Over nearly one thousand years the Tower of London has been a castle, a prison and a place of execution. This last reputation as a place of execution is somewhat undeserved as only 22 people have been executed at the Tower and 12 of those were in the twentieth century. Executions were normally held on nearby Tower Hill, close to the current underground station of the same name, where the execution could take place in public.
The Tower occupies the site of a fortification first built in 1066 by William the Conqueror. The central, White Tower was built in 1078 and became a resented symbol of the Norman conquest.
The present day layout follows expansion in the 12th and 13th centuries. Over the years features have been added and removed and the uses made of the Tower have changed to suit the needs of the day.
The Tower was and still is a Royal Palace but like many other Royal Palaces, its current use is mostly as a tourist attraction and heritage site.
The Tower has never had to defend itself from any serious military assault bar a couple of unruly mobs that have made unsuccessful attempts, although it has been fortified or refortified on several occasion when war or revolution threatened.
Prisoners kept in the Tower were normally those who had committed treason in one form or another. Famous prisoners include Elizabeth the First, the Two Princes allegedly murdered by their uncle Richard III and Anne Boleyn, one of the many wives of King Henry VIII.
Other uses of the Tower include the base for the Royal Mint between 1278 and 1810, as an arms and ordnance store at various times and as a secure repository for the Crown Jewels.
The Crown Jewels are currently held in a high security gallery in the Jewel House so they may be viewed by visitors. There has only been one successful attempt to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower. In 1671, Thomas Blood made off with the jewels but was soon apprehended. Somewhat bizarrely, he was later pardoned by Charles II and granted Irish estates for his trouble!