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Tower of London, Horrible History & Shakespeare

Blue Badge Guide and actor Tim Hudson gives us an insight as to what you can expect from a private tour of the Tower of London with him, which includes the full horrible history of the Tower.

Tim became intimately acquainted with the building in 2002 when – after a career as an actor that included four years with the Royal Shakespeare Company – he qualified as a London Blue Badge guide.

Shakespeare’s stories

“As an actor performing in Sir Thomas More, I was given private access to the Bell Tower where More was imprisoned before his execution in 1535. It was a sobering experience – the Tower can chill your soul, so there was a fascinating familiarity to the place when I studied there for my Blue Badge.

“Many of Shakespeare’s most murderous stories take place in the Tower. None more horrifying than the story of the two princes. 12-year old King Edward V and his nine-year old brother were taken to the tower for ‘safekeeping’ by their trusted uncle Richard. There was nothing outwardly sinister about this as the building was a royal palace in the 15th century. But the boys soon ‘disappeared’ and their uncle was crowned as King Richard III. When a medieval wall was demolished in 1674 it revealed two skeletons beneath a staircase in the White Tower. King Charles II declared them to be the bodies of the princes and they were removed to Westminster Abbey’s Innocents’ Corner.

“What actually happened to the princes is one of history’s great unsolved mysteries. Many Tudor writers maintained that evil uncle Richard murdered the boys to clear his path to the throne, but as a member of the Richard III society, I believe it was one of the other candidates. It could well have been Henry Tudor, the future King Henry VII, who had just as much to gain by the deaths.”

Tower of London, White Tower

The White Tower, Tower of London

Ways to die in the Tower

“Richard’s brother, the Duke of Clarence also met a gruesome end in the Tower for plotting against his brother King Edward IV. In a medieval mafia- type execution he was drowned in a butt of Malmsey, his favourite wine.

“The most notorious Tower executions was that of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII. Most traitors were beheaded with an axe, but having lived in France as a young woman, Anne asked Henry the ‘favour’ of sending for the Calais public executioner. The English axeman was often a drunken apprentice butcher and Anne wanted a quick dispatch. Henry paid 10,000 gold crowns for the French swordsman to come to London and sweep off his wife’s head in one blow. Her body was thrown into an arrow chest and buried in the Tower chapel St Peter ad Vincula.”

Most gruesome

“The most gruesome killing on Tower Green was poor Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury. Henry VIII could not get his hands on her troublesome son, so he went for the 67-year old mother. Margaret – the daughter of that Duke of Clarence suffered horribly at the hands of an inexperienced axe-man, a wretched and blundering youth who hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner.”

And finally…

“The final Tower execution took place in 1941. At 7.12am on the 15th of August, the German Second World War spy Josef Jakobs was shot on the rifle range in the moat – the only spy to be killed by firing squad, as most were hanged.

“It’s strange to think that Jakobs was executed when the Tower of London was already open to tourists. These stories are part of its attraction today– a theatrical mix of horror and history.”

Read the full article in the latest edition of The Guide magazine.

Find a guide for a private tour of The Tower of London.

Blue Badge guides are the only external guides with the privilege of guiding inside the Tower of London.