The White Tower is the most iconic of the Tower of London’s nine towers, and one of the most famous London tourism landmarks. In January, you’ll be able to visit one of the newest exhibitions which is hosted in the White Tower, so we thought this would be a good opportunity to take a closer look at the tower itself.
After William the Conqueror took over in 1066, he commissioned the Tower as a fortress and royal palace, as well as somewhere grand as a backdrop to host official ceremonies. Building work began in the 1070s and was the tower was completed by 1100.
The building was enormous by the standards of the time. England had never seen anything like it before and the White Tower dominated the skyline for miles around. It was designed to be an impressive symbol of the king’s strength over the newly conquered English people, which is possibly why the distinctive white stone for the tower was imported from William’s native Normandy.
Prisoners at the White Tower
Until the 14th century, the White Tower was used to house prisoners. The very first prisoner was Ranulf Flambard, the Bishop of Durham and King William’s chief tax collector. When William died, his successor, King Henry I, accused Flambard of the very un-bishop-like behaviour of extortion and locked him up in the Tower in 1100.
It’s no coincidence that Flambard was also notable as the first prisoner to escape from the Tower, after allies delivered a casket containing a gallon of wine and a smuggled rope. Flambard invited his guards to join him for drinks. After a while they became very drunk and fell asleep, at which point he tied the rope to a column in the middle of the window and climbed down the outside wall. His friends were waiting for him with horses and he escaped to France.
Flambard returned to England the following year in a failed attempt to overthrow Henry, led by the King’s brother, Duke Robert Curthose. Amazingly, when the King pardoned his brother, he also pardoned Flambard so he never had to return to his cell.
Planning your visit to the Tower of London? View our Thames cruise offer.
Armoury in action on the top floor of the White Tower
From January 2017, the top floor of the White Tower will have a new permanent exhibition called Armoury in Action. The exhibition is divided into six zones, each ‘hosted’ by a different character from the Tower’s history. You’ll be able to explore arrows, firearms and swords from the Norman to Victorian periods through objects and interactive displays. You can even have a go at dressing Henry VIII in his suit of armour, fire a cannon, try out your swords skills (through an audio visual display) and design your own musket.