The Tower of London
by Mary Gillgannon
Most people are familiar with the
as a prison, where people who were
alleged to have committed some crime against the king or queen were detained.
But when the first structure was built on the site by William the Conqueror in
late 1066, its main purpose was as a fortress. Having just taken over Tower of London England,
William wanted to be sure he could defend London
from the Saxons, who were seeking to oust him from their country.
It was originally a motte and bailey castle, which is a defensive tower or keep built on a large earthen mound, the motte, and surrounded by a bailey, a flat raised area where buildings to maintain the troops were constructed. The whole complex was surrounded by defensive walls and a ditch. The first keep William built on the site was of wood. He later replaced it with a stone keep in 1078, which was called the
, which ultimately
gave the entire castle its name. White
I mention William’s plans for the fortress in my book The Conqueror, when my hero and heroine visit
The hero, Jobert de Brevrienne, is a knight in William’s army, while my
heroine, Edeva, is the daughter of the Saxon eorle whose lands have been given
to Jobert by William. The struggle between the Norman French invaders and Saxon
natives forms the background for the book.
Over the years, William’s royal descendants continued to make improvements to the
Some of the most elaborate additions were made by Henry III in the early 13th
century. From 1216 to 1227 he spent nearly £10,000 on the Tower. Henry’s goal
was to make the Tower a luxurious residence for the royal family. But his
expensive construction plans angered the English nobility and led to a revolt
of the barons. They eventually forced Henry to formally confirm most of the
articles of the Magna Carta, which limited the monarchy’s power and became the
basis of English government. Tower of London
When I was researching the era of Henry III for my book The Leopard, I discovered that the Tower had another use that is seldom mentioned in history. Frederick III, the Holy Roman Emperor, gave Henry three leopards, in honor of the three beasts displayed on the royal banner, and these animals were kept at the Tower. Henry later added a white bear, presumably a polar bear, which was occasionally allowed to fish in the Thames (What a sight that must have been!) and an elephant, for which a separate building was constructed.
The menagerie did not end with Henry’s reign. Animals were housed at the Tower for the next 600 years. Some of the species included in the menagerie were monkeys, ostriches, lions, tigers, wolves, a boa constrictor, grizzly bear, zebras and baboons.
In many cases, the caretakers of these animals had no idea what to feed them or how to maintain them and many of the poor creatures did not survive very long. The conditions they lived in would appall us today, and they undoubtedly distressed compassionate individuals even back then. Indeed, in The Leopard, my hero, acclaimed knight Richard Reivers (known as the Black Leopard), takes the heroine, Astra, to visit the menagerie, and tender-hearted Astra is very distressed by the cramped, unpleasant living conditions the leopards must endure. Her reaction to the animals’ distress makes Richard realize how different she is from all the other women he has known, and he begins to fall in love with tender-hearted, idealistic Astra.
Starting in the late middle ages until the 1800’s, the Tower housed some of the most famous prisoners in English history, including Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Elizabeth I, who was held in the Tower for eight weeks by her sister Mary during Mary’s brief reign. (She died before she could execute
or English history might be very different.) Today the Tower is a popular
tourist site, and the Crown Jewels are still on display there, as they have
been since 1669. In another note on the Tower’s connection to animals, even
today six ravens are kept at the Tower at all times, due to the legend that if
they are absent, the kingdom will fall.
Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course!