Long before the Grinch stole Christmas, the season of goodwill had been banned by the controversial figure of Oliver Cromwell, a man who is remembered as either a regicidal dictator or a true friend of liberty for his actions during and after the English Civil War (1642 – 49). Leaving Christmas out of the equation, Cromwell’s influence in English history is huge – he was an instrument in the execution of King Charles I after all – but his influence at the Tower is significant for some unexpected reasons.
The English Civil War (1642-1649) was like all wars, a tragedy. The nation tore itself apart in a supreme battle of wills between crown and parliament over the monarch’s divine right to rule. While the war raged for several years, the Tower’s role in the conflict was limited as it fell early in the war to the Parliamentarians, a terrible blow to Charles who despaired at the loss of this strategic stronghold.
Following the execution of Charles I, the puritan Cromwell ordered the crown jewels ‘to be totally broken, and that they melt down all the gold and silver, and sell the jewels to the best advantage of the Commonwealth.’ This move was not only a very painful loss of bling, but a terrible oversight in the early development of the tourist trade.
English tourism was saved, however, as a new collection of crown jewels was begun with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Following his coronation, Charles II inadvertently began the Tower’s transformation into a tourist destination by establishing two permanent public displays of arms and armour – the Line of Kings and Spanish Armoury – a shrewd propaganda move intended to reinforce his claim to the throne.
The King’s ambitious plans for new Tower defences would never be realised, however, and the nature of the Tower began to change over the years. Prisoner numbers fell considerably and the site became a storage facility as the Office of Ordnance was established at the Tower, providing supplies and equipment to the military.