The Tower and the Royal Ordnance

Civil War

Charles I's reign (1625-49) ushered in a long and bloody civil war (1642-9) between the King and Parliament. Once again the Tower was one of the King’s most important assets.

Londoners feared he would use it to dominate them but, in the end, the Tower was won by the Parliamentarians and it remained in their hands for the entire Civil War. Losing the Tower and London as a whole was a fatal blow to the King’s forces and a crucial factor in Charles’s defeat.

Cromwell destroys the Crown Jewels

After the execution of Charles I in 1649, Parliament organised a great sale of the King’s possessions. Orders were issued to take the Crown Jewels and ‘cause the same to be totally broken, and that they melt down all the gold and silver, and sell the jewels to the best advantage of the Commonwealth’.

Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector in 1653, installed the Tower’s first permanent garrison, which succeeding monarchs used to quell trouble in the city.

The Office of Ordnance

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II planned ambitious defences for the Tower but they were never built.

The Tower’s use as a state prison declined and instead it became the headquarters of the Office of Ordnance (which provided military supplies and equipment). Most of the castle was taken over with munitions stores and offices. The new Crown Jewels went on display – and in 1671 narrowly escaped being stolen.

A programme of maintenance rather than new building work characterised most of the 18th century; the existing fortifications were intermittently repaired. However, a new gateway and drawbridge were created at the east end of the outer southern curtain wall in 1774, giving access from the Outer Ward to the wharf. Efforts were made to prevent the moat silting up, with little success.


Lead image Charles II © Private collection Philip Mould Ltd Bridgeman Art Library

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