The oldest part of the Tower complex, construction is thought to have begun in 1078 under the orders of William the Conqueror. It is the oldest example of a Norman keep in England. Its dimensions are 90 feet tall and 107x118 feet across.

The entrance to the Tower is on the first floor (second story in America) via a removable staircase, designed to make invasion of the Tower more difficult. The most recent version of the staircase is visible in the lower right of the photo above.

The name "White Tower" probably comes from when it was painted white during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272). The onion domes were added to the turrets in teh 16th century. The earlier ones were probably cones or pyramids.

 


The Chapel of St. John the Evangelist is located on the second floor of the White Tower. It is one of the earliest church interiors preserved in England. At one time the columns were possibly painted in bright colors.

This was the place of worship for the soverign and court when they were at the Tower. (Regular residents would, and still do, attend services in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.)

Some famous events in royal history took place here: Elizabeth of York (Queen to Henry VII) lay in state here after her death in childbirth. Mary I was betrothed to Philip of Spain by proxy here in 1554. It has been said that Catherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were married here, although it is currently held that they were wed at Old St. Paul's Cathedral.

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The White Tower has been used as a residence, a prison, a place for state events, an astronomical observatory and a repository for papers.

The first record of the Armouries in the White Tower is from the reign of Elizabeth I in 1565. In 1599 there is record of a servant appointed to collect entrance fees. Soon after though, it became a storehouse for arms and records. (Some genius even decided to put a lot of papers next to the gunpowder stores!) In the late 19th century, it was opened to the public.


The Tower of London