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The Tower of London by Night. Photo by James Petts
The Tower of London by Night. Photo by James Petts

The Tower of London

So much history, and so much to fascinate, has centred on the Tower of London. Built by William the Conqueror just outside the City of London, the Tower was both royal home and fortress. It has played host, and prison (and sometimes both) to some of the most famous names in history. Anne Boleyn came here (late) before her marriage to Henry VIII, and it was within these walls that she was executed. Henry VI was murdered here; Thomas More, Kathryn Howard, and Lady Jane Grey were all held here whilst awaiting their deaths; Guy Fawkes was tortured here, before being sentenced to being hanged, drawn and quartered at Westminster;More infoA fate which he avoided by jumping off the scaffolding with the noose round his neck, thereby breaking his neck and preventing the rest of the punishment and a number of names were temporarily held for other offences, including Sir Walter Raleigh, Elizabeth I, Samuel Pepys, Sir Robert Walpole (for corruption) and even the Kray Twins.

But it’s the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower which really grabs the imagination. Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brought his 9 and 12 year old nephews here in 1483, after the death of their father, Edward IV, to await the coronationThe ceremony of crowning a king or queen (and their consort). of eldest as Edward V. Allegedly believing them to be in danger from rivals for the crown, he declared them illegitimateIn terms of children, those born out of wedlock (to unmarried parents). and took the crown for himself. Soon afterwards, they disappeared from the Tower and were never seen again. Henry Tudor claimed they had been murdered by their uncle, who was now Richard III, and eventually took the throne at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. There is very little evidence (apart from hearsay) to link Richard III with their murders, which may not even have happenedMore infoAlthough the bodies of two boys of roughly the right age were discovered under a staircase of the White Tower in the seventeenth century and declared to be the princes. However, the royal family and the church will not allow DNAHolds the genetic code to all living things, and is passed down to children from their parents. testing to confirm this. as there were at least two people who came forward as one of the princes during Henry VII’s reign, and a village in Italy always claimed to have been home to an English prince.

So does the Tower live up to its historical reputation? First the good bits: there’s a palpable aura of history as you walk through the gates, as if the weight of 1,000 years can be felt pressing down on you. It’s an impressive castle and keep, remaining entirely intact, giving an excellent idea of how other Norman, and later, castles would have looked but for civil war and abandonment. There is a considerable amount to do on site, including the White Tower, a visit to see the crown jewels, other towers including the Bloody Tower and the Beauchamp Tower, wall walks, the torture museum (although this is really more of a room, and not suitable for young children, mainly as they would find it boring), the Medieval Palace, the Fusiliers’ Museum and an exhibition on the animals kept at the Tower. As such, whilst the entrance price is on the steep side (£60.70 for a family ticket on the gate), there is enough to do to occupy at least half a day, if not more. There are also a number of guided tours included within the ticket price, the best one being the Yeoman Warder tour (although the quality of the tour guides and the information they provide varies considerably). Undoubtedly for our eldest son (who is very interested in the Tudors), the most interesting part of the Tower was the Line of Kings in the White Tower, showing, among other things, a selection of Henry VIII’s armour.

Many other online reviews indicated that the queues and sheer number of people visiting were too much, and that it was nigh on impossible to see or do anything, even once within the gates. Whilst I would not find this at all surprising during the peak seasons, when the weather is warmer and the children are on holiday, it was not the case on a slightly-rainy Sunday in November. We queued about 10 minutes for tickets, but then walked straight through the gates and almost immediately onto a tour. We could hear and see everything, wherever we went, and didn’t at any point feel crowded. Granted there was a longer queue to see the crown jewels, but even this was counted in minutes rather than hours. There were places to escape the intermittent rain, including a café and shop, as well as all the towers and other buildings to explore. Sadly, if you have limited mobility or a pushchair, most of these buildings will be inaccessible to you.

Now the down sides: being such a central place for history over the last millennium, I would have expected to see and hear more correct historical fact, and more historical reasoning. For example, there was little information on display about the princes in the tower – one of the most fascinating aspects of the Tower to my mind – and what there was, was wrong. Our particular yeoman warder was passionate about the Tudors, but considerably less passionate about either historical accuracy or historical debate (and to be honest seemed more interested in talking about football than either side of the 16th century). No debate was forthcoming about the legitimacy of the Tudors, Richard III was portrayed according to Shakespeare, and the royal line was sacrosanct. Whilst the subject of torture is macabre, the Tower is known as a prison where Guy Fawkes, and others, were tortured. As such, one would have hoped for a bit more imagination to be given to the Tower of Torture. Initially, we were worried about taking the children in to see it, thinking it might scare them. However, as we were very interested, we decided to risk it. But instead of the children being scared to tears, they were bored to tears: the queue for it didn’t justify the room, which had a rack, some manacles and a scavenger’s daughter in it, and pretty well nothing else. Also, as mentioned above, if you are in anyway limited in mobility, then don’t visit the Tower of London, as there is nothing for you to do and nowhere for you to go.

Despite all of this, I would definitely go back again. It was a worthwhile day out, the kids loved it, and the sense of history far outweighs the limits in information and depth. What’s more, as most of this is common knowledge (or knowledge which can easily be obtained) it is easy for a parent to fill in any gaps left, by providing back story or alternative theories. The Tower of London has to be a must see for anyone interested in the history of the last millennium.

To find out more about visiting the Tower of London, click here.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected, Inside History, and my article on the first English parliament of James I, which won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019), will be published in Parliaments, Estates and Representation 41 (2021). 

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The Tower of London
The Tower of London
7.8
out of 10

Importance

10/10

Information and collections

8/10

Child friendly/fun factor

8/10

Presentation

8/10

Value for money

5/10

Pros

  • +One of the most important historical places in the country
  • +Plenty to see and do
  • +Some fascinating collections
  • +Entertaining guided tours

Cons

  • -Can get crowded during busy periods
  • -More information and historical discussion would be useful
  • -Very limited accessibility
  • -Tower of Torture does not live up to expectations
  • -Expensive ticket price
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