The Tower of London was originally built by William the Conqueror, following his successful invasion of England in 1066.
The Tower of London is perhaps better known as a prison. The prisoners would be brought, via the river, from Westminster where they would have been tried and crowds would wait on the river bank to find out the verdict to see if they would be treated to the spectacle of a public execution. The executioner, with his long sharp axe would stand behind the accused on the boat. If the accused was guilty he would point his axe towards the victim and if not guilty he would point it away. People knew that if found guilty there would be a public execution 48 hours later.
The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheard, Henry III and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The responsibility for looking after the prisoners was given to the Yeoman Wardens or Beefeaters. The Yeomen Warders originate from twelve Yeoman of the Guards, who were once private bodyguards of Henry VIII.
The Bloody Tower, to which it is often referred, has been host to many famous executions and imprisonments, including those of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey and Sir Walter Raleigh. Many were also locked in the Tower, for religious beliefs or suspected treason. Famous prisoners have included Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh and Elizabeth I.
Many Tudor’s prisoners entered the Tower of London through the Traitors‘ Gate. The gate was built by Edward I to provide a water gate entrance to the Tower, part of St. Thomas’s Tower, which was designed to provide additional accommodation for the royal family.
In addition to being a palace and a fortress, the Tower of London has also served as the first Royal Armoury, Royal Mint, Royal Observatory and a Royal Zoo. Animals lived at the Tower for over 600 years. Exotic animals were given as royal gifts and animals were kept at the Royal Menagerie for the entertainment and curiosity of the court.
The first royal beasts to arrive at the Tower – the lions, polar bear and elephant – came from Europe and North Africa. In later years, the variety of animals at the Tower increased. Everything from elephants to tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie.
The Tower also hosts the legends of the Ravens. Ravens have lived at the Tower of London for hundreds of years. Legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London the White Tower will crumble and a great disaster shall befall England!
Today the Tower of London houses the Crown Jewels and is open to the public as a museum.
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