Posts Tagged ‘built the White Tower of London’


Micki Suzanne LeCronier (C)

On my last trip to the library, I checked out “Life in a Medieval Castle” by Joseph & Frances Gies. I expected details on things I’d heard – like the contents of privies at upper levels of castles were emptied into the moats below; or that the ladies kept lap dogs to help keep them warm as cold radiated off the stone walls and floors.

Imagine my delight to have the book hit the ground running with our ancestor William the Conqueror’s attack on England. After the Battle of Hastings, he didn’t target London – he worked his way around by ravaging the countryside. Unlike Normandy, England didn’t have essential fortresses and castles. The English had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

By the time he reached London, city leaders were ready to give it up.

Once he had his throne, he needed to rule with an iron fist. Early in his “career” – at around 19 years of age – William had achieved something that had never been done; he centralized control of castles in Normandy.

Well, he didn’t have fortresses in England. That had to change.

Between 1066 and 1068, William launched a campaign of territorial acquisition that involved building 78 castles – including the Tower of London.  He put Gundulf, his new Bishop of Rochester in charge of building the White Tower of London. Norman masons were employed, some of the stone was imported from Normandy and it took 20 years to build. The medieval fortress was a marvel of its time, with walls 90’ tall and 15’ deep.  

Down the line, the White Tower would receive needed upgrades from other royal ancestors.

William’s son, King Henry Beauclerc was unusual in that he was happily married to his beloved Scottish Queen Matilda. During his long absences she dedicated herself to the completion of the royal apartments in the tower.  

King John Plantagenet sometimes stayed there and is believed to have introduced exotic animals, especially lions. (The Plantagenet coat of arms was three lions.)

Henry III added two waterfront towers and spent time there. In 1283, he was forced to retreat to the Tower and noticed – with alarm – that it was not as secure as it should have been. He built massive curtain walls on three sides, added nine towers and surrounded it all with a moat 150’ wide and 10’ deep. 

Edward Longshanks, King of England, Hammer of the Scots, built tower lodgings that included two beautiful rooms – a great hall and a private chamber with a real lavatory – the only one in the tower.

Edward II was more queen than king; his people weren’t upset because he was gay, they hated that he granted extravagant royal favors to his lover. He wound up spending a lot of time hiding in the tower.

His son Edward III kicked butt; he imprisoned the kings of Scotland and France in the tower, giving them accommodations and amenities suitable to their rank.  

That which keeps people out can also keep people in. Several of our Tudor era WYATT ancestors would be imprisoned there. Sir Thomas Wyatt the Poet was sent there twice and made it out alive.

His friend – lover? – his wife’s second cousin had a big history with the Tower. Anne Boleyn had her spectacular coronation at the Tower’s Great Hall; she was later imprisoned and beheaded there.

The poet’s son, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, was equally unfortunate. After the death of Henry VIII’s son, Lady Jane Grey was hastily put on the throne. She ruled for less than two weeks before being overthrown by Mary. Young Sir Tom had been part of the movement to put Jane on the throne, but he managed to convince Queen Mary of his loyalty.  

Lady Jane was spared for a while. She had two things in her favor. She was Mary’s cousin and Mary realized she had been a powerless victim. Mary treated Jane with kindness. Jane was given decent lodging at the tower and allowed to roam the queen’s gardens. Mary even gave her a generous allowance.  All was well for a time.

Young Thomas and his Protestant friends watched the queen passively until Mary made it clear she intended to marry Felipe of Spain – described on a Wyatt family site as “that other gloomy bigot.”

Young Tom despised Spanish influence. He accepted an invitation by Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, to rise up against Mary.  Thomas held a meeting at Allington and managed to raise 4,000 men. They marched on London in late January, 1554, but the English people rose in support of Henry’s oldest daughter.  The rebellion failed and Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower. They tortured him hoping he would give up the goods on Mary’s half-sister Elizabeth.

Wyatt’s Rebellion caused serious repercussions. Mary knew Jane was innocent, but a queen’s gotta do what a queen’s gotta do. She needed to make examples of Lady Jane and her husband Guilford Dudley.

On February 12, 1554, Lady Jane’s husband was taken from the tower and beheaded in public at Tower Hill.  Jane watched in tears as Guilford passed below her window to the tower. That same day Mary had Jane taken to The Tower Green, within the Tower.  

This account of her execution – and the photo I used for this blog – is from Wikipedia: “The executioner asked her forgiveness, and she gave it. She pleaded the axeman, ‘I pray you dispatch me quickly’. Referring to her head, she asked, ‘Will you take it off before I lay me down?’ and the axeman answered, ‘No, madam’. She then blindfolded herself. Jane had resolved to go to her death with dignity, but once blindfolded, failing to find the block with her hands, began to panic and cried, ‘What shall I do? Where is it?’ An unknown hand, possibly Feckenham’s, then helped her find her way and retain her dignity at the end. With her head on the block, Jane spoke the last words of Jesus as recounted by Luke: “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!” 

Mary condemned our ancestor, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, to a traitor’s death on April 11, 1554. He used his scaffold speech to exonerate Elizabeth and some say he may have saved her life. In the face of a violent death he said: 

“And whereas it is said and whistled abroad that I should accuse my lady Elizabeth’s grace and my lord Courtenay; it is not so, good people. For I assure you neither they nor any other now in yonder hold or durance was privy of my rising or commotion before I began. As I have declared no less to the queen’s council. And this is most true.”

Wyatt’s head was severed, his body was quartered and his bowels and genitals burned. His head and body quarters were parboiled and nailed up. His head was placed on a post – and later stolen.

Mary didn’t stop at that. She confiscated his estates and titles, causing severe hardships for his widow and children.

Bloody Mary installed Elizabeth in the Tower.

In the years to come, a grateful Queen Elizabeth would not forget Wyatt’s loyalty.


I thought to myself our history is tied to that tower, so I went on Netflix just poking around to see what they had. (Subscriptions run around $10/month and you have access to many productions that are available for immediate viewing online.)

I have truly enjoyed “The Tower”, a U.K. production. 

The sections are not very well named, just be patient with it. It talks about MANY of the things I mention here – I put them in italics so you could decide if they might be worth your time. 

This British production even goes into the exact location where our relative Anne Boleyn was actually beheaded; apparently the plaques aren’t to be trusted.

There is too much to describe in detail. Just enjoy. 


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