HM Prison - The Tower of London
The State prison
Prisoners at the Tower were not ordinary offenders, they were accused of treason. Prisoners ranged from monarchs to commoners and offences included:
- trying to kill the monarch
- helping rebels or foreign enemies
- speaking against the monarch
- counterfeiting coins
Contrary to it's terrifying myth, only 22 executions have ever taken place within the Tower of London.
Some prisoners lingered at the Tower for many years, others tried to escape. Bishop Flambard, a former Constable of the Tower, was its first prisoner and first escapee in 1100.
Last man beheaded on Tower Hill
Lord Lovat was convicted of treason and has the distinction of being the last man to be beheaded on Tower Hill.
On the day of his execution, 9 April 1747, much to his amusement, one of the scaffolds built for spectators collapsed resulting in the deaths of twenty onlookers.
The execution block displayed in the White Tower is said to have been used in Lovat’s beheading. It is formed from a solid piece of oak and weighs 57kg (125lb).
Elizabeth I imprisoned
Queen Elizabeth I was reputed to have despised the Tower of London. She had good reason; before coming to the throne she had been imprisoned here in 1554, having been regarded as a threat by her sister Queen Mary.
She was said to have greatly feared the Tower, it having been the place where her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been imprisoned and later executed in 1536.
Torture at the Tower
Most incidents of torture happened at the Tower of London during the Tudor period. Prisoners were mentally and physically tortured. Prisoners were threatened with torture, were shown the instruments and then if they still didn't co-operate, were tortured. The main ways to torture people at the Tower were the rack and the manacles.
The Jesuit priest John Gerard, a Tower prisoner in 1597, described being taken to a vast, dark underground chamber (probably the White Tower basement). On three occasions he was severely tortured there in the ‘bracelets’ – left hanging suspended by his wrists – and was unable to move his fingers for three weeks after.
*Images © courtesy of the Board of Trustees of the Armouries
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