The Tower of London

FACTFILE

Age: more than 900 years

Built by: William the Conqueror

Its roles in British history: a Royal palace; a prison; an arsenal; a Royal Zoo; a place of execution; a Royal mint.

The Tower of London was a prison over a lot of centuries. The prisoners were brought via the River Thames from Westminster. Their trials were held at Westminster and crowds of people waited on the riverbank to find out the verdict.
The executioner had a long sharp axe. He stood behind the accused on the boat. If the accused was guilty, the executioner pointed his axe towards the victim. If not guilty, he pointed it away. People knew that if found guilty there was a public execution 48 hours later.

Famous prisoners of the Tower were: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard (2nd and 5th wife of Henry VIII); Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley; Queen Elizabeth I; Guy Fawkes; Samuel Pepys…
Many people have been locked in the Tower, for religious beliefs or suspected treason. Many Tudor’s prisoners entered the Tower of London through the Traitors‘ Gate.

People and goods arrived and left the Tower via the River Thames, through a door in the walls called the Sallyport.

GUARDS – YEOMEN WARDERS

The responsibility for looking after the prisoners was given to the Yeomen Warders or Beefeaters. The Yeomen Warders originate from twelve Yeoman of the Guards, who were once private bodyguards of Henry VIII. There are about 40 of them nowadays.

Today, in principle, they have to look after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguard the British crown jewels. But in practice (as there are no prisoners nowadays in the Tower) they act as tour guides. There are twelve Yeomen Warders working at a time.

The Yeomen Warders take part in one State ceremony. At Coronations, they form a guard of honour inside the annexe at Westminster Abbey.

Their nickname is Beefeater. It comes from the time when the Yeomen Warders at the Tower got part of their salary with chunks of beef up until the 1800s.

YEOMEN OF THE GUARD

The Queen’s Body Guard – the Yeomen of the Guard are a bodyguard of the British Monarch. There are 73 Yeomen of the Guard, they are all former officers and sergeants of the British Services.

It is the oldest of the Royal bodyguards and the oldest military corps in Britain. The Yeomen of the Guard accompany the current monarch at investitures (e.g. a new bishop, archbishop etc.) and summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace, and so on. Their most famous duty is to ‘ceremonially’ search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster prior to the State Opening of Parliament, a tradition that dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament.

Yeomen Warders wear two types of uniform – the State Dress Uniform on state occasions, and the normal everyday uniform. The latter is a blue dress with some red and the initials ER in the centre. ER stand for Elizabetha Regina – Regina means Queen in Latin, so the initials refer to Queen Elizabeth II, the current British monarch.

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