Elizabethan England: Quick Facts

file_000There are a lot of popular misconceptions which revolve around the Tower of London, which isn’t that much of a surprise considering the tower’s important role in the history of England. Here are just a few quick facts which might challenge what you thought you already knew about this point in history.

1. The longest sentence served at the Tower of London was 37 years.

This sentence was served by one Sir William de la Pole, a (fairly distant) relative of the King. He was incarcerated for the years between 1502 and 1539 for supposedly plotting against Henry VII.

2. Only people of high status were held at the Tower of London.

Elizabeth and MaryThose who were imprisoned in the Tower were not your everyday criminals. This was a building which was not initially intended to be a prison, but which became one when a location for prisoners of high status began to be needed. These were prisoners who were believed to pose a threat to the state, for example Elizabeth I’s imprisonment by Mary, or prisoners who were convicted for serious political crimes.

These were crimes which included helping rebels, speaking against the monarchy, using counterfeit money or attempting to kill the monarch. While some prisoners went on to be executed, the vast majority did not.

3. Sir Walter Ralegh was imprisoned on multiple occasions for inciting war, conspiring against the king and marrying without permission.

The man most celebrated for our introduction to the humble potato was imprisoned on three separate occasions. His first imprisonment came as a result of his marrying one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting without first gaining permission from the Queen. For his second offence, Ralegh was locked in the Tower for 13 long years when he was believed to have been conspiring against King James I.

When Ralegh was finally released, he was charged with inciting war between Spain and England – quite the troublemaker!

4. A prisoner once escaped from the tower using orange juice and a candle.

This prisoner was John Gerard. Imprisoned in 1597, Gerard wrote secret letters to his contacts in orange juice, which could only be read when the text was heated by a candle.

5. Seven people were executed at the Tower of London.

Despite the Tower’s bloody reputation, only seven people were ever executed there (excluding WWI and WWII executions on the rifle range). These people were Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (1601), Lady Jane Grey (1554), Jane, Viscountess Rockford (1542), Queen Katherine Howard (1542), Margaret, Countess of Salisbury (1541), Queen Anne Boleyn (1536) and William, Lord Hastings (1483).

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