The Beauchamp Tower, a significant historical landmark located in the Tower of London, was built between 1275 – 1281 by King Edward I. The tower replaced a twin-towered gatehouse that was built by King Henry III, father of King Edward I. Constructed mainly of brick, but externally faced with stone, it was named after its first prisoner, Thomas Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. The Earl of Warwick was attained by Richard II in 1397.
Throughout history, the Beauchamp Tower has been used to house high-ranking prisoners. Due to its large size and close proximity to the Lieutenant’s Lodgings, which is now the Queen’s House, it was the ideal location for holding important prisoners. One of its most notable prisoners was Lady Jane Rochford, who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII‘s fifth wife. Before the Queen’s trial, Lady Rochford was interrogated in the Beauchamp Tower.
Her confession within its walls was instrumental in bringing about the tragic death of Catherine Howard. Lady Rochford was beheaded on nearby Tower Green on the same day as Queen Catherine, February 13th, 1542, after her interrogation drove her insane.
The Beauchamp Tower’s fame stems mainly from its graffiti, which was carved on its walls between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This period saw a religious and political upheaval in England, and the Tower of London became the country’s primary state prison. The walls of the Beauchamp Tower bear numerous inscriptions, including one to the tragic Lady Jane Grey, who was the Queen of England for only nine days.
On February 12th, 1554, the seventeen-year-old Lady Jane watched her young husband go from the Beauchamp Tower to his execution on Tower Hill and saw his headless body carried back for burial at the Tower Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. Lady Jane was executed later the same day.
The most elaborate inscription is a memorial to the five Dudley brothers, one of whom was Lord Guildford Dudley, Lady Jane Grey’s husband. The Dudley family arms are represented by flowers, and the names of the four brothers who were imprisoned in the Tower between 1553-4 are shown by the flowers: Ambrose (roses), Guildford (carnations), Robert (oak leaves), and Henry (honeysuckle). All four were condemned as traitors in 1553, but after the execution of Guildford, they were pardoned and released.
Before his execution, Guildford Dudley asked his wife Lady Jane Grey, who was also imprisoned in the Tower, for a last meeting. However, Jane refused, explaining that it would only increase their misery and pain and that it was better to put it off until they met shortly elsewhere and live bound by indissoluble ties.
Guildford was led from the Beauchamp Tower on the morning of February 12th and executed on Tower Hill. Many gentlemen were there to shake his hand, and he made a short speech to the assembled crowd before he knelt and prayed.
He was dispatched with one stroke of the axe, and his body was taken on a cart, his head in a cloth, to the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula. Watching from her window, Jane exclaimed, “Oh, Guildford, Guildford! O the bitterness of death”. Jane was executed shortly after him on the same spot on Tower Green as Anne Boleyn, the Countess of Salisbury, and Queen Catherine Howard. The two were interred in the chapel.
In 1851, the Victorian architect Anthony Salvin was appointed to ‘restore’ the Tower to a pseudo-medieval form so that it could be opened to the public. As part of the restoration, Salvin repaired doors and windows, recreated the battlements, and improved the outside facade.
Today, the Beauchamp Tower is open to visitors as part of the Tower of London’s tour. Visitors can view the Tower’s famous graffiti and learn about the tower’s history and significance. The Beauchamp Tower serves as a reminder of England’s rich and tumultuous history, and its significance cannot be overstated.
In conclusion, the Beauchamp Tower is a significant historical landmark located in the Tower of London. It has been used on and off throughout its long history to house high-ranking prisoners. The Tower’s famous graffiti, carved between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is a testament to the religious and political upheaval that took place during that period in England.
Today, the Tower is open to visitors and serves as a reminder of England’s rich and fascinating history.
*Image: “File:London beauchamp tower 08.03.2013 12-32-44.JPG” by Dirk Ingo Franke is licensed under CC BY 3.0.