Execution inside the Tower, away from the gawping crowds, was a privilege reserved for those of high rank or for those who had dangerously strong popular support.
Ten people were beheaded on Tower Green which stretches to the west of the White Tower. The best known among those executed on or near Tower Green are three former queens of England. Two were the wives of Henry VIII.
Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, was in her early 30s and Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, was barely in her 20s. Both had been accused of adultery, but neither may have been guilty.
Lady Jane Grey, queen for nine days, was only 16 and the innocent pawn in a failed military coup by her father-in-law, the Duke of Northumberland.
Anne Boleyn was executed by the clean stroke of an expert swordsman shipped in from France especially for the occasion. On the day of her execution, she enquired, 'I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.'
Margaret Pole, another victim of the axe, was less lucky. A blundering executioner ‘hacked her head and shoulders to pieces’.
The following evocative memorial to the people who died here by order of the state is displayed at Tower Green:
‘Gentle visitor pause awhile : where you stand death cut away the light of many days : here jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life : may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage : under there restless skies’ - Brian Catling, creator of the execution site memorial.
A new digital adventure to uncover the hidden history in the heart of London.
Selected dates 11 July - 5 September
Approx. 80 mins
One of the undoubted highlights of a visit to Hampton Court Palace is the sparkling re-creation of Henry VIII's crown on display in the Royal Pew.