I have been wanting to visit the Tower of London for many years now and I finally did it. There are so many stories about this place, so much History. I wasn’t even aware of half of them, always associating the Tower as a place of imprisonment, executions and torture. So imagine my surprise when I saw the place so tastefully decorated for Christmas, a strange joy smirking around, heavily contrasting against the medieval towers and walls.
One of the reasons it took me so long to visit the Tower of London is its steep ticket price. An adult will pay £29.90 for a ticket and therefore I was delaying it – London has lots of amazing places and museums you can visit for free, but anything considered part of the Royal Palaces will have to be paid – and well paid. Still, after visiting, I feel it’s definitely worth it. I spent around three hours visiting the Tower of London, and that included a 45 minutes tour (more below). If it wasn’t Winter and the weather was agreeable, you could even bring your own lunch and enjoy eating outside. Since I visited it in December…. it was cold. But I was lucky that despite the heavy clouds threatening rain, I was absolutely dry the whole time I spent there.
This place has seen so much throughout the centuries and so many interesting people and stories happened here. I’m highlighting below what I think it’s more interesting to know and do when visiting the Tower of London.
The Menagerie, a place for the Royal Beasts
The Tower of London was once a zoo for exotic wild animals from the 1200s to 1835. This “zoo” included lions, monkeys, a polar bear and even an elephant. These poor creatures were gifted from other noble families around the world – a bit irresponsible, isn’t it? Some animals didn’t survive for long, with the elephant dying after 2 years of being inside a cramped space. Lots of unfortunate events happened, with lions ending up killing or gravely injuring visitors, soldiers and “zookeepers”, and there are reports of animals actually running off to the city, causing chaos and dread to anyone living nearby. It was in 1835 that the Menagerie was closed, and most animals were sent to Regent’s Park, where the Zoo of London is now located.
Now there are multiple wired sculptures of animals across the whole compound, to inform the visitors on their previous whereabouts.
Where the young princess Elizabeth was an inmate
Most inmates of the Tower of London were of high rank, accused of treason, plotting against the Queen/King of the moment – basically political and religious prisoners. The young princess Elizabeth, to be Queen Elizabeth I, was imprisoned here for a short period of time, only to come back later for her coronation. She reigned for the period known as the Golden Era.
Three Queens Executed in the Tower of London
The most famous one perhaps was Anne Boleyn, second wife to Henry VIII. This union caused so much commotion in the Kingdom, just to end in tragedy. Anne Boleyn failed to give a son the king and was soon accused of adultery, incest and treason. Her head was chopped off at the place marked today at the Tower of London. Anne was terrified of axes, and the king granted her small mercy of being beheaded with a sword instead.
Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, suffered the same destiny as Anne. This poor woman was charged with leading an immoral, vicious life. Very ironically the King liked his wives to be examples of morality and virtue when he was known to be the exact opposite with no consequences…patriarchy has been around for way too long. So, off with her head.
Finally, Lady Jane Grey, only 16 years old, Queen for only 9 days, was the last Queen to fall victim to the axe in the Tower of London. She was part of an unsuccessful bid to prevent the catholic Mary Tudor to become queen. Jane had inherited the crown from her cousin Edward VI.
Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot
If you’re not from England or have never lived here, you probably won’t know that the 5th of November is a day celebrated with displays of fireworks across the country. Basically and ironically, what the country is celebrating on this day – known as Guy Fawkes Day – is the end of an attempt to blow up the Parliament and assassinate James I of England in the process in 1605. Fawkes was caught in the act, imprisoned and tortured at the Tower of London. He was brutally tortured and resisted for several days without denouncing the name of his fellow conspirators. However, broken from such awful tortures, he ended up naming them – it is suspected he was tortured in the rack, a device designed to inflict excruciating pain as a prisoner’s limbs were pulled in opposing directions until the joints were dislocated or separated. Can you blame him?
The place where the Crown Jewels are stored
On your visit to the Tower of London, you will be able to see the famous and priceless Crown Jewels, worn by multiple queens and kings of England to this day.
The Legend of the Tower Ravens
“If the ravens leave the tower, the Kingdom will fall…” said the prophecy. Personally, I love ravens, finding them fascinating. Incredibly intelligent birds, but also beautiful, with their deep black feathers and eyes. There are currently nine ravens inhabiting the grounds of the Tower of London and there is a reason. Charles II was the king insisting that the ravens needed to stay at the tower and be protected, or the crown and the tower itself would fall – these orders were given to contradict one of the inhabitants of the tower at that moment, the royal astronomer John Flamsteed, that complained the noise of the ravens distracted him from his work. You can get really close to the ravens, but I would say this is probably not advisable. I risked it… a lot. For a photo.
Go on a tour with a Beefeater
You won’t pay anything extra for a 45 minutes tour with the famous Yeoman Warders, also known as ‘Beefeaters’ and get a fantastic overview of the story of this place (how do you think I know the above?). They are members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London.
Yeoman Warders must have served in the armed forces for at least 22 years, reaching the rank of warrant officer, and they must also have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal. So, not just some random tour guides hired for the job!
Enjoy the views of Tower Bridge
After visiting all there is to see, look out beyond the walls for a few moments of appreciation of the Tower Bridge, a easily recognisable symbol of London.