 

Onthoofding van Anna Boleyn, 1536 (1699) by Luyken, JanRijksmuseum

4. Famous prisoners of the Tower

Many famous prisoners were imprisoned at the Tower of London. These have included Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, and the Kray twins. No prisoner was more famous than Queen Anne Boleyn who was executed at the Tower in 1536. 

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

The Tower has a grisly history as a place of interrogation and even torture. Subjects of this treatment included victims of religious persecution as well as enemies of the crown. The famous Gunpowder plotters of 1605 were interrogated in the Council Chamber of the King's House. 

The Byward Tower mural, Tower of London (2015) by James BrittainHistoric Royal Palaces

5. Hidden treasures

Sadly, there are parts of the Tower which can't easily be shared with all our visitors. These include secret cells where some of our most famous prisoners were kept, amazing archaeology, and wonderous works of art. One of the most breath-taking is the mesmerising Byward Angel

A True and Exact Draught of the Tower Liberties (16th Century) by John Gascoyne and William HaiwardHistoric Royal Palaces

6. How many Towers?

Although the White Tower is the best known and most iconic, the Tower of London has 23 named towers, and that's not to mention all the smaller turrets. The many buildings at the Tower have facilitated stores, a royal mint, and even an observatory. 

The Flamsteed Tower (1914) by H.M. Office of WorksHistoric Royal Palaces

The architecture of the Tower of London is a fascinating combination of Roman, Medieval, Tudor, Victorian, and modern buildings. In particular the Tower was subject to a significant neo-gothic overhaul in the 1800s. You can learn more from our architectural drawings collection. 

The Princes in the Tower (c1831-99) by Unknown artist after an original painting by Hippolyte-Paul DelarocheHistoric Royal Palaces

7. Representations of the Tower in art

There aren't many buildings in London that have been painted, drawn, and written about as much as the Tower of London. As the backdrop to some of the most famous events in British history it is not surprising so many artists have been inspired by its grandeur, history and myths.

Yeoman Warder tour, Tower of London (2022) by Richard Lea-HairHistoric Royal Palaces

8. Ready to welcome you!

The Tower of London and its people can’t wait to welcome you. Teams of Yeoman Warders, Wardens and a host of heritage professionals are ready to make your visit special. Come and marvel at the Crown Jewels, see the ravens, and journey through 1000 years of history and stories.

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Come and discover more about the Tower of London's rich history. Visit the Historic Royal Palaces website.

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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