Medieval lodgings fit for a king, comfortable and luxurious
St Thomas’s Tower, the Wakefield Tower and the Lanthorn Tower at the Tower of London are today known collectively as ‘the Medieval Palace’.
The Medieval Palace once lay at the heart of what was formerly the residential area of the Tower. These were richly decorated and comfortable lodgings, grand enough for any medieval monarch.
St Thomas’s Tower, built by Henry III’s son, Edward I. Its impressive façade declared the magnificence of this warrior king.
Built by Henry III (1216-72) and his son Edward I (1272-1307), the interiors of the Medieval Palace have been re-presented for today’s visitor to evoke a vivid picture of 13th-century life.
Medieval monarchs never stayed at the Tower for very long, and it was usually for a specific purpose rather than pleasure, although the palace had to be fit for royalty, even for short visits.
Edward I only stayed in the Medieval Palace for 53 days in 35 years of rule!
In the 1200s, what we now call the Medieval Palace consisted of much more than St Thomas’s and the Wakefield Towers.
The enclosed area in front of the White Tower is called the Inmost Ward. In the 1200s it was a busy complex, full of buildings set up to serve royal residence. These included kitchens and a great hall. The Inmost Ward was protected by a high wall and the enormous Coldharbour Gate-Tower.
A view looking towards the Wakefield and Bloody Towers. You can still see the foundations of the medieval royal complex, and the remains of the Coldharbour Gate-Tower.
St Thomas’s Tower was built by Henry III’s son, Edward I, between 1275 and 1279. The Wharf that now separates this tower from the Thames had not been built then, so Edward’s building looked out directly on to the river. His royal barge could be moored beneath the great archway, below the royal apartment, which in later centuries became known as Traitors’ Gate.
Records describe the royal accommodation inside St Thomas's Tower as a 'hall with a chamber'. The first large room – the hall - has been left unrestored. This was where the King could dine and entertain. Remains of the hall’s original 13th-century fireplace, a garderobe (lavatory) wall and a picturesque vaulted turret still survive.
St Thomas’s Tower, with its huge archway that once opened directly onto the river before the building of the Wharf.
Edward I’s bedchamber in St Thomas’s Tower has been reconstructed using replicas based on original 13th-century furnishings. They may seem a little bright to modern eyes, but they are based on evidence gleaned from real medieval objects, illuminated manuscripts of the period and antiquarian drawings.
The room shows the King’s bed, close to the fireplace for warmth, but allowing him a view of the little ‘chapel over the water’, mentioned in 13th-century records. The wall paintings are based on the floral ‘pointing’ described in accounts for Edward’s mother’s chamber at the Tower.
Because the medieval court moved around so frequently, all their furniture could easily be dismantled and transported.
The royal bedchamber inside St Thomas’s Tower has been re-presented as it might have appeared in the time of Edward I.
The replica bed was based on one mentioned in medieval accounts, which was made to accommodate the tall, imposing King known as ‘Longshanks’.
The Lanthorn Tower, built as part of Henry III’s queen’s lodgings, was gutted by fire in 1774. The present building is 19th century. Inside, a selection of real 13th-century objects illustrate the lifestyle of Henry and Edward’s courts. Edward I’s son Edward II (1307-27) stayed in this east side of the castle when in residence at the Tower. The Lanthorn Tower was eventually adapted into the king’s chambers.
The circular Lanthorn Tower, part of the Tower’s massive inner curtain wall, was built to reinforce defences and to provide more royal accommodation.
The principal room was probably a private audience chamber. It now contains a replica throne and canopy, based on 13th-century examples. The pattern on the canopy and cushion features the Plantagenet lion – the symbol of the royal family. The painting on the chimney breast depicts the royal arms.
The vaulted ceiling is 19th-century. The fireplace and chapel are restored. The painted wooden screen is a copy of one very like that described in a detailed order by Henry III, which mentions ‘a good and suitable screen of wooden boards between the chamber and chapel’.
The Audience Chamber in the Wakefield Tower. This replica of King Henry III's throne is based on the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, which was made for his son, Edward I.
The chapel is associated with Henry VI who died in 1471 while a prisoner in the Tower during the Wars of the Roses. One side said he died of melancholy after hearing his son had been killed in battle. His supporters said he was stabbed to death while praying here.
Since 1923 the Ceremony of the Lilies and the Roses has been held here every year on the evening of 21 May, the day of Henry’s death, and is attended by representatives from Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge. Both of these institutions were founded by the unfortunate King.
Image: The King’s Private Chapel, just off the Wakefield Tower Audience Chamber.
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