The Tudors

No, not the rather racey TV series but the real Tudors, staring Henry VII, his infamous son Henry VIII (yes, that one) and his children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth.  The actions of this family have had a deep and abiding impact, defining England more than Henry VIII ever would have thought possible when he came to the throne 500 years ago.

While Henry VII may have started building works at the Tower, it was Henry VIII who was to invest hugely, commissioning a variety of timber-framed buildings for his second wife, Anne Boleyn, some of which are still standing on Tower Green.  However, Henry’s split from Rome and the subsequent beheading of his Queen meant these buildings were rarely used as royal residences.  These events would characterise the Tudor reign as a period of political and religious intolerance, which when combined with the unquestionable authority of the monarch, would also redefine the Tower as a notorious prison and provide sufficient fodder for even the most enthusiastic tour guide.

Although the abiding vision is of the Tower as a dark, damp dungeon, filled with instruments of torture, willing executioners and their less than willing victims, the records show that very little torture was authorised.  Many prisoners, contrary to Tower myth, lived very well indeed, paying for food and luxury items from their own pocket, though this is not to say the psychological impact wasn’t significant. It was, after all, mainly the very sensitive prisoners that were held at the Tower, and I don’t mean those that listened to Morrissey records, but those that could, by the nature of their social status, be perceived as a threat to the monarch.

The name 'Jane' is etched into the wall of the Beauchamp Tower

The name 'Jane' carved in stone in the Beauchamp Tower

The downside of an overfamiliarity with our own history as well as the impact of the tourist gaze, is that it’s easy to become nonchalant about how epic and bloody these events really were.  But the events of the Tudor era do still continue to reverberate even today.  Consider the fate of those that made marks on the walls in the Beauchamp Tower, etching the names of loved ones in stone with their own hands, all the while looking over their shoulder at the execution site below.  There’s more emotional impact in those few square feet of stone than there is in a thousand history books.

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