Explore the Byward Angel at the Tower of London

A rare royal medieval wall painting

Surviving part of The Crucifixion, known as 'The Byward Angel' (c1393-4)Historic Royal Palaces

The Byward Angel is part of an incredibly well-preserved and rare example of a royal 14th century wall painting in the Byward Tower at the Tower of London.

Medieval building accounts suggest that part of the Byward Tower was once occupied by the King’s Exchange – part of the Royal Mint. High value metal objects and coins were handled there. 

The painting was created when England was a Roman Catholic country and English people were familiar with the iconography of the saints.

The elegant style of the painting, called 'International Gothic' by art historians, suggests that it was painted towards the end of Richard II's reign. Richard was deposed in 1399.

The Byward Tower, west elevation and part of the south moat by Nick GuttridgeHistoric Royal Palaces

The Byward Tower was built between 1275 and 1281, and is a strong gate-tower protecting the main entrance to the Tower of London. 

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

In this copy of a lost Elizabethan survey of the fortress, we can see that the Byward Tower was previously named 'The Tower at the Gate'.

It became known as the Byward Tower because it is the inner gate in a series of defences, and the entrance to the Tower's Outer Ward. 'By' means secondary, and 'ward' is an old word for a guarded entrance or the area between a castle's encircling walls.  

Chief Yeoman Warder Peter McGowran at The Tower of London Ceremony of the Keys rehearsal. McGowran was Chief Yeoman Warder from 2018 to 2023. (2022) by David JensenHistoric Royal Palaces

Millions of visitors a year now pass underneath the room in the Byward Tower where the mural was painted.

At the end of each day, the gates of the Byward Tower are locked by the Yeoman Warders in the Ceremony of the Keys.

Surviving part of The Crucifixion, known as 'The Byward Angel' (c1393-4)Historic Royal Palaces

On the left is Saint John the Baptist, who is pointing at the tiny Lamb, the 'Agnus Dei' that he is holding, and also to a lost 'Crucifixion', once in the centre of the wall painting. 

This and the Lamb represented Christ's sacrifice for mankind's salvation. St John was a patron saint of Richard II and had special significance for the King.

St Michael the Archangel is particularly beautiful. He holds a giant set of golden scales and weighs the souls of the dead.

Christians believe that Saint Michael’s action takes place at the End of Time, when all souls are weighed in the balance at the Last Judgement to determine who goes to heaven or hell.

Saint Michael acted as a warning to the employees in the Royal Mint to behave well in life, so that at the Last Judgement they would be rewarded with a quick passage to heaven and avoid a long stay in Purgatory.

The green and gold background and ceiling beam are painted to look like fabulous cloth-of-gold silk textiles, something which only the richest patrons could afford in reality.

Painted ceiling beam on the first floor of the Byward Tower in the Tower of London (c 1393-4)Historic Royal Palaces

The gold pattern is formed from collared parakeets, with alternating fleurs-de-lis or Plantagenet lions at their centre.

Surviving part of The Crucifixion, known as 'The Byward Angel' (c1393-4)Historic Royal Palaces

The paint is made of linseed oil ground up with pigments such as lead white, yellow ochre, verdigris green, azurite blue and vermilion red.

The saints' haloes, and the background pattern were all gilt. Much of the gold leaf has now gone.

In the centre, the Virgin Mary, and Saint John the Evangelist flank the lost depiction of the Christ on the Cross – forming a 'Crucifixion' scene.

The Crucifixion scene was destroyed when the chimney breast was built in the 16th century. A wall painting with a Tudor rose, half of which still survives, decorated the chimney breast.

The Byward Tower Mural (14th Century)Historic Royal Palaces

The wall painting was concealed for many centuries and was re-discovered by art restorers in 1953, who carefully uncovered it from beneath layers of lime-wash.

Surviving part of The Crucifixion, known as 'The Byward Angel' (c1393-4)Historic Royal Palaces

This important painting is very fragile and conservators work hard to preserve its condition. To protect it the room that houses it is closed to the public. 

Watch the following video clip to see some of our conservation work in action.

Surviving part of The Crucifixion, known as 'The Byward Angel' (c1393-4)Historic Royal Palaces

Now it's your turn

Take some time to zoom in and explore this rare royal medieval wall painting in more detail.

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Find out more about Historic Royal Palaces.

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