Posts Tagged William the Conqueror

The White Tower

21 May 2012
White Tower with fragment of ancient Wardrobe Tower

When William the Conqueror started building his “white tower” in the 1070s, Londoners had never seen anything like it. It is difficult today to grasp the full impact the new tower must have had on the surrounding populace. It served as a chilling reminder to them that they had been defeated and were now governed by a foreign power.

The White Tower is the oldest part of the Tower of London and is over 900 years old. Its basic design was inspired by the castles and towers that William grew up around in his native Normandy, just across the Channel. The Tower’s stones were imported from there. The White Tower consists of four towers: one circular and three square.

The purpose of the White Tower in William’s day was three-fold: it was used as a fortress, a palace and as a powerful visual symbol.

As a fortress, the White Tower was the last line of defense and the most secure part of the Tower complex. Enemies of the king had to get through many obstacles and the outlying curtain walls before reaching this heavily-secured inner fortress. As a palace, it was used as both a place for the king to lay his head, to conduct official state business and to entertain his guests. As a symbol, it was a vivid visual reminder of the new king’s power and dominion.

Today within the 90-foot-tall gleaming whitewashed walls, visitors are treated to a magnificent display of royal armor – the armor used by Henry VIII being the main attraction. Other items on display are weapons used throughout the centuries and even an execution axe and chopping block. The “Line of Kings” exhibit displays life-size portraits of the kings of England.

Don’t miss St. John’s Chapel within the White Tower. It is built of Caen stone from France and is one of the earliest examples of a Romanesque church interior in England. This simple, serene chapel is where Lady Jane Grey is said to have knelt in prayer before her execution. The chapel was completed in 1080.

Note: Some of the staircases in use are original to the building. Visitors should exercise caution when winding up the steps, many of which are uneven.

Did You Know? The White Tower got its nickname in 1241 when Henry III had it whitewashed.