The last Prisoners at the Tower of London
One of the jewels in historic London’s crown is the Norman structure of the White Tower within the compound of the Tower of London. The iconic the home of the Crown Jewels, the home of the nations Ravens, Royal Palace come barracks, former zoo, execution site and prison. The Tower has seen monarch before their coronation, as prisoners, executed and murdered within its walls. The Tower encapsulates English (Yes English not British) history and has seen some of the most exciting and tragic historic events in out history.
It is commonly thought that Rudolph Hess was the last prisoner to be held at the Tower of London. This is in fact untrue. Hess was the deputy Fuhrur of Nazi Germany. In 1941, he flew to Scotland hoping to meet the British government and discuss peace during WWII. However he was arrested and tried for war Crimes and was initially held at the Tower of London. He was only held there for 10 days on the orders of Churchill himself. He was then transferred to Mytchett Place a fortified masion where Nazis were kept in WWII.
In 1952 the Tower was used as a prison for the final time and it was for 2 of London’s most notorious gangsters, The Kray Twins. The reason they found themselves in this impressive penitentiary was not for their crime careers (at this time they were still small fry in the East End) it was because they had tried to escape from their National Service.
The reason they ended up at the Tower of London was because the Tower was the home of the Royal Fusiliers the company that they had be called up to serve. They were next sent to Shepton Mallett Military goal to await court martial.
Being incarcerated in the Tower guarantees you a place in history. What’s surprising is that the Tower still was used as a prison into the middle of the 20th century.
Great escapes from the Tower of London.
The first great escape was made in 1323 by Roger Mortimer. He had be friends with Edward II however he and other lords staged a revolt against Edward II and were defeated by the tyrannical king at the Battle of Boroughbridge. His former friendship with Edward II may well have spared him his life as unlike many of his co conspirators he was only imprisoned at the Tower of London.
On the night of the feast day of the Tower the feat of St Peter ad Vincular, (St peter in chains) the guards were getting “merry”. The towers sub lieutenant also helped Mortimer in his escape mission. Once outside the Tower he went along the thames to Greenwich, then the Isle of White and on to France.
He would reak revenge though as he returned with Queen Isabella The so called she wolf in 1326 and depose Edward II and is likely to have been behind his murder in BerkeleyCastle.
His time as ruler was short lived as he was also deposed by Edward III and would find himself back in the Tower before he went to the Tyburn Tree in November 1330.
The second person to have escaped from the tower was General John
Lambert a leading parliamentarian during Cromwells reign. At one point he looked like a good choice to succeed Cromwell however Cromwell favoured his Son. When Cromwell died Lambert was imprisoned in the Tower on the charge of Mutiny. General Monck wanted to restore Charles II. Lambert however was only held over traitor’s gate. He was able to escape using silk rope he had made and delivered via one of his many female visitors. He asked one of these women to impersonate him in bed to trick the jailors.
Once free he tried to gather the old fanatics to meet him at Edgehill, however this plan failed his was caught again and sent back to the Tower. He escaped with his life but would live his life out in captivity, on Guernsey, followed by DrakesIsland in Plymouth harbour he died in 1684, a broken man who had been driven insane after years of confinement. A sad story to say the least.
The last recorded person who managed to escape from this reinforced goal was Lord Nithsdale. Nithsdale was a Jacobite who supported James Edward “the old pretender” in an uprising of 1715. He was captured at a defeat in Preston and Brought to the Tower. He was facing death on the Green like so many before him. However his wife managed to come down from Scotland end got in to see George I she even begged on her hands and knees for her husband and was said to have held to Georges coat tails.
What was to happen next is so ridicules that it could be a plot from Blackadder. The night before his execution, Winifred, his wife and a group of tall female friends went to see her husband. They were all dressed in dark clothes and hoods. Each in turn went in to see the condemned man and in the middle of this procession of weeping female visitors out came Nithsdale pretending to be a weeping woman. He had a hanky over his face and is eye brows powered.
The last one in Winifred stayed in the cell holding a two way conversation with herself. When she left the cell she begged the guard to leave her husband in peace as he was saying his last prays in preparation for his death. The cell was empty. They escaped to Rome were they lived out their lives in poverty but rich in happiness and love.
The Tower of Londons history has been long and at times grisly and cruel. It has stood on the site for almost a 1000, years and will I hope be standing for a further 1000 years but hopefully for a less blood thirsty and grime future.