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a tale of Restoration intrigue by

Molly Brown

The Tower

John Stow, The Survey of London, 1598:

In the 17th century, The Tower of London was already a tourist attraction. The armoury was the first section of the Tower to attract paying visitors. A German describes an early tour of the Tower's weapon collection: "Upon entering the Tower we were obliged to quit our swords at the gate and deliver them to the guard. We were then led into the armoury where there are these peculiarities: spears out of which you may shoot: shields that will give fire four times: a great many rich halberds, commonly called partisans..."

The most popular attraction was the menagerie: a semi-circular bastion fitted with cages, trapdoors and a public viewing gallery. Private zoos had been one of the status symbols of the Middle Ages and the zoo in the Tower developed from a collection begun by Henry III in 1235, when he was sent three leopards by the emperor Frederick II.

(James I is said to have practiced some bizarre experiments in the menagerie. Apparently he once placed a lamb into the lions' cage to see what would happen. The story goes that the lamb simply lay down at the lions' feet and was later taken out of the cage unharmed. When James wanted to see if English Bull Mastiffs would be a match for the lions, the dogs were not so lucky. Two mastiffs were killed and a third badly injured.)

The practice of displaying the Crown Jewels to the public began soon after Charles II's Restoration. The display was informal, with little security. The jewels were kept in a cupboard in the Martin Tower. Visitors would be brought into the room, the door would be locked and the jewels taken out of the cupboard. In the early 1660s, the Master of the Jewel House was a man named Sir Gilbert Talbot. Talbot delegated the job of showing the jewels to a septuagenarian servant named Edwards.

In 1663, an Irish adventurer known as Colonel Blood made a famous attempt to steal the crown jewels. Blood and a female accomplice visited the Martin Tower, posing as a clergyman and his wife. The accomplice pretended to be taken ill; Edwards took her upstairs to be cared for by his wife, giving Blood an opportunity both to reconnoitre the tower and befriend the jewels' keeper. Over the next few days, Blood and his "wife" made several more visits to the tower where they were welcomed by the old man, who had been led to believe that Blood had a wealthy young nephew who would make an excellent husband for Edwards's daughter. Early on the morning of 9 May 1663, Blood returned with three male friends to discuss arrangements for the wedding. During this discussion, Blood casually enquired if his friends could see the jewels. Once they were in the Jewel House, Edwards was seized and a wooden plug thrust into his mouth. The old man tried to fight off his assailants and was beaten over the head and stabbed in the stomach. Blood and his cohorts broke the cupboard open and were removing the jewels when they were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of Edwards's son, on leave from the army. They fled, shooting a warder along the way, but were overwhelmed and captured at the wharf where they'd left their horses waiting.

After Blood's attempt, security was tightened to include an armed sentry on the door and the installation of a sturdy metal grill in front of the jewels.

In 1669, the Yeoman Warders of the Tower were nicknamed "Beefeaters" because of their reputation for eating large daily rations of beef.

The legend attached to the Tower ravens (that if they leave the Tower, the Tower will fall and with it, the kingdom) is also believed to have originated during the reign of Charles II, possibly as an attempt to endear the newly restored monarch to his subjects.

The Tower in the 17th century was not merely a tourist attraction; it was the barracks of a military garrison, a prison, the home of the Royal Mint, and the repository of all public records. It was also used for ship-building and - during the Dutch war of 1664-67 - the processing of men who had been press-ganged into the Royal Navy.

Pepys's Diary:

In 1674, some workmen came across a chest ten feet beneath an old rubbish dump near to the White Tower. The chest contained the skeletons of two young boys. There was no doubt these were the remains of the "princes in the Tower" - Edward V and his younger brother Richard of York, who had vanished in 1483, believed to have murdered by their uncle, Richard III.

Charles II had Christopher Wren design an urn to hold the bones and ordered them to reburied in the royal chapel. (The urn was opened in 1933 and a number of tests performed on the bones. The investigators' report concluded that the children's bones were indeed those of the two princes and that they had probably been murdered by suffocation.)

The Tower even had its own astronomer: John Flamsteed was appointed to the post in 1675 when an observatory was briefly established in the north-east turret of the White Tower.

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(c) 1996 Molly Brown