It was a cloudy day in London, but we decided to visit the Tower of London since we had never visited. When William the Conquerer invaded England he built a fortress in the middle of London. It is not clear exactly when work started on the Conqueror’s White Tower or precisely when it was finished but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s. By 1100 the White Tower was complete. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before. The building was immense, at 36m x 32.5m (118 x 106ft) across, and on the south side where the ground is lowest, 27.5m (90ft) tall; the Tower dominated the skyline for miles around. A series of separate building campaigns ensured that by about 1350, the Tower was transformed into the formidable fortress we see today. These building works started in the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189-99), John (1199-1216) who often stayed at the Tower and was probably the first king to keep lions and other exotic animals there. John’s son Henry III (1216-72) and his son King Edward I (1272-1307) added a massive curtain wall on the north, east and western sides, reinforced by nine new towers and surrounded by a moat flooded by the Flemish engineer John Le Fossur (the ditch-digger) to which was added a second wall by King Edward I. The tradition of whitewashing the White Tower (from which it derives its name) began in 1240.
The results can be seen in the picture above, a virtually impregnable “concentric castle” designed to provide “defense in depth”. A concentric castle is a castle with two or more concentric curtain walls, such that the inner wall is higher than the outer and can be defended from it. The word concentric does not imply that these castles were circular; in fact if taken too literally the term “concentric” is quite misleading. The inner layers of defense can support the outer layers with missile fire and an attacker must breach each line of defense in turn with the prospect of significant losses, whereas the defenders have the option of falling back to fight again. While a concentric castle has double walls and towers on all sides, the defenses need not be uniform in all directions. There can still be a concentration of defenses at a vulnerable point. The entire castle is surrounded by the widest moat I have ever seen, flooded by the Thames. Concentric castles were expensive to build, so that only the powerful military orders, the Hospitallers and Templars, or kings such as Edward I, could afford to build and maintain them. Edward I brought back castle building skills from the crusades and introduced the widespread use of arrowslits in castle walls across Europe, drawing on Eastern influences. Also a product of the Crusades was the introduction of the concentric castle, and four of the eight castles Edward founded in Wales followed this design.
Edward I added more than just an outer wall, he created a complex series of guard towers to enter the castle. The Lion Tower, reached from Tower Hill via a causeway across the moat which surrounded it, formed the first major feature of the route into the castle and the first serious obstacle to an attacker. It took the form not of a true tower, but of a vast semi-circular enclosure, surrounded by a battlemented curtain wall. This arrangement provided the widest possible field of fire over Tower Hill and to the west, and would give archers an opportunity to scatter all but the most determined assault at the first attempt. Built largely of Caen stone from Normandy (France), it is the earliest known masonry example of this type of building in England. Beyond the enclosure, linked to it by a drawbridge, was the twin-towered Middle Tower gatehouse (Middle Tower, 1280), behind which is a long causeway across the main moat to the Byward Tower gatehouse and the castle proper.
The Lion tower was so named because it was where they kept the lions. The Royal Menagerie year of origin is often stated as 1235, when Henry III received a wedding gift of three leopards (so recorded, although they may have been lions) from Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor. In 1264, they were moved to the Bulwark, which was duly renamed the Lion Tower, near the main western entrance. It was opened as an occasional public spectacle in the reign of Elizabeth I. The last of the animals left in 1835, and most of the Lion Tower was demolished soon after, although Lion Gate remains. Over the following centuries, largely due to its curious use, the medieval Lion Tower gradually disappeared under an accumulation of later buildings and its moat was gradually filled in. In 1853 the buildings were finally demolished and, a little later, the building which is now the West Gate Shop was put up on part of its site. Today, however, part of the medieval stonework has been re-exposed and its outline marked out in the paving. Although they put up a wall between the lions and the entrance, visiting the castle must have made quite an impression.
Once you made it past the Lions gate, you pass through the Byward Gate, constructed in 1280, to the space between the two walls. As you can see, the inner gate was also heavily defended. If you were an invader, this would be a formidable defense.
Just inside the inner wall you can see the white tower and this ancient wall. The wall was built between 1221 and 1238 by Henry III to replace earlier defenses by William the Conqueror. The slope at the base of the wall forms part of a defensive ditch dating from the 11th century.
Over the 18th and 19th centuries, the palatial buildings were slowly adapted for other uses and demolished. Only the Wakefield and St Thomas' Towers survive. The 18th century marked an increasing interest in England's medieval past. One of the effects was the emergence of Gothic Revival architecture. In the Tower's architecture, this was manifest when the New Horse Armoury was built in 1825 against the south face of the White Tower. It featured elements of Gothic Revival architecture such as battlements. Other buildings were remodelled to match the style and the Waterloo Barracks were described as “castellated Gothic of the 15th century”.
The tradition of housing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London probably dates from the reign of Henry III. The Jewel House was built specifically to house the royal regalia, including jewels, plate, and symbols of royalty such as the crown, sceptre, and sword. In 1649, during the English Civil War, the contents of the Jewel House were disposed of along with other royal properties. Metal items were sent to the Mint to be melted down and re-used, and the crowns were “totallie broken and defaced”. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the only surviving items of the coronation regalia were a 12th-century spoon and three ceremonial swords. The rest of the Crown Jewels had to be recreated. In 1669, the Jewel House was demolished and the Crown Jewels moved into Martin Tower where they could be viewed by the paying public. The Crown Jewels are currently stored in the Waterloo Barracks at the Tower. We did not want to wait in the rain, we did not visit the Crown Jewels.
I will cover the White Tower in a separate post to keep this a little shorter. If you find yourself in London, be sure to visit the tower, there is a lot of history in this relatively small area.
Tower of London: http://www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/