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Torture, treachery and the Tower of London

26 March 2012

William of Normandy erected the White Tower after the battle of Hastings in 1066 as a demonstrative act of power over his newly conquered country. Since its original construction, the tower has been extended and adapted for many purposes including: a state prison, an armoury, a mint, a menagerie and a home for the crown jewels. But it is the tower’s use as a prison with the grim scenes of torture and death that capture the imagination of the hundreds of thousands who visit it each year.

The tower’s most famous execution took place on 19 May 1536 when a French swordsman held up the severed head of Anne Boleyn, with her eyes still flickering and lips reciting a dying prayer. It is said that the headless ghost of this unfortunate queen still haunts the corridors of the White Tower.

Five years later, the 68-year-old mother of Cardinal Pole (leader of the opposition movement against Henry VIII’s break from Rome) was dragged to the scaffold kicking and screaming. She ...

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