General Sir Gordon Messenger appointed next Constable of the Tower of London

General Sir Gordon Messenger will succeed General The Lord Nicholas Houghton in the historic role from 1 August 2022

Her Majesty The Queen has approved the appointment of General Sir Gordon Messenger, KCB DSO* OBE DL, as the 161st Constable of the Tower of London. General Messenger will be the first Royal Marine to hold the post, which has been recruited from the senior ranks of the Army since 1784.

The role of Constable is the most senior appointment at the Tower of London and dates back to within a few years of the Norman Conquest. Previous incumbents have included St Thomas Becket and the Duke of Wellington. As Constable, General Messenger will be HM The Queen’s representative at the Tower, and its formal Custodian. He will also become a Trustee of Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity that manages the Tower of London and five other royal sites, including Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace.

General Messenger joins the Tower in a busy year which will see the famous fortress encircled by Superbloom, a field of flowers installed to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee. He will succeed General The Lord Nicholas Houghton in the post from 1 August 2022, but his formal installation ceremony will take place in Autumn 2022. The installation of a new Constable takes place within the Tower’s walls, in a traditional ceremony that involves the Lord Chamberlain, as the monarch's representative, handing the Tower's golden keys to the Constable, as a symbol of his custodianship.

General Sir Gordon Messenger served as a Royal Marine from 1983 to 2019, in a career that spanned operational command, capability development, public communications and the strategic leadership of Defence. His career was notable for being the first Royal Marine to be promoted to 4* for 45 years, and the first member of the naval service since the Korean War to be awarded a Bar to the Distinguished Service Order. His operational tours include Kosovo, Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan, culminating in command of 3 Commando Brigade in Helmand from 2008 to 2009. After serving as Deputy Commander of NATO’s Allied Land Command, he was appointed as Deputy Chief of Defence Staff and then Vice Chief of Defence Staff in May 2016. Since retiring, he has served on a number of Boards and, most recently, was commissioned by the Government to lead a Review into leadership and management in the Health and Social Care sectors.

General Sir Gordon Messenger said,

‘I’m delighted to be appointed Constable of the Tower of London. This is a historic role and it is a huge honour to follow in the footsteps of some illustrious predecessors. The Tower has a truly remarkable history and remains a thriving visitor attraction today. I look forward to playing my part in its story.’

Rupert Gavin, Chairman, Historic Royal Palaces, said,

‘We are all delighted at HRP, that General Sir Gordon Messenger has agreed to accept the appointment. He has an outstanding track record and will bring a wealth of leadership experience both to the Tower of London and to the Board of HRP.

I would also like to thank General The Lord Houghton on behalf of the Board of Trustees for his outstanding six-year tenure as Constable. He has contributed significantly to a unique period in the history of the Tower of London and has been an exemplary trustee of HRP as a whole.

We are very grateful for his clear strong leadership, most recently during the challenges of the pandemic.’

Notes to Editors

For further information and images please contact Laura Hutchinson in the Historic Royal Palaces Press Office: [email protected] / 07990726229

The role of Constable of the Tower of London is the most senior appointment at the Tower of London, dating back to within a few years of the Norman Conquest. The office was established by William the Conqueror 1078 and the holder was then known as the Keeper of the Tower. It was not until 100 years later that the title was changed to Constable. The first Keeper is thought to be Geoffrey de Mandeville, a powerful Norman baron who fought alongside William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. One of the earliest non-hereditary appointees was Thomas Becket, later Archbishop of Canterbury, the only holder of the office to date to be made a saint.

Historically, the Constable was in charge of the operation, upkeep and security of the Tower and all those who lived and worked within it. Amongst his particular duties was the safekeeping of the Tower’s prisoners. For Sir William Kingston, Constable during the reign of King Henry VIII, that meant presiding over the incarceration of Queen Anne Boleyn and Sir Thomas More.

In addition to these weighty responsibilities, the role of Constable of the Tower of London also came with perks. For example, in return for his service, the Constable was given the right to seize any swan that swam under London Bridge. Any horses, oxen or pigs and sheep that fell off London Bridge and every ship that came upstream to the city had to moor at Tower Wharf to unload a portion of its cargo for the Constable - these included oysters, mussels, cockles, rushes and wine. This tradition is still upheld at the Ceremony of the Constable's Dues every year when military ships visiting the Port of London deliver a barrel of rum to the Constable on Tower Green.

The Duke of Wellington became Constable in 1826 and remained in the role for 26 years. A national hero from the Napoleonic Wars, the Duke was a highly influential Constable and held office during a time of immense change for the Tower. He reformed the Body of Yeoman Warders by establishing the criteria that they must be ex-military, he closed the pubs and shops inside the Tower in order to turn it into an efficient military installation and he built the Victorian gothic building, the Waterloo Barracks. He also drained the moat which, by 1841, was ‘impregnated with putrid animal and excrementitious matter…and emitting a most obnoxious smell’. The duke drained it and created the dry ditch, or fosse, that visitors see today. He also oversaw the move of the Royal Menagerie to become London Zoo in Regent’s Park, and his tenure saw the Tower establish itself as a major tourist attraction.

Since the death of the so-called ‘Iron Duke’, the post has been filled by senior military officers. The most recent Constables have been:

General The Lord Nicholas Houghton: August 2016 – July 2022

General The Lord Dannatt: August 2009 – July 2016

General Sir Roger Wheeler: August 2001 – July 2009

Field Marshall Lord Inge: August 1996 – July 2001

Historic Royal Palaces is a team of people who love and look after six of the most wonderful palaces in the world. We create space for spirits to stir and be stirred. We want everyone to feel welcome and accepted. We tell stories about the monarchs you know and the lives you don’t. We let people explore and we set minds racing. We are a charity and your support gives the palaces a future, for everyone.

Registered charity number 1068852. For more information visit www.hrp.org.uk