The Tower of London has a long history. The White Tower in the middle was begun by William the Conqueror in 1078 and it was greatly expanded over the years under several monarchs. It has served as a prison from the beginning of its days. It also served as a royal residence, though those buildings are largely gone now.
I have marked the important places related to royal women on the map.
Several royal women are associated with the Tower, the most famous being Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn became the second wife of Henry VIII after he broke with Rome to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. A pregnant Anne stayed at the Tower before her coronation and stayed in the same apartments three years later awaiting her execution. She stayed in the Queen’s Lodgings, which are now gone.
Another one of Henry VIII’s Queens, Catherine Howard, ended up in the Tower, though she spent most of her imprisonment at Syon Abbey, before being moved to the Tower two days before her execution. She too stayed in the Queen’s lodgings. Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford was serving Catherine Howard and was an accomplice in her meetings with Thomas Culpepper. She had survived her sister-in-law and husband’s fall but she would not survive this. Jane was interrogated for several months and “lost her wits”. She was nursed back to health in the custody of the wife of Admiral Lord Russell. She was rowed back to the Tower a day before Catherine and was also kept in the Royal Apartments, probably in the King’s or Queen’s Apartments. 1
Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, was kept at the Tower after her defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. Though it is not recorded where she was imprisoned, she was kept in “comfortless captivity” and was treated “with the utmost harshness”, suggesting that it was not in the comfortable royal lodgings.2 She was later moved to Windsor Castle and Wallingford Castle, before being allowed to leave for France.
Lady Jane Grey spent the entirety of her de facto nine-day reign in the Tower of London. During her tenure as Queen, she lived in the Royal Apartments. She attended the chapel inside the White Tower and received homage from the dignitaries in the presence chamber inside the White Tower. She spent the last six months of her life in lodgings to the left of the Beauchamp Tower. 3
The future Elizabeth I was imprisoned by her sister between March and May 1554. For those two months, she was held in the Bell Tower, which is just behind the apartments on Tower Green.
Both Margaret Douglas (daughter of Margaret Tudor and mother to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley) and Lady Catherine Grey (sister to Lady Jane Grey) were held in the Lieutenant’s Lodgings. 4 Margaret Douglas was held on the third floor, which adjoined the Bell Tower. As these apartments are currently in use as the official residence of the Queen, the Bell Tower and those apartments overlooking Tower Green are not open to the public.
Catherine Grey was actually eight months pregnant when she was admitted to the Tower and gave birth to her son there. As the Lieutenant allowed visits between Catherine and her husband, who was also imprisoned, she became pregnant again and her second son was also born in the Tower.
Arabella Stuart, a granddaughter of Margaret Douglas through her second son, was held either in the Bell Tower or in the Royal Apartments. Arabella was a claimant for the throne in the time of Elizabeth I and she married without the Queen’s permission. Though initially, she managed to escape from the house in Lambeth where she was being held, she was captured and brought to the Tower. Her husband escaped from the Tower and managed to evade arrest. It is thought that Arabella starved herself to death in the Tower.
Margaret Pole also had a claim to the throne. She had Plantagenet blood through her father, the executed Duke of Clarence, and in Tudor times that was particularly dangerous. Her brother, the Earl of Warwick, was imprisoned from a young age and he died at the age of 24 when attempting to escape from the Tower. It is not known where she was held in the Tower, but she complained of the cold and asked for more clothing. She finally received those items in March 1541, but could not enjoy them for very long. She was executed on 27 May 1541.
The White Tower houses the Chapel of St. John (one of the few places in the Tower where photography is not allowed) where Elizabeth of York lay in state after her death in childbirth.
This is the memorial for those executed inside the Tower walls, such as Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Catherine Howard and Jane Boleyn.
The Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula houses their remains and though the inside can be visited with a tour, photography is not allowed inside.
Apartments to the left of the Beauchamp Tower. Lady Jane Grey spent some time here. Directly behind is the Bell Tower, where Elizabeth I was imprisoned for two months and where Catherine Grey also stayed. It is possible that Arabella Stuart was imprisoned here as well. The timber buildings in the middle are now known as the Queen’s House but were called the Lieutenant’s Lodgings.
The Beauchamp Tower has a lot of prisoner graffiti and was also the place where Jane Boleyn was interrogated.
The name Jane was probably carved here by one of Lady Jane Grey supporters.
This is the area where the Royal Apartments that Anne Boleyn would have known were.
This the Traitor’s Gate, though contrary to popular belief Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I did not enter the Tower through this gate.
Inside St. Thomas’ Tower is a recreation of King Edward I’s bedchamber.
This place near the entrance to the White Tower is where the skeletons of two young boys were discovered. They are thought to be the sons of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV.
Just across the street is the memorial for the public execution site.5
- Fox, Julia (2007) Jane Boleyn. The Infamous Lady Rochford
- Hookham, Mary Ann (1883) The Life and Times of Margaret of Anjou, Queen of England Volume 2
- Chapman, Hester W. (1962) Lady Jane Grey.
- Weir, Alison (2015) The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox
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