Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






THE ceremony which accompanies the closing of the Tower Gates is of very ancient origin, and had reference to the safety of the Royal Palace, as well as to the security of State prisoners. A few minutes before midnight the Yeoman Porter attends at the Main Guard, and applies for the " escort for the keys." This consists of a party of six privates commanded by a sergeant, who accompany the porter to the outer gate, and assist him to close it. Having locked both the gate and wicket, the Yeoman Porter returns bearing the keys, and followed by the escort. As he passes the sentries, on his way back to the Main Guard, each of them challenges, and in reply to " Who goes there?" is answered " The keys." The sentry rejoins " What keys ?" to which the reply is given " The Queen's keys," and the escort passes on, till it arrives at the Main Guard, which now turns out, and after the same questions and answers as to the " keys " and what keys they are ? the officer opens the ranks, and presents arms to " The Queen's keys," which are then carried by the Yeoman Porter to the Governor's House, and placed in his Office. All this ceremony and precaution


may seem superfluous, but it is a remarkable fact, and not the less so from the late Duke of Wellington having caused much inquiry to be made on the subject, at the Home Office, and elsewhere, that there has never been any riot or serious disturbance in London, without some plan being laid by the ringleaders, for the attack and seizure of the Tower, from the days of Jack Cade to the Chartist Riots in 1848.

HENRY VI., Part II. Act IV., Scene 5. The Tower. Enter LORD SCALES, and others, on the walls. Then enter certain Citizens, below. Scales. How now? Is Jack Cade slain? 1st Cit. No, my Lord, nor likely to be slain; for they have won the bridge, killing all those that withstand them. The Lord Mayor craves aid of your honour from the Tower, to defend the city from the rebels. Scales. Such aid as I can spare you shall command: But I am troubled here with them myself; The rebels have essay'd to win the Tower. But get you to Smithfield, and gather head, And thither I will send you Matthew Gough: Fight for your King, your country, and your lives; And so farewell, for I must hence again. [Exeunt.

In Lord George Gordon's Riots, in 1780, a scheme of this kind was in contemplation by the mob. Lord George himself solemnly declared it was without his connivance, and very possibly that may have been true


but this is the common apology of those who place themselves at the head of riots, and it ought never to be received as any extenuation of their guilt and responsibility. The seizure of the Tower was also a chief feature in the wild and desperate conspiracy for which Colonel Despard and several of his followers were hanged in 1803. He had seduced from their allegiance, by plausible falsehoods and delusions, some unfortunate soldiers of the Foot Guards, who, having been in garrison at the Tower, were well acquainted with its localities, of which knowledge he proposed to take advantage, for more readily surprising the gates. Despard's object was not only to seize the large stores of arms and ammunition usually kept in the Tower, but he held out to his followers the chance of obtaining the valuable plunder of the Crown Jewels, and other precious deposits within the Tower walls. On the occasion of Sir Francis Burdett's Riots in 1816-17, plans were proposed for exciting and organising the mob to make an attack on the Tower, by some of his followers, though Sir Francis himself disclaimed, of course, any participation in them, nor was he at all the man to enter into any such absurd and desperate measure.

Discoveries of plans for seizure of the Tower were made on occasion of both Watson's and Thistlewood's conspiracies; also at the Riots in 1831, and the more serious demonstrations of the Chartists in 1848. It was from consideration of these facts, that the late Duke of Wellington, during the many years he held the office of Constable of the Tower, was extremely particular in maintaining the old rules, and very strict about all the


precautions for closing the gates at night, and refusing admission during the day to persons, who presented themselves, without ostensible business. It was by the Duke's desire, that a force of twelve constables from the Metropolitan Police was specially appointed to the Tower for prevention of pilfering in the public Stores, and also for security against the danger of fire. The number of old and dilapidated buildings within the Tower, and the numerous warehouses in the neighbourhood, require much vigilance in respect to fires, and although no serious accident has occurred since the great fire of the storehouses in 1841, yet in spite of all the watchfulness of police and sentries, it is a remarkable fact that no year passes without two or three alarms of fire in the Tower. The danger it is true has been quickly arrested by the immediate aid of the troops in garrison, and the excellent organisation of the Artillery in working and manning the four fire engines, but the cautions are very necessary and should never be relaxed.

It appears from the following account of a foreigner's visit to the Tower about 16o years ago, that at that time the precaution was taken of requiring visitors to leave their swords at the gate. The description of the royal furniture and stores in the Tower is so peculiar, that no apology is necessary for its introduction.

Extract from Knight's 'London.' "Paul Hentzner's account of his visit to the Tower in Queen Anne's time.-Upon entering the Tower of London, we were obliged to leave our swords at the gate,

and deliver them to the guard. When we were intro duced, we were shown above a hundred pieces of arras belonging to the Crown, made of gold, silver, and silk; several saddles covered with velvet of different colours; an immense quantity of bed-furniture, such as canopies and the like, some of them richly ornamented with pearl; some royal dresses, so extremely magnificent as to raise any one's admiration at the sums they must have cost. We were next led to the Armoury, in which are these particularities :-spears out of which you may shoot; shields that will give fire four times; a great many rich halberds, commonly called partisans, with which the guard defend the royal person in battle; some lances covered with red and green velvet, and the suit of armour of King Henry VIII.; many and very beautiful arms, as well for men as for horse-fights; the lance of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, three spans thick; two pieces of cannon-the one fires three, the other seven balls at a time; two others made of wood, which the English had at the siege of Boulogne in France, and by this stratagem, without which they could not have succeeded, they struck a terror as at the appearance of Artillery, and the town was surrendered upon articles; nineteen cannons of a thicker make than ordinary, and in a room apart thirty- six of a smaller; other cannons for chain-shot, and balls proper to bring down masts of ships; cross-bows, bows and arrows, of which to this day the English make use in their exercises. But who can relate all that is to be seen here? Eight or nine men employed by the year are scarce sufficient to keep all the arms bright.

The mint for coining money is in the Tower. N.B. It is to be noted that, when any of the nobility are sent hither, on the charge of high crimes punishable with death, such as murder, &c., they seldom or never recover their liberty. Here was beheaded Anna Bolen, wife of King Henry VIII., and lies buried in the chapel but without any inscription; and Queen Elizabeth was kept prisoner here by her sister, Queen Mary, at whose death she was enlarged, and by right called to the throne. " On coming out of the Tower we were led to a small house close by, where are kept variety of creatures, viz., three lionesses, one lion of great size called Edward VI., from his having been born in that reign; a tiger, a lynx, a wolf exceedingly old; this is a very scarce animal in England, so that their sheep and cattle stray about in great numbers without any danger, though without anybody to keep them; there is, besides, a porcupine and an eagle: all these creatures are kept in a remote place, fitted up for the purpose with wooden lattices, at the Queen's expense. " Near to this Tower is a large open space: on the highest part of it (Tower Hill) is erected a wooden scaffold for the execution of noble criminals; upon which they say three princes of England, the last of their families, have been beheaded for high treason. On the Thames close by are a great many cannon, such chiefly as are used at sea."