Sunday, 17 July 2016

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

Many important, high ranked and famous people spent time in the Tower, either to be released later on or go directly to the executioner. Many of them wrote poems to describe their peril. Here is one very touching from a Chideock Tichborne, a young gentleman writing to his wife.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,

My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,

My crop of corn is but a field of tares
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 

My tale is hear and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fall’n and yet my leaves are green
My youth is spent and yet I am not old, 
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

A romanticised painting of the Princes 

I would like share with you the destinly of three of the most famous prisoners that spend time in the Tower. In the end they all met death. Maybe the most famous and  tragic prisoners were the Princes in the Tower. 

The young sons of Edward IV, Edward the Crown Prince and supposed to be the future Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York, were confined in the Garden (now the Bloody) Tower - ”the small, rectangular gatehouse on the western edge of the palace which, as its name suggests, had its own garden where the boys could play." Their uncle Richard (III) had already started a campaign to deem them illegal, in order to grab the crown himself.
”The dethroned King Edward knew very well what fate lay in store at the hands of his implacable uncle. Told that he was no longer king, and that Richard had taken his throne, More tells us that Edward ’was sore abashed, began to sigh, and said, ”Alas, I would my uncle would le me have my life yet, though I lose my Kingdom.”’ Though the young Duke of York was apparently a bright, healthy and spirited boy, his elder brother was in a pitiful state of physical prostration as well as mental agony. An examination of his presumed skull in the 103+s showed advanced tooth decay which had spred to both jawbones, had become the bone disease osteomyelitis, and must have caused the prince sever pain to add to his mental woes.”
In the mid 1660s the Tower had fallen into a dangerous decay and the remaining ruins were torn down. In a turret on the south wall of the White Tower, workmen found a wooden chest containing two skeletons. The bones were of children. ”The taller skeleton, lying on its back was four foot ten inches tall; the smaller, lying face down on top, was four foot six and a half inches. Those who found them had no doubt that they were looking at the remains of the missing princes.”

The Content Reader
The Bloody Tower to the right

In 1678 the bones were taken to Westminster Abbey and interred in a tomb designed by Sir Christopher Wren. In 1933 the abbey authorities agreed to exhume the bones and was hoping that modern forensic could determine the secret of the bones. The two experts found many facts about the bones which could be applied to what is known about the princes. The mystery of the murders of the Princes in the Tower is still debated today. Nigel Jones seems to be sure that it was at the hands of Richard III (although he did not do it personally), but other theories put forward other names. I guess we are never to know for sure. But the whole business is a sad one.

The other famous prisoner of the Tower is Sir Walter Raleigh.
”Ralegh epitomises in one extraordinary life, the great explosion of adventurous achievement that was Elizabethan England. Soldier, sailor, scientist, statesman, courtier, explorer, poet, plotter, philosopher, historian - Ralegh was all these and more. His second, lengthy imprisonment in the Tower was the major milestone in his life - producing children, herbal remedies, and his ’History of the World,’ a landmark in English literature. But who was this superman? And why did he outrage not one but two monarchs, to the point where the Tower was thought to be the only place fit to hold his fiery spirit?”
He was arrested in 1603 on charges of treason and involvement in the Main Plot against Elizabeth’s successor, James I. Raleigh lived in the Bloody Tower and had two rooms there. His wife Bess stayed with him from time to time. He was released in 1616 and went on an ill-fated journey to Guiana to search for El Dorado. His oldest son died during the fighting.

Sir Walter Ralegh's room in the Tower. Here he
wrote his famous History
”Failure was complete and unmitigated, and now disgrace and death stared Ralegh in the face. Paralysed by the catastrophe, the indomitable spirit which had survived the Tower was utterly broken. he knew that in England he would face the wrath of the king, the scorn of his enemies - and the block. With a heavy heart, he steeled himself to break the news of their bereavement to Bess. 
I was loath to write because I know not how to comforte you. And God knows I never knewe what sorrow meant till noew…Comfort your hart (dear Bess) I shall sorrow for us both; and I shall sorrowe the lesse because I have not long to sorrowe, because not long to live…My braynes are broken, and it is a torment for me to write, and espetially of Miserie…The Lord bless you, and comfort you, that you may beare patientlie the death of your valiant Sonne.”
This is what many prisoners saw at the end of their lives

He was arrested on his return and only left the Tower to be beheaded in 1618. His rooms in the Bloody Tower are reconstructed today and you can have a look at how it might have been. If you want to read more about this man and Bess, maybe my review on Bess - The Life of Lady Ralegh, Wife to Sir Walter by Anna Beer, will inspire you. Maybe it is just how it should be that an extraordinary man is entitled to an extraordinary wife.


  1. I love this history! Thanks for sharing this, I love reading about The Tower and the history. Have you read The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey?

    1. Thank you, yes it is really interesting. And, yes, I have read The Daughter of Time. That made me interested in Richard III, and it lead to reading several books about him (see my reviews) and even visiting Leicester to see his tomb. It was absolutely fantastic!