Historian and journalist Jones (Countdown to Valkyrie: The July Plot to Kill Hitler, 2008, etc.) enlightens and delights in this history of the London Tower.
The author begins with tales of William the Conquerer, whose “motte-and-bailey” forts could be erected “within a week.” The stone Tower of London, on the other hand, became the center of power and residence for the English royalty through Elizabeth I. The buildings surrounding the White Tower served not only as royal pomp, but also as the armory, where blacksmiths forged swords, fletchers made arrows and weaponry was stored, including gunpowder (a near disaster during the Great Fire of 1666). After King John lost the crown jewels in the Wash estuary, his son Henry III ruled that their replacements be kept in the Tower at all times. During his reign, Henry expanded the buildings, centralized the Mint and established the Royal Menagerie, which delighted visitors for 600 years, until the Duke of Wellington expelled the animals to the newly built London Zoo in Regent’s Park. Jones enumerates the many who lost their heads, as well as the many prisoners who suffered little and accomplished much—e.g., Walter Raleigh, who wrote The History of the World during his 13 years there. There were also many who left behind heartfelt letters to family, most notably Thomas More. Jones offers a wealth of interesting tidbits, including the story of one escapee who carved tools and blackened them with polish.
A historian’s history that deserves pride of place in every library.