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Tower of London

The Tower of London is officially "Her Majesty's Palace and Fortress, The Tower of London," although the last ruler to reside in it as a palace was King James I. The "White Tower," the square building with turrets on each corner that gave it its name, is actually in the middle of a complex of several buildings along the River Thames in London, which have served as fortress, armory, treasury, mint, palace, refuge, and prison, particularly for upper-class prisoners. This last use has led to the phrase "sent to the Tower" meaning "imprisoned." Elizabeth I was imprisoned for a time in the Tower during her sister Mary's reign; the last known use of the Tower as a prison was during World War II, for Rudolf Hess.

In 1078 William the Conqueror ordered the White Tower to be built there, as much to protect the Normans from the people of London as to protect London from anyone else. Earlier forts there, including the Roman one, had primarily wooden buildings, but William ordered his tower to be of stone. It was King Richard the Lionheart who had the moat dug around the surrounding wall and filled with water from the Thames. (It was drained in 1830, and human bones were in the refuse found at its bottom.)

Although lower-class criminals were usually executed by hanging at one of the public execution sites outside the Tower, and several high-profile convicts, such as Thomas More, were publicly executed on Tower Hill[?], nobles (especially ladies) were sometimes beheaded privately on Tower Green, inside the complex, and then buried in the "Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula" (Latin for "in chains," making him an appropriate patron saint for prisoners) next to the Green. Some of the nobles who were executed outside the Tower are also buried in that Chapel. (External link to Chapel webpage (http://www.camelotintl.com/tower_site/tower/chapel))

George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of Edward IV of England, was executed (for treason) in the Tower in February 1478, but not by beheading (and probably not by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, despite what Shakespeare wrote). Edward IV's two sons, the Princes in the Tower, may also have died there after their uncle Richard III became king, but they were not executed for conviction of any crime, and what happened to them is still a mystery.

The military use of the Tower, like that of other such castles, became obsolete with the introduction of artillery, and the British government no longer uses it as a prison, nor does it have much need for medieval arms and armor. The Tower today is a tourist attraction, featuring the British Crown Jewels, as well as the buildings themselves, a fine armor collection, and a remnant of the wall of the Roman fortress that Claudius built there to protect the city of Londinium. In deference to an ancient legend, a number of ravens are fed at the Tower at government expense; so long as the ravens remain at the Tower, England is safe from invasion.

Nearest rail and tube stations:


Tower of London is also the title of a 1939 film, starring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff, about King Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.



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