William the Conqueror, in the first years of his reign built an enormous stone tower as the heart of the fortress of London. This was also the power base that England’s monarchy used to rule from. Each successive monarch built on it, making it even more impressive. Visit our website and learn more about Tower of London.
William, Duke of Normandy conquered the English and King Harold in the Battle of Hastings. He did not go directly to London, but instead he ravaged the countryside around it. The advance guard was sent to London in order to build a fortress to be ready for the triumphal entrance into London.
In the City, several fortresses were built to defend against a fierce populace. William was believed to be a stronghold in the Londinium Roman walls at the southeast corner, where today’s Tower of London stands. In place of these early defences, a huge stone tower was built (the White Tower), which displayed the strength and power of the Norman monarch.
Henry VIII (from 1509 to 1947) carried on with the construction of royal homes begun by previous monarchs. However, he did so on a much larger scale. His second wife Anne Boleyn was to enjoy a range of luxurious timber-framed accommodations in time for her coronation. But they were never used.
Henry VIII’s break from Rome increased the Tower’s religious and political prisoner population in the 1530s. The country also had to get used to Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Protestant Church of England. Among the prisoner were Sir Thomas More of Rochester, Bishop Fisher and two wives of Henry VIII. All four of them were executed.
Mary, Henry’s 1553-2008 daughter, brought the country back to Catholicism. Her short reign also saw key Protestants imprisoned in the Tower, as well as many of her rivals.
Over the course of centuries, the tower started to deteriorate. The Duke of Wellington was the Constable of Towers from 1826-1852. He led the charge to restore this tower. In 1845 the place had been cleaned, while the increasingly stinky, sluggish moat was drained. On the same site as the Grand Storehouse, which was destroyed in a fire back in 1841, construction began for a massive new barracks that could accommodate 1,000 men. Waterloo barracks was named by the Duke on 14th June 1845.
In time, the Tower’s defensive function diminished. It was only in 1840s London that the Tower played its role in asserting state power over Londoners in response to Chartist rallies for electoral reform. A brick-and-stone bastion, which was finally destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War, and more defences were built, but no attack from Chartists ever materialised.
The Tower lost many historic institutions at the start of this new century. First to leave the castle was the Royal Mint in 1812. The Menagerie followed in the 1830s and formed today’s London Zoo. In 1855 the Office of Ordnance left, and in 1858 finally moved to a new location was The Record Office.
In part, the Tower’s appearance today is due to 19th-century interest in England’s turbulent history. Anthony Salvin, an important Gothic Revival architect, was hired in 1850s to give the fortress a more’medieval-style’ look that would appeal to Victorians’ imagination and eyes. Salvin began by transforming the Beauchamp Tower so that it could be used for the display of prisoner graffiti. The exterior walls were refaced and new windows, doors and battlements installed.