The White Tower

The Tower of London
 

The White Tower
The History of the Tower of London is great, bloody and cruel and the White Tower has its part to play in its story. The White Tower is just one of the 21 towers which, together, form the Tower of London castle complex. The Tower of London covers an area of 18 acres and its magnificent architecture covers almost all the styles which have flourished in England. Although the Tower is no longer a place of great military strength it has in time past been a fortress, a palace, and a prison. This section provides key facts and information about the White Tower.

 
 
 
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The White Tower

  • Information & Facts about the White Tower
  • Key Dates in the Tower's history history
  • Who built the White Tower in the great Tower of London castle?
  • Information & Facts about when the famous White Tower was built

The White Tower

The Purpose of the White Tower
The White Tower is the most important building in the Tower of London - it is the Keep of the castle. The word 'Keep' means "that which keeps or protects - the strongest and securest part of a castle, often used as a place of residence by the lord of the castle". The original function of the White Tower was to :

  • Act as a royal power base in the City of London
  • Provide a base where armed men, provisions and horses could be housed
  • Overawe and frighten the indigenous population of London
  • Provide a retreat for the Royal family in times of civil disorder
  • Protect the City of London from invasion (an invasion by the Vikings penetrated the Thames as far as Reading in 870AD)

Successive lines of fortification were built surrounding and protecting the White Tower. There are a total of 21 different towers which form the Tower of London castle complex. The expansion of the Tower of London, led to additional functions as a:

  • Royal residence
  • Prison housing some very important state prisoners
  • Place of torture in the dungeon which became known as "Little Ease"

Key Facts and Information about the White Tower

  • The White Tower was built by the Norman - William the Conqueror
  • The date the White Tower was built was between 1078 - 1097
  • The Chief Architect and Master Builder of the White Tower was Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester
  • The Norman Architecture / Style of the Medieval White Tower is described as Norman (Romanesque)
  • The purpose of the White Tower was to provide a power base for the Norman invaders and control and intimidate the people of the City of London
  • History - The Tower was originally built as timber Motte and Bailey castle shortly after the Norman Invasion of 1066 but the timber structure was replaced by the massive stone keep. The stone building was started in 1078 and completed in 1097
  • The White Tower was originally referred to as the Great Tower
  • In the reign of Edward III (1327 - 1377) the 'Great Tower' began to assume its modern name, as "La Blanche Tour" - the White Tower due to the continuous tradition of applying whitewash to the walls
  • In 1255 a number of Jews were imprisoned in the White Tower, awaiting execution for the alleged murder of Hugh of Lincoln. Eighteen were hanged
  • In 1270 anti-semitic feeling grew, until King Edward I decreed that the Jews were a threat to the country, decreed that all Jews must wear a yellow star to identify them in public. All the heads of Jewish households were arrested, many taken to the Tower and executed. Finally, in 1290 King Edward banished all Jews from England
  • Richard II signed his abdication statement here on the 30th of September. Parliament ordered that Richard should be kept close prisoner, and he was sent secretly to Pontefract Castle where he died in February 1400 just 5 months later
  • Gun emplacements were improvised during the reign of Henry VIII. The roof of the White Tower needed to be strengthened to take the weight of cannon
  • In 1530 the White Tower's most famous features – the onion-shaped domes on the turrets, complete with weather vanes
  • Extensive building and repairs work to the Royal Lodgings was conducted under the orders of Henry VIII in preparation of the coronation of Anne Boleyn. The work was supervised by Thomas Cromwell. This included the repair and decoration of the magnificent Great Hall and  new chamber for the Queen.
  • In 1666 the Tower narrowly escaped destruction from the Great Fire of London
  • Records show that 9,677 barrels of gunpowder were stored in the White Tower
  • In 1674 two skeletons were discovered in the White Tower believed to be Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York. These tragic boys are referred to as the Princes in the Tower
  • In 1933 a forensic examination was unable to confirm whether the bones were those of the princes

The Tower of London - the most famous Square Keep (The White Tower)
William the Conqueror built the White Tower. It is the most famous Castle Keep in Great Britain and situated on north bank of the Thames River. Construction of this famous castle keep started in 1078.

  • The White Tower is 90 feet high
  • The thickness of the walls ranged from 15 feet at the base to almost 11 feet in the upper storeys
  • Above the battlements four turrets were built
  • The White Tower was built by Norman masons but the labourers were English (Anglo-Saxon)
  • The East and South sides of the White Tower were protected to the by the old Roman London City walls
  • The entrance to the Tower was on the first floor accessed via a removable staircase, designed to make invasion of the White Tower more difficult
  • The first structure on the site was a Motte and Bailey castle
  • The White Tower was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1078 and completed in 1097
  • The North and West sides of the White Tower were originally protected by ditches

What the White Tower looked like in the Norman period
The White Tower was built by Norman masons but the labourers were English (Anglo-Saxon). The White Tower consisted of 3 storeys the Keep which can be described as follows::

  • Each storey was divided by walls into separate rooms
  • Windows were set in thick walls in the upper storeys
  • The ground floor acted as a storeroom
  • The basement was believed to have housed the dungeon known as "Little Ease."
  • The Chapel of St John (second floor). The Chapel is 55 feet 6 inches long by 31 feet wide, and 32 feet high, and is vaulted with a plain arch. There are four massive columns on either side and four in the apse. The south aisle communicated with the palace, and an upper aisle, or gallery, similarly opened into the State Apartments
  • Banqueting Chamber (second floor)
  • State Apartments
  • On the upper floor is the "Council Chamber" but also contained kitchens and ovens
  • Garderobes or latrines were also provided
  • The original entrance was probably on the south side, and high above the ground, being reached as usual in Norman Castles by an external stair which could be easily removed in time of danger
  • Another or the same entrance led from an upper storey of the palace

The White Tower Dungeon - the 'Little Ease'
The basement of the White Tower was believed to have housed the notorious dungeon known as the "Little Ease". This terrifying chamber was built in the thickness of the wall and measured just 1.2m square (4sq ft). The hapless prisoner of the 'Little Ease' could neither sit, stand, nor lie, but was compelled to serve his sentence in a cramped and crouching position. Guy Fawkes was shackled hand and foot in the ‘Little Ease’ following his arrest for his part in the Gunpowder plot. On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against King James I and the government. Fawkes was sentenced to death and the form of the execution was one of the most horrendous ever practised (hung ,drawn and quartered) which reflected the serious nature of the crime of treason.

The White Tower
The very walls of the White Tower contain some of the bloody secrets and of the history of the Tower of London. Which King was responsible for building the White Tower and what was his reason? When was it built? Interesting facts and info about the history of the Tower of London!

The White Tower

The Tower of London

  • The History of The Tower of London
  • Information & Facts about The Tower of London
  • The Design, Layout and Architecture of The Tower of London - the different Towers
  • The Tower of London Timeline
  • The Tower of London Prisoners
  • The Executions and Beheading of men and women

The Tower of London

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