Whilst I have read on a number of occasions that the Tower of London did not become a prison until the time of the Tudors, the status of those who stayed there before the Tudor era naturally puzzled me. If they were not prisoners, what were they? Then I began to revolve the matter in my mind, and soon–as is almost always the case when I look deep within–found enlightenment. I realized that prior to 1485, the Tower was not a prison at all, but a high-status lodging for the rich and powerful comparable to a modern all-inclusive resort.
Take, for instance, this illustration of Gruffyd ap Llywelyn Farr falling from the Tower of London. One might jump to conclusions and think that he was attempting to escape from the Tower, but common sense should tell us that he was engaging in the healthful exercise of climbing down from his lodgings with the intent of climbing back up later. Unfortunately, he seems to not have trained adequately for this extreme sport, and the lack of preparation cost him dearly.
Needless to say, after this incident the Tower staff, mindful of liability issues, banned any other such exercise by those lodging at the Tower.
Another glimpse of the pleasures of the Tower can be seen here, in this illustration of Charles of Orleans–a foreign visitor, whose presence shows that by the 15th century, lodgings at the Tower had acquired a truly international cachet. Here we see Charles enjoying his splendid view of the sparkling Thames:
Later in the fifteenth century, Tower lodgings became so in demand that royalty clamoured for them as well. I speak, of course, of Henry VI and his queen, Margaret of Anjou, both of whom came there to relax after stressful episodes in their lives. While Margaret emerged rejuvenated and rested and returned to France in the glow of perfect health, Henry died there–an interesting, and as far as I can tell unique, use of the Tower as a hospice of sorts. He must have paid a high price indeed for such a special privilege.
Finally, of course, we have Richard III’s bastard nephews, who were lodged in the Tower briefly in 1483. Unfortunately, being thoroughly spoiled by their mother, the boys were unappreciative of their lodgings and their rich history, and demanded instead to go to their aunt in Burgundy, where, bored, they occupied themselves in writing spiteful reviews of their uncle’s hospitality.
Like so many other good things, the Tudors destroyed the tradition of guest accommodations at the Tower, converting its once grand chambers into dingy prison cells for reasons that can only be described as nefarious, since no one who was put in prison in Tudor England was actually guilty of anything. Yet these upstarts could not succeed in destroying the aura of glamour and excitement that will always attach to a truly grand resort, as shown by the immense numbers of those who queue daily to see what was once England’s premier lodging.
Baedeker’s Guide to London
The Mists of Time
Jeff Borden is pleased to be back blogging after a lengthy hiatus brought on by exhaustion after the Reburial.