Blood. That’s what gives the Tower of London its infamous reputation. From the Bloody Tower, where the murder of two young princes took place, to the Cradle Tower, prison to the notorious Kray Twins (not many people are aware of the fact that the Tower of London was used to keep prisoners as recently as 1952), its chilling history brands itself as one of the most terribly terrific attractions in London.
While the Royal Collection’s spectacular display of the Crown Jewels is the most talked about exhibit at the Tower of London, the most understated and intriguing exhibition there is the Execution Site.
Off with their heads!
Perhaps the most popular and mesmerising place at the Tower of London is the Execution Site because of the brutal executions of commoners and nobility alike. The site was established during the Middle Ages and was initially used as a burial ground for nobles and prisoners who lived there.
But it was Henry VIII who began the site’s legacy of brutality. In 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, was sentenced to death by beheading. Her crime? Failing to produce a living son and heir. Six years and two wives later, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, suffered the same fate – she was sentenced to death by beheading for her crimes of adultery at the tragic age of 18.
The last execution
Most people associate executions at the Tower with medieval history, but many are surprised to discover that the last person executed there was during the Second World War. Josef Jakobs, a German spy, was injured whilst parachuting into the UK – he gave himself up in order to seek medical treatment, was subsequently charged with treason and was shot on 15 August 1941.
Despite its grim reputation for torture and death, it’s easy to get caught up in the sheer fascination of the Execution Site. You won’t find anywhere else where London’s history comes to life as vividly as it does here.