Often termed the most haunted tourist attraction in London, the Tower of London boasts a long and bloody history. Operating as a prison among other things, the Tower was the end of the line for criminals in London for nearly 1000 years. Hundreds of people were imprisoned, tortured, and executed within the confines of the Tower, leading to legends that it’s now haunted by the ghosts of the damned.
Keep reading to find out 10 eerie facts about one of the creepiest and most fascinating landmarks in England, the Tower of London, which is now a World Heritage Site and an official Royal Residence.
11 William The Conqueror Established It As A Fortress
The Tower of London is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London and yet many people still don’t grasp how historically significant it is. William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy, established the White Tower back in the 11th century. Following the conquest of London, he decided to build a fortress in case the local population rose against him.
William was the first Norman king of England and his conquest caused several chain effects that ended up shaping British history in the Middle Ages. Put simply, he was a big deal, and so is his Tower.
10 Several High-Profile Prisoners Were Kept There
Well known as a prison, the Tower of London hosted several notable prisoners during the years that it ran. People who committed all sorts of crimes were sent to the tower, including deposed monarchs. Live Science explains that Lady Jane Grey was a prisoner there after her very brief stint on the throne.
One of the most famous people to have been imprisoned in the Tower was Anne Boleyn, the wife of Henry VIII. The notorious king also had another wife, Katherine Howard, imprisoned, as well as his former counselor, Thomas More.
9 And Tortured There
Unfortunately, the Tower of London also has a reputation as a place of torture. Well before torture was considered inhumane, a number of prisoners were subjected to pain and suffering while in the Tower. A Jesuit man named John Gerard was tortured in the Tower and lived to tell of his experience. Involving periods of hanging in the basement of the White Tower, his account isn’t for the faint-hearted.
Though torture did take place at the Tower, some prisoners were treated well. If they were of noble birth, they were sometimes allowed to leave the castle for fresh ai, and even had their own servants.
8 Around 400 People Were Executed There
According to a variety of sources, around 400 people were executed inside the Tower of London. Often, the method of execution was beheading. The last person to be beheaded inside the Tower was Lord Lovat, a Jacobite who was killed in 1747. The last person to ever be executed in the Tower was Josef Jakobs, a German spy who was shot by firing squad in 1941.
Over the centuries, the execution methods in the Tower changed. Though the majority of prisoners were decapitated, some were also hanged, drawn, and quartered and burned at the stake.
7 Some Executions Were Public
With far less entertainment available than there is today, people in the Middle Ages often enjoyed watching an execution go down. In many cases, the executions that took place in the Tower of London were public. For those noble prisoners, such as Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey, the executions were carried out in private to afford them a last shred of dignity.
People were sentenced to execution for all kinds of reasons, including treason against the king, practicing Catholicism, scandalous words in parliament, murder, desertion, rioting, and extreme cruelty.
6 Many Believe The Tower Is Haunted
Considering all that happened at the Tower of London, it’s easy to see how some believe that it’s haunted. Some legends claim that the ghost of Anne Boleyn still wanders around the grounds holding her head beneath her arm.
There have also been supposed sightings of the ghost of a grizzly bear, as well as apparitions of Henry VI, Catherine Howard, and the nurse of Prince Edward, Dame Sybil. The Tower has inspired a number of ghost stories and even appeared in an installment of the children’s horror fiction novels, Goosebumps.
5 It Was Said To Be Where The Lost Princes Were Murdered
In the 1000 years that the Tower of London has been operating, several fascinating myths and legends concerning the Tower and its prisoners have been born. One of the most well-known theories concerns princes Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, who disappeared after their father died. The theory goes their uncle locked them in the Tower and had them killed so he could take the throne for himself.
The story was mostly passed off as a fable until the bones of two boys were discovered inside the Tower in the 1600s. It hasn’t been proven that the bones belong to the lost princes, but it does make you wonder.
4 The Tower Is Home To Legendary Ravens
Another famous legend regarding the Tower of London is that it must always house six ravens. According to superstition, the Tower and the British monarchy will fall if the six ravens ever leave the fortress. To this day, there is a flock of ravens in the Tower, coming under the responsibility of the Ravenmaster.
The legend dates back to Charles II, who was supposedly the first monarch to ask that the ravens be protected inside the Tower. You can still see the ravens in the Tower today if you’re lucky. They live beside the Wakefield Tower.
3 It Still Contains The Crown Jewels
For many, the Tower of London was a place of death and despair. But it also happens to house treasures that are worth more than $32 billion. Of course, we’re referring to the Crown Jewels, which are still kept in the Tower.
You can see the jewels inside the tower by visiting the Jewel House vault in the Waterloo Block. The ceremonial objects and regalia were worn and used during the coronations of the kings and queens of Britain. The official Crown Jeweller cleans the jewels each January after visiting hours.
1 Beefeaters Still Guard The Tower
Yeoman Warders is the name given to the guards at the Tower of London, but they're also known as Beefeaters. They live at the Tower, and their historic uniforms cost more than $9,000. The guards have been active since the Middle Ages and still uphold many of the same traditions that they’ve been carrying out for centuries.
Beefeaters currently have 21 duties, including greeting and guiding visitors to the Tower. To become a Yeoman Warder, you have to have completed 22 years of service in the Armed Forces.