Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of The River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England.
The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence.
As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.
In the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage. After the Second World War, damage caused during the Blitz was repaired and the castle reopened to the public. Today the Tower of London is one of the country's most popular tourist attractions. It is cared for by the charity Historic Royal Palaces and is protected as a World Heritage Site.
The Tower was oriented with its strongest and most impressive defences overlooking Saxon London, which archaeologist Alan Vince suggests was deliberate. It would have visually dominated the surrounding area and stood out to traffic on the River Thames. The castle is made up of three "wards", or enclosures. The innermost ward contains the White Tower and is the earliest phase of the castle. Encircling it to the north, east, and west is the inner ward, built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189–1199).
The White Tower is a keep (also known as a donjon), which was often the strongest structure in a medieval castle, and contained lodgings suitable for the lord – in this case the king or his representative. According to military historian Allen Brown, "The great tower [White Tower] was also, by virtue of its strength, majesty and lordly accommodation, the donjon par excellence". As one of the largest keeps in the Christian world, the White Tower has been described as "the most complete eleventh-century palace in Europe".
Restoration and Tourism
Over the 18th and 19th centuries, the palatial buildings were slowly adapted for other uses and demolished. Only the Wakefield and St Thomas' Towers survive. The 18th century marked an increasing interest in England's medieval past. One of the effects was the emergence of Gothic Revival architecture.
In the Tower's architecture, this was manifest when the New Horse Armoury was built in 1825 against the south face of the White Tower. It featured elements of Gothic Revival architecture such as battlements. Other buildings were remodelled to match the style and the Waterloo Barracks were described as "castellated Gothic of the 15th century".
The Tower of London is cared for by an independent charity, Historic Royal Palaces, which receives no funding from the Government or the Crown. In 1988, the Tower of London was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, in recognition of its global importance and to help conserve and protect the site. However, recent developments, such as the construction of skyscrapers nearby, have pushed the Tower towards being added to the United Nations' Heritage in Danger List.
The tradition of housing the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London probably dates from the reign of Henry III. The Jewel House was built specifically to house the royal regalia, including jewels, plate, and symbols of royalty such as the crown, sceptre, and sword. When money needed to be raised, the treasure could be pawned by the monarch. The treasure allowed the monarch independence from the aristocracy, and consequently was closely guarded.