The Tower of London

Thomas Gate at the Tower of London.
Anthonis van den Wyngaerde Panorama of London
as seen from Southwark: The Tower​

© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford, WA1950.206.11
Origin/Date: London || c1544

The Tower of London, begun after the Norman Conquest, was more a symbol of royal power over the medieval City of London than a defensive structure to protect it. In the 1230s King Henry III built up the walls of the Tower, including many new prison cells, as a threat to stop Londoners disobeying his orders.

As the patron saint of the city after his death, Thomas Becket was seen in a vision by one Londoner standing by the newly-built walls one night and knocking them down with his cross. When the citizens awoke the next morning they found that the walls had indeed miraculously fallen down.

Henry III’s son King Edward I rebuilt the walls and towers, but as an offering to the saint he included a chapel to St Thomas Becket in the royal quarters. This tower on the Thames then became known as St Thomas’ Tower. At the Reformation the entrance under the tower was renamed Traitors’ Gate, not just because it was the route that traitors were taken to imprisonment and death, but because Thomas Becket himself had been a traitor against his king.



In England since the twelfth century, a chapel has meant either a part of a church containing an altar and used for worship, or a free-standing building used in a similar way. It can also mean a place of worship in a private house. The term comes from the ‘capella’ or cloak of St Martin, a major relic in France, the name of which was first applied to the building where the cloak was kept and eventually to other religious buildings.


Coming from the Normandy region of northern France, or associated with the ruling aristocracy of the region who successfully invaded England in 1066.

Thomas Becket

 English Archbishop (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162) and martyr, famously murdered by knights at Canterbury Cathedral after a dispute with Henry II. Miracles were soon recorded at his tomb. Canonised in 1173, his shrine became one of the most popular pilgrimage centres in Christendom. Patron saint of London with St Paul.

King Henry III

(1207-1272) King of England from 1216, who had a long and turbulent reign. He was deeply pious, and fostered the cult of St Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey.

King Edward I

(1239-1307) King of England from 1272, who had great devotion to St Thomas Becket, going on pilgrimage to Canterbury on many occasions and donating many golden and jewelled objects to the shrine.

‘About this time something was revealed to a priest in a nocturnal archbishop, dressed in bishop’s robes and carrying a cross in his hand, came to the walls which the king had built at that time at the Tower of London and, after regarding them with a scowling look, struck them strongly and violently with the cross, saying “Why do you rebuild them?” Whereupon the newly-built walls suddenly fell to the ground, as if thrown down by an earthquake. The priest, frightened by this, said to a clerk who he saw following the archbishop “Who is this?” To which the clerk replied ‘It is St Thomas the martyr, a Londoner by birth, who considered that these walls were built as an insult and to the prejudice of the Londoners, and has therefore irreparably destroyed them.” Matthew Paris, Chronica Maiora, 1241