Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Tower - An Epic History of the Tower of London by Nigel Jones, part I

The Content Reader
A while ago, when in London, I visited The Tower for the first time. All of you who have been there know that it is a very nice experience to visit today. This was not always the case. Somehow the Tower of London has been the synonym for a prison with torture, often leading to execution in the end. A place of horror! As this excellent book, that I found in the museum shop, tells us, The Tower is much more than that. If you want to know more about the place, this is the book.


Reading the history of The Tower is like reading the history of the kings and queens of England. This was their turf and many, if not all, have put their marks on the grey stones that, still today, give an impression of power and glory, mixed with the darker sides of power.

In the beginning it was William the Conqueror who began building the White Tower, which to start with was just a timber fortification. Not much is known about it, but its name comes from the whitish stones by which it was built. It was the first building inside the fortress, and also gives the whole area its name. Traditionally, construction started in 1078 with a much smaller building than we see today. It has been extended during the years.  Its purpose was to provide a power base and show people who was in power. Henry VIII followed the customs to refurbish the Tower to mark a new reign. He added four decorative ’caps’ on the round corners of the White Tower. Still today it is an impressive and beautiful building.

The Content Reader
The White Tower
The earlier kings and queens used it more as a home than a prison. It was only from the times of Henry VIII that the Tower of London got its bad reputation, and from that time, was used more as a prison than a home. I think that due to the treatment of his wives and people in general, this bad reputation makes us connect the Tower with him, more than any other king.
”Charles Dickens succinctly summed up Henry as ’a blot of blood and grease on the pages of English history’ and this seems a fair judgement. Henry had more English people executed than any other monarch. His victims ranged from priests, monks, friars and ordinary folk who resisted his war on the Church to Protestant heretics; from the highest in the land - men as different as More and Cromwell to his own nearest and once dearest - his second and fifth wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. The Tower was often choking with crowds of those imprisoned at the king’s whim, and it is from Henry’s reign that it first acquired the sinister reputation of jail, torture chamber and scaffold that stickily clings to its walls to this day.”
This king with his six wives is still fascinating us today. At least if we look at all the historical non-fiction and fiction written about him, his wives and his days. Nigel Jones’ continues in the style of Dickens an refer to the king’s deathbed:
”…When Cranmer asked him if he died in grace, he pressed his hand. So passed England’s Stalin, a murderous monster who had raised his kingdom to great power status in Europe, but at the cost of despoiling its cultural heritage in the religious houses, and the needless sacrifice of a river of innocent blood.”
After Henry VIII’s daughter, Elizabeth I, ”no monarch would ever reside there of treat the Tower as home again”.

The famous Traitor's Gate. It got its name during
the reign of Henry VIII
This will be a rather long post, so I have decided to divide it into several posts. Keep tuned in for more about this fascinating place. And please share any memories or memes you have about it.

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