by Debra Brown
See also The Tower of London, Part One
The Tower of London is the oldest fortified building still in occupation. It was built to protect the Norman William the Conqueror from the angry people he had conquered, starting in 1066. For many centuries there were many people living therein. These included archers, men-at-arms, groomsmen, masons, carpenters, warders, gaolers, the executive and administrative staff, roadmenders, domestic servants, cooks, barmaids, tradesmen, messengers, and prisoners (who at times exceeded a thousand in number).
The First Known Prisoner
The first known prisoner was also a Norman, Rannulf Flambard, chief minister to William II (Rufus). He was a churchman whom Rufus later appointed Bishop of Durham. He was of humble origins, but worked his way up to his positions by flattery and treachery. He was dishonest, unscrupulous and arrogant. Londoners cried out against him for his practice of extortion, an endless succession of taxes and heavy fines. Clergy learned that he was selling church appointments to the highest bidder, and they joined in against him. Rufus was benefiting from the money brought in and did not listen. His successor Henry I, however, wanted to allay the people and charged him with simony. He was imprisoned in the White Tower, and all England rejoiced greatly.
Flambard was allowed great privileges as a prisoner, including chaplains, servants and a plentiful supply of food. Many casks of wine were brought in. Interestingly, he was imprisoned in the Banqueting Hall. One night he invited his guards to dine with him. In one of the casks, rope had been hidden by his friends. He made sure that the warders drank plenty, and as they slept it off, he tied the rope to a pillar by a window. Though he barely could squeeze his great girth through it, he managed. The rope was short and he fell part of the way to the ground, but merely bruised, he succeeded in escaping. Friends took him by boat and then ship to Normandy.
Because the Church did not allow its followers to loan money on interest, the Jews came to be the country's sole moneylenders. Traders, craftsmen, landowners, noblemen and even the King himself would borrow from them. Often the interest was high, goods and land were given as surety, and the Jews inevitably profited. Resentment began to develop against them. The Jews were regarded as aliens who dressed differently, talked with accents and took no part in Christendom's ceremonies. Soon growing anti-Semitism was fanned over the killing of Jesus, and the Jews were accused of ritually slaughtering Christian children. A massacre of Jewish elders occurred when they brought gifts for the coronation of Richard the Lionhearted. To prevent such incidents, the Jews were made to live in separate walled sections of towns. A part of the city of London is Old Jewry. This picture is looking eastward from Frederick Place into Old Jewry.
Richard greatly disapproved of the outbreaks, for the Jews brought considerable profit to the Crown in taxes and fines. Henry III allowed them to move into the Tower of London to escape persecution. However, his son had a different viewpoint. Edward I had borrowed heavily from Italian bankers, who later moved into England. The Jews were no longer indispensable. In 1278 Edward arrested them all on the charge that they were clipping precious metals off the coins of the realm. He moved the Mint into the Tower, and he imprisoned six hundred Jews in its rat-infested vaults. After some months, 267 of them were taken out and hanged. In 1290, they were banished from the country and did not return for four centuries.
Welsh and Scottish Kings
Welsh chieftain Llewellyn the Great took two-thirds of Wales back from the Norman Marchers. His son, Griffith, was captured and taken to the tower along with his own son, also named Llewellyn. Though Griffith died in an attempt to escape, his son was allowed to rule the northwest corner of Wales on the condition that he did homage to the English King. Llewellyn, titling himself Prince of Wales, declined to pay homage to Edward and even married Simon de Montfort's daughter. His head was impaled upon a pike above the White Tower. His brother David was also executed and the title Prince of Wales was bestowed upon Edward's eldest son, who was born at Caernarvon. The title, ever since, has been given to the eldest son of the monarch.
In 1295, John Baliol, King of Scotland, allied himself with France and marched his troops across the border into England. Edward retaliated. Baliol's rivals for the throne, the father and son both named Robert Bruce, supported Edward. Edward captured Edinburgh Castle and Baliol surrendered. He and his son went to the Tower along with other Scottish prisoners. His life there was luxurious, paid for by the English King, who now had Baliol's personal estate. At the Pope's intercession, Baliol was pardoned and given a home in England and a pension. A second Scottish leader, William Wallace, crossed the border to fight and was executed at the Tower.
The Princes in the Tower
Edward IV died at the age of forty, and his elder son was proclaimed King Edward V at only twelve. His uncle, Richard of Gloucester, was to be Protector during his minority. Richard, however, ordered the postponement of the coronation. Edward V was moved to the Tower, where he could have a comfortable residence and be 'adequately protected' by guards under Richard's control.
Of course, you know of other famous prisoners in the Tower of London. Some of those will be discussed in my next post.
Resource: The Tower of London by R.J. Minney
Debra Brown is the author of The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, an early Victorian novel inspired by the stories of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.