Tower of London

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Tower of London (White Tower). Built by William the Conqueror within the south-east corner of the old Roman walls of London as one of three fortresses intended to secure the city. As London became increasingly important as the centre both of government and of commerce, the castle was enlarged and updated by successive kings, especially by Edward I and Edward III, until it became a complex concentric fortification. But no royal castle in the Middle Ages was used solely for defence and the Tower became the site of a multitude of offices and departments. Its multifarious role was summed up by John Stow in his Survey of London in 1598: ‘This Tower is a citadel to defend or command the city [of London]; a royal palace for assemblies or treaties; a prison of state for the most dangerous offenders; the only place of coinage for all England at this time; the armoury for warlike provision; the treasury of the ornaments and jewels of the crown; and general conserver of the most records of the courts of justice at Westminster.’

Even in the later Middle Ages the kings had preferred to reside when in London at their palace at Westminster. Traditionally, however, the new sovereign spent the night in the Tower before his coronation, going in procession to Westminster for the ceremony. The last king to make this procession was Charles II. The Tower has gradually been stripped of most of its other functions. It is still a royal castle, houses the crown jewels, and retains a small military presence but its other offices were relocated in the 19th cent.; the royal mint was moved to new premises on Tower Hill in 1811–12; and in the 1850s the documents held in the Tower were moved to the newly built Public Record Office in Chancery Lane. The historic collection of weapons in the armouries is all that remains of the arsenal, moved to Woolwich after 1841, and to Leeds in 1995.

The importance of the Tower as a prison and military strong point remained. Each political crisis caused the Tower to be placed in readiness and saw it housing a crop of political prisoners. Even the duke of Wellington, constable of the Tower 1836–52, fearing that the country was close to popular revolution and that the Tower would be a target, had its defences repaired and strengthened and new barracks built with accommodation for a garrison of nearly 1,000 men. He also argued that the Tower was ‘the best if not the only good place of security’ for state prisoners, although few were held there. During the two world wars some German spies were executed by firing squad in the Tower and prisoners were again housed there, the last being Rudolf Hess, after his flight to Britain in 1941.

Lynda Rollason

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Tower of London

Ancient British fortress on the east side of the city of London, England, scene of many executions, once used for imprisonment of high-ranking traitors. With its grim history, it is not surprising that various ghosts are associated with it.

The jewelroom at the Tower of London is reported to be haunted and in 1860 there was published in Notes and Queries by Edmund Lenthal Swifte, Keeper of the Crown Jewels, an account of a spectral appearance witnessed by himself in the tower. He stated in October 1817, he was having supper with his wife, her sister, and his little boy in the sitting room of the jewel house. Swifte stated:

"I had offered a glass of wine and water to my wife when, on putting it to her lips, she exclaimed, 'Good God! what is that?' I looked up and saw a cylindrical figure like a glass tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm, and hovering between the ceiling and the table; its contents appeared to be dense fluid, white and pale azure. This lasted about two minutes, when it began to move before my sister-in-law; then, following the oblong side of the table, before my son and myself, passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder. Instantly crouching down, and with both hands covering her shoulder she shrieked out, 'O Christ! it has seized me!'

"It was ascertained that no optical action from the outside could have produced any manifestation within, and hence the mystery has remained unsolved."

Notes and Queries also reported how "one of the night sentries at the jewel house was alarmed by a figure like a bear issuing from underneath the jewel room door. He thrust at it with his bayonet which stuck in the door. He dropped in a fit and was carried senseless to the guard-room. In another day or two the brave and steady soldier died."

In February 1933, a sentry at the Tower reported seeing the ghostly figure of a woman in white floating toward him. A newspaper report stated: "Confronted by such an apparition, the sentry fled, making his way to the guardroom, greatly unnerved."

On February 12, 1957, a young Welsh Guardsman was on duty, and at 3 A.M. saw a "white shapeless form" forty feet up on the battlements of the Salt Tower. He called for a search party, who found nothing, although another guardsman later admitted to seeing a shapeless white apparition. The time and the date was in conjunction with the execution of Lady Jane Grey, four hundred and three years earlier.

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Tower of London, ancient fortress in London, England, just east of the City and on the north bank of the Thames, covering about 13 acres (5.3 hectares). Now used mainly as a museum, it was a royal residence in the Middle Ages. Later it was a jail for illustrious prisoners. The Tower is enclosed by a dry moat, within which are double castellated walls surrounding the central White Tower. Although Roman foundations have been discovered, the White Tower was built c.1078 by Gundulf, bishop of Rochester; the exterior was restored by Sir Christopher Wren. Various towers subsequently built were used as prisons; one of them now houses a collection of medieval arms and armor. The crown jewels are displayed in the Waterloo Block, a former barracks. The Traitors' Gate (giving access by water from the Thames) and the Bloody Tower are associated with many historically noted persons, including Queen Elizabeth I (when still princess), Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, the 2d earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, and the duke of Monmouth. Many persons beheaded within the Tower precincts, or on the neighboring Tower Hill, were buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. The Yeomen of the Guard ( "Beefeaters" ), dressed in Tudor garb, still guard the Tower.

See R. J. Minney, The Tower of London (1971).

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Tower of London ★★ 1962

A deranged lord (Price) murdering his way to the throne of England is eventually crowned Richard III. Sophisticated and wellmade Poelike thriller. More interesting as historic melodrama than as horror film. A remake of the 1939 version starring Basil Rathbone, in which Price played a supporting role. 79m/B VHS, DVD . Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Joan Freeman, Robert Brown, Sandra Knight, Justice Watson; D: Roger Corman; W: Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, James B. Gordon; C: Arch R. Dalzell; M: Michael Anderson.

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Tower of London English royal castle in London. Begun by William the Conqueror in 1078, later monarchs added and extended the Tower. It has served various functions throughout the centuries – residence, arsenal, prison, and museum. It is associated especially with the imprisonment and execution (on Tower Hill) of traitors. The crown jewels are held here.