The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London.
The Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat.
The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.
It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952 although that was not its primary purpose.
The Tower of London has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. In the absence of the monarch, the Constable of the Tower, a powerful and trusted position during the medieval era.
The peak period of the castle’s use as a prison was the 16th and 17th centuries, when many figures who had fallen into disgrace, such as Elizabeth I before she became queen, were held within its walls.
Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, popularised by 16th-century religious propagandists and 19th-century writers, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the World Wars of the 20th century.
Executions were more commonly held on the notorious Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period. In the latter half of the 19th century, institutions such as the Royal Mint moved out of the castle to other locations, leaving many buildings empty.
This gave a good opportunity to restore the Tower to what was felt to be its medieval appearance, clearing out many of the vacant post-medieval structures. During the First and Second World Wars, the Tower was again used as a prison, and witnessed the executions of 12 men for espionage
The collection is made up of crowns, sceptres, orbs, swords and robes, as well as many other priceless objects.
Far more than gold and precious stones they are potent symbols of 800 years of monarchy.
Most of the collection dates from around 350 years ago when Charles II acceded to the throne. The medieval regalia had either been sold or melted down by Oliver Cromwell, a republican who overthrew the monarchy in 1649, during the English Civil War.
A number of items are still used at coronations but many pieces, like the state trumpets and banqueting plate, have fallen out of use, and some were only designed to be used once, such as the Imperial Crown of India (right) made for King George V in 1911.
When not in use, the jewels are on public display, mainly in the Jewel House, a vault at the Tower of London, where they are seen by over two million visitors from across the world every year.
St Edwards Crown, shown left, is the current ceremonial and coronation crown, as worn by our current Queen.