Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Tower of London

My characters take a trip to London in my novel and as one of the prime tourist attractions of London, even in 1801, there is a scene at the Tower of London.

For those who watched the Olympics in the last few weeks, the Tower was pretty much front and center whenever NBC showed the sites of London, along with Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, and the London Eye. Visual porn for Anglophiles.

The Tower of London--officially known as Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress--has become a symbol of its country. It was founded by William the Conqueror in 1066, when he had the old Roman city walls torn down along the River Thames to make room for the White Tower, a stone keep, in the center of the complex. Building the White Tower (which gained its name when it was whitewashed) was begun in 1078.

The Tower is an official royal residence of the monarch. It was also infamously used as a prison, especially in Tudor times. The Royal Mint was also within the Tower and of course, the Crown Jewels are kept there.



You can check out the many buildings within the Tower here:

Used under the Creative Commons license. Attribution: Thomas Romer.
For the purposes of my story, I have been doing some diverting research into two aspects of the complex: the Royal Menagerie and the Crown Jewels.

The Royal Menagerie

The first reference to this Tower of London zoo, as it was, is from Henry III's reign. Henry III had acquired a polar bear from somewhere and the exotic animal lived within the Tower. Henry III also wanted an elephant house built. James I, fond of bear baiting, had a pit built where animals would fight, while a platform above let spectators watch. 

By the 18th and early 19th centuries, the menagerie included tigers, hyenas, lions, a cheetah, and bears. They were housed near the western entrance of the Tower, near the drawbridge, in a building known as the Lion Tower (originally built centuries before for lions). The animals lived in cages and probably did not have a ton of space to roam around. 

Admission was charged to see the animals. 

The animals were gifts from foreign kings and dignitaries. 

The Menagerie's animals were moved from the Tower to what is now the London Zoo in Regent's Park and the Royal Menagerie was closed in 1835. 

My MC's children are fascinated by elephants and tigers, having never seen them in real life. Remember the first time you went to the zoo as a child? Now imagine it near a medieval prison and fortress. I think it'd be pretty thrilling.

The Crown Jewels
St. Edward's Crown. Photo by dbking.
The Crown Jewels are still kept in the Tower, displayed in the Waterloo Barracks. As soon as the White Tower was built, the royal family began storing valuables within the Tower of London's walls. The Royal Mint operated within the fortress's walls for many years. 

At first, some of the Crown Jewels were kept within the Tower, while the coronation regalia was kept at Westminster Abbey. Slowly, more of the Crown Jewels were moved to the Tower, after an attempted robbery of important coronation crowns, and the jewels were kept in the Jewel House, which was once near the demolished Wardrobe Tower. In 1649, when Oliver Cromwell came to power, he had the Crown Jewels sold and melted down. When Charles II came to the throne in 1660, he had to have new crowns and other regalia made. 

Attempts to steal the Crown Jewels have been made. In 1669, after the Jewels were moved from the Jewel House to Martin Tower, Colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal them in 1671. 

 From 1782 to 1814, the Jewels were only guarded by a single caretaker. 

Sources and other links:

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