Imprisonment in the Tower of London

{writer’s note: Sorry for the long radio silence on this site! Things have been hectic on my course, but I finally have a day off to come back to the newly named Fudors blog.}

file_000The Tower of London was not originally intended to be used as a prison. It was built to act as a stronghold for Norman power in England following the coronation of William the Conqueror. Work on the Tower began back in the 1070s with the aim of using the new structure as a palace and a fortress. These functions continued into the Middle Ages, when the Tudors used it as a fortification, storehouse, prison, mint and residence. More than just a pretty face!

Elizabeth IBy the time Elizabeth I came into power, the Tower of London had become the country’s main state prison and stood as an example of the country’s power. The Tower’s first prisoner, the Bishop Ranulf Flambard, was brought in in 1100 and from then on it was used as a place to house only those who had committed high profile crimes such as helping foreign enemies and rebels, counterfeiting coins and trying to kill or speak against the monarch.

It should be said that a great number of those who were convicted of treason had merely chosen the wrong side in a complicated and seemingly never ending battle between a number of monarchs. Noblemen generally had to commit to either one side of the monarchy or the other, and so they were freed and imprisoned according to who happened to be the ruler at the time.

A fair amount of people who were forced to spend time in the Tower were well-known members of the court, so many are still known to us today. Many were imprisoned during Tudor times as a result of its constant search for heirs and succession, and its notable religious upheaval. Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and even Elizabeth I were held in the tower on separate occasions, though the former two ended up being executed. Elizabeth’s time in the Tower seemingly failed to discourage her from using it as a prison in her own reign, and she continued to imprisoned anyone there who threatened her power. One notable name on this guest list was Sir Walter Ralegh, Father of the Potato.

Four ClassesAlthough many people still believe the Tower of London was a place of torture, misery and death, there are also interesting stories of daring escapes, literary achievements, luxury living and scientific experiments that happened within those walls. Your lifestyle as a prisoner depended entirely on who you are, what you (supposedly) did and who was in power.

RYSCHEWYSFor the most part, your treatment at the Tower depended on your status. Prisoners on the wealthier end of the scale, those like the Earl of Northumberland and Walter Ralegh, were granted pretty comfortable existences. They were allowed to pay to decorate and furnish their rooms however they liked, and were granted allowances (funded by sale of their property) for fuel, clothing, medicines and food. It’s reported that the Earl of Northumberland dined very well on food cooked exactly how he liked it, and stayed in a room filled with hangings, paintings, carpets and fine furnishings. Not tempted by a prison uniform, he kept a grand wardrobe along with laundresses, haberdashers and tailors to keep him looking his best at all times!



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