The last prisoner to be held in the Tower of London was Rudolf Hess, the deputy leader of the Nazi Party. He was held there in 1941 after parachuting into Scotland in a renegade attempt to brook a peace with England. Hess was held in the tower for only four days on the orders of Winston Churchill, before being transferred to a regular prison for the remainder of the war.
The last prisoner to be held and executed in the Tower of London was Josef Jakobs, a convincted Nazi spy. Having parachuted into England in the midst of the Second World War, Josef landed near a farmstead in Huntingdonshire where he broke his ankle from the fall. Unable to move freely, he was forced to fire his gun into the air, drawing the attention of two local farmers who quickly alerted the local authorities. Afterwards, Jakobs was apprehended and taken to the Tower of London, where he was court martialled, found guilty of espionage and sentenced to death by firing squad.
The tower was built in separate parts. First, the White Tower, which was built in 1078. Then, the Inner Ward which was built during the 1190s. Finally, it was re-built in 1285 and the Wharf expansion was made in 1377-1399. It was constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, and subsequent British monarchs built on it throughout the years.
The full name of the Tower of London is quite the mouthful! Officially, it is to be known as, “Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London”. Now a historic landmark and iconic tourist attraction, the Tower is still technically owned by the Royal Family of England.
One of England’s most famous and iconic relics, the Crown Jewels, is actually located and kept within the Tower of London. Indeed, the Royal Coronation apparel as it is officially known has been kept within the Tower of London since the 1600s! Through the years, it has been estimated that over thirty million tourists have visited the Tower in order to see the Crown Jewels.
Interestingly, the Tower of London was never actually meant to be a Tower for keeping prisoners - despite what it has become associated with today, and its long history of holding famous prisoners. In fact, during the 13th century, Henry III was gifted a series of exotic animals, ranging from lions, polar bears and African elephants, which were then kept and cared for within the Tower.
During the Nazi bombing campaign of England, the Tower of London was devastated by a fierce series of bombings. Unfortunately, one of the central towers was completely annihilated, collapsing completely with rubble and debris sinking into the moat. Thankfully, after the war, the Tower was quickly rebuilt and opened to the public.
Not only was the Tower used for holding important prisoners for the better part of the last thousand years, it was also a crucial military base and stronghold for the British military during the war. Soldiers were trained in the Tower’s courtyard, while the moat and other defences that had been installed in it through the years made it a suitable point of defence in case of a land invasion.
The Yeomen Warders, known popularly as the Beefeaters, are the ceremonial guards of the Tower of London. Having actively served since the late 15th century in this capacity, the Beefeaters are permitted to reside within the Tower of London with their families. In order to become one of the Warders, you must have completed twenty-two years of active military service.
Within the Tower dwells a flock of ravens who are not permitted to leave. Cared for by the Yeomen Warder Ravenmaster, the ravens are considered by some to be the real guardians of the tower. Chillingly, it is told in legend (and on the Tower's website!) that the monarchy will fall if the ravens are ever to leave the tower.