Detailed History of Tower of London | Timeline, Events, & More

Founded in 1066 by William the Conqueror, the Tower of London, crucial among the English capital’s historic attractions, has played a significant role in English history ever since. It has been used as a royal palace, a prison, an execution site, and a place of safekeeping for the Crown Jewels.

Over the centuries, the Tower of London has seen many famous faces, including kings, queens, prisoners, and even ghosts! It is a place where history comes to life, and where you can learn about some of the most important and dramatic events in English history. Read on to know the Tower of London's history in detail.

The Tower of London timeline

  • 1066: William the Conqueror invades England, claims the throne, and orders the construction of a formidable fortress on the north bank of the River Thames, giving birth to the Tower of London.
  • 1078-1100: The iconic White Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the country, is constructed by William the Conqueror, dominating the skyline with its gleaming white Caen stone.
  • 1100: Ranulf Flambard, the Tower's first prisoner, escapes by climbing down a rope, demonstrating that the Tower's security is not infallible.
  • 1140: The Tower is first used as a royal residence, hosting kings, queens, and other notable figures over the centuries.
  • 1189-1216: The Angevin kings expand the fortress beyond the Roman walls and surround it with a deep ditch for enhanced defense.
  • 1220-1260: Henry III undertakes a massive construction project, extending the Tower's boundaries and building the Inner Curtain Wall along with towers like Wakefield and Lanthorn.
  • 1240-1241: Henry III's new gatehouse along Great Tower Street collapses twice as if struck by an earthquake before being successfully rebuilt.
  • 1532: The Tudor kings embark on extensive renovations, preparing the palatial buildings south of the White Tower for Anne Boleyn's coronation.
  • 1680: The Stuart kings constructed new residences on the site of old stables, creating some of the finest timber-framed buildings that survived the Great Fire of London.
  • 1851: Architect Anthony Salvin is brought in to restore the Tower.
  • 1914-1916: During World War I, 11 German spies are executed in the Tower, and during World War II, the fortress suffers severe bomb damage.
  • 1952: The notorious Kray twins were among the last prisoners held in the Tower before it became a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

History of the Tower of London explained

Tower of London History - William the Conqueror

1066: The birth of Tower of London

In 1066, William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, invaded England and claimed the throne, initiating the Norman Conquest. This profoundly impacted England's language, culture, and architecture. William ordered the construction of the Tower of London, a formidable fortress on the Thames' north bank. Begun in 1078, the Tower, including the iconic White Tower, symbolized Norman power and served as a royal residence and city defense.

Tower of London History - Elation and Despair: 12th Century

1078-1100: Construction of the Tower

Between 1078 and 1100, William the Conqueror oversaw the construction of the White Tower, the centerpiece of the Tower of London. Standing over 90 feet tall and built with gleaming white Caen stone, it was one of the tallest buildings in England. The White Tower symbolized Norman power, featuring imposing walls designed for defense and grand halls for royal residence, establishing it as a formidable fortress.

Tower of London History - Expansion and Utility: 13th Century

1100: The escape of first Tower prisoner

In 1100, Ranulf Flambard, the first prisoner in the Tower of London, escaped by climbing down a rope, revealing vulnerabilities in the Tower's security. Imprisoned for rebellion against King William II, Flambard, a Norman bishop, used his cunning to lower himself from the walls. This incident highlighted the need for improved defenses, prompting authorities to enhance the Tower's security measures to prevent future escapes.

Tower of London History - Royal Deaths: 14 Century

1140: Tower as a royal residence

In 1140, the Tower of London began serving as a royal residence, hosting kings, queens, and notable figures for centuries. From the Angevin kings in the 12th century to the Tudors in the 16th, its chambers provided secure and comfortable quarters. The Tower also housed foreign dignitaries and prisoners of state, symbolizing power and authority while serving as the backdrop for English court pageantry and intrigue.

Tower of London History - War Reaches the Tower of London: 15th Century

1189-1216: Expansion of the Tower

During the Angevin kings' reign (1189-1216), the Tower of London saw significant expansion and fortification. Kings Richard the Lionheart and John extended its boundaries beyond the Roman walls and constructed a deep ditch, or "moat," for added protection. They also built new towers, walls, and gates, transforming the Tower into a more imposing and secure stronghold against medieval threats.

Tower of London History - The Transformation: 1600s - Present

1220-1260: Additions and renovations

Between 1220 and 1260, King Henry III launched a vast construction initiative to expand and fortify the Tower of London. This endeavor involved erecting the Inner Curtain Wall, encircling the fortress with formidable walls and towers such as the Wakefield and Lanthorn. These structures bolstered defense capabilities, housing archers and defenders. Renovations to existing buildings, including the White Tower, transformed the Tower into a more imposing and secure stronghold, prepared for the challenges of the medieval era.

1532: Preparation for Anne Boleyn's coronation

In 1532, under Henry VIII's reign, extensive renovations were undertaken at the Tower of London in preparation for the coronation of Anne Boleyn, his second wife. The focus was on the southern palatial buildings, transformed into a grand complex with new rooms, halls, and chapels. Lavish furnishings and artworks adorned the Tower, enhancing its royal prestige. Anne Boleyn's coronation in 1533 marked a pivotal moment in English history, with the Tower as a majestic backdrop to the regal ceremony.

1851: Restoration of the Tower

In 1851, the Tower of London faced disrepair, prompting the British government to enlist architect Anthony Salvin for a restoration. Salvin, renowned for historic preservation, collaborated with Tower authorities to identify and repair structural issues. The project included removing graffiti, repairing stonework, and installing new roofs and windows. Salvin's efforts preserved the Tower's historical significance and ensured its continued role as a British power and heritage symbol.

1914-1916: The impact of World Wars on the Tower

During World War I, the Tower of London served as a site of execution for 11 German spies between 1914 and 1916, underscoring the gravity of the conflict. These solemn proceedings took place within the Tower's historic walls, executed by firing squad. In World War II, the Tower endured severe bomb damage from Luftwaffe raids, impacting various structures. Despite these challenges, the Tower remained a resilient symbol of British fortitude against aggression, enduring and prevailing.

1952: Tower of London being one of the UNESCO World Heritage Site

In 1952, the notorious London gangsters, the Kray twins, became among the final prisoners detained in the Tower of London. Their imprisonment marked the conclusion of centuries of the Tower's role as a place of incarceration. Subsequently, the Tower transitioned into a museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site, preserving its cultural legacy. This transformation allowed public access, turning it into a sought-after tourist attraction celebrated for its architecture and historical significance.

The construction of the Tower of London

The construction of the Tower of London began in 1078, shortly after William the Conqueror's victory at the Battle of Hastings. William was determined to consolidate his power over England, and he saw the Tower as a vital part of his strategy.

Constructed on the site of a former Roman fort, it was designed to be a formidable defensive structure. The White Tower, the oldest and most iconic part of the Tower, is a massive square keep that is over 100 feet tall. It is made of limestone imported from Normandy, and it is surrounded by a moat.

The Tower was built using the latest construction techniques of the time. The White Tower, for example, was built with a double shell of walls, with a filling of rubble in between. This made the tower extremely strong and difficult to breach. The Tower of London was a marvel of engineering for its time. It is a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the Norman builders, and it is a reminder of the power and wealth of William the Conqueror.

The Tower of London Today

Tower of London

Today, the Tower of London stands as a captivating testament to its rich history, attracting millions of visitors from around the world each year. As you explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you'll be immersed in the captivating story of England's royal past, marvelling at the craftsmanship of long-gone architects, rulers, and workers.

While the Tower remains a working royal palace, it is also a treasure trove for tourists. The highlight for many is the Jewel House, where the Crown Jewels, including the Crown of England and the Sceptre of the Sovereign, gleam with historical significance.

Don't miss the iconic White Tower, which offers breathtaking city views and houses the Royal Armouries' remarkable collection of over a million weapons and artefacts. As you wander through the Bloody Tower, Wakefield Tower, Beauchamp Tower, and past the Traitor's Gate, history unfolds before your eyes. Truly, the Tower of London is a place where history comes to life.

Tower of London Tickets and Tours

Frequently Asked Questions about the Tower of London’s history

How old is the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is over nine centuries old.

Why is the Tower of London famous?

The Tower of London is famous because it holds historical and cultural value to England.

Where is the Tower of London?

The Tower of London is located at London EC3N 4AB, United Kingdom.

Who built/designed the Tower of London?

 William, the Conqueror, tasked Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, to design the Tower of London.

What is the architectural style of the Tower of London?

The Tower of London boasts Gothic, Tudo, and Victorian architectural styles.

How much does it cost to visit the Tower of London?

The Tower of London tickets cost £41.14.

Are there guided tours explaining the Tower of London’s history?

Yes. Guided tours explaining the Tower of London’s history are available.

What are some interesting facts about the Tower of London’s history?

The Tower of London was used as a prison, royal palace, and treasury in the past.

More Reads

Plan Your Visit to Tower of London

Tower of London Interesting Facts

Opening Hours of Tower of London