Forgotten stories of 3 royal prisoners at Queen’s House in the Tower
History often talks about victories, downfall of rulers and chronological record of events that shapes the present, but in between there are many forgotten stories that are worth mentioning. In this article, you will find the forgotten stories of 3 royal prisoners at Queen’s House in the Tower of London, famously known as “a fortress, a palace and a prison” These were Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Arbella Stuart. First, a little about all the prisoners of the Queen’s House and about the Queen’s House itself.
The Prisoners of Queen’s House – An outline
The Queen’s House at the Tower of London was home to highly notable prisoners, and some of noble birth. Out of seven prisoners that were executed at the Tower Green, there were three queens. Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for just nine days, Anne Boleyn, the second wife to Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII. Along with the queens, there were four others, who were executed on the orders of the monarch during the bloody Tudor rule. Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochester (sister-in-law to Anne), Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex and William Lord Hastings in 1483.
Other prisoners who were not executed at Tower Green but were prisoners at the Queen’s House were Lady Arbella Stuart, first cousin to King James I and Guy Fawkes. one of the conspirators who wanted to blow up Parliament. Guy Fawkes underwent many hours of interrogation at the Queen’s House.
Of all the prisoners, the forgotten stories of 3 royal prisoners at Queen’s House in the Tower, namely Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Arbella Stuart are worth knowing. Here is an introduction to their very short lives beyond the walls of the famous fortress.
About the Queen’s House at the Tower
The original Queen’s House was built in 1530s during the reign of Henry VIII. It is believed that King Henry VIII probably built it for his second queen, Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn is said to have resided there before her coronation in 1533. Ironically, she also stayed there before her execution in 1536. Her lodgings are said to have become uninhabitable and Henry VIII ordered it to be torn down. The Queen’s House that we see today was built in the 1540s, about four years after Anne Boleyn’s execution.
The architecture of the Queen’s House is completely different to the rest of the Tower buildings that are made of bricks and stones. The Queen’s House is a remarkable Tudor style, half-timbered house. It is said to be one of the oldest of Tudor houses remaining in Britain. The Queen’s House is presently home to the Resident Governor of the Tower of London and guarded by the Royal Guard.
Georgina says: The beauty of this old architecture is admirable. I don’t find architecture of such delight anymore, with such care and skill and “heart” to details. I am glad that this “old” is preserved not as a museum but as living “breathing” and an on-going place.
Forgotten stories of 3 royal prisoners at Queen’s House in the Tower
Anne Boleyn, Queen of England
There are many books written on Anne Boleyn, yet she is one of the forgotten stories of 3 royal prisoners at Queen’s House. Anne was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536. She was the second wife of King Henry VIII. They were married for three years and three months. They had a daughter, Elizabeth. Anne could not give Henry a son, an heir to his throne.
Often known as ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’, Anne was falsely accused of adultery, witchcraft and conspiracy against the King. She was imprisoned in the Queen’s House until her execution. Anne was executed at Tower Green, on May 19 1536. She is buried at the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula.
Anne has left no voice of her own, so no-one really knows how she felt and why she became queen.
A memorial for Anne Boleyn
At present, there is a plaque dedicated to Anne Boleyn and a permanent memorial dedicated to all those who were executed at the Tower Green. This memorial was erected in September 2006, designed by British artist, Brian Catling. Erected close to the execution spot, the memorial gives visitors to the Tower a focal point for contemplation, remembrance and reflection. Many visitors leave flowers on the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s execution.
It is important to remember that the Tower and its layout was very different back in the day during these executions. The Queen’s House as it stands today did not exist when Anne Boleyn stayed there. The spot where the memorial is erected is not the exact site where the scaffold was erected for Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Catherine Howard. The true site of scaffold is said to be on the gravelled area between the Jewel Tower and the White Tower.
More on the Tower Green Memorial, below.
Anne Boleyn’s Daughter, Elizabeth
Anne Boleyn’s daughter, Elizabeth, inherited the throne in November 1558 and became Elizabeth I, Queen of England and Ireland from November 17 1558 until her death on March 24, 1603. She was famously known as ‘the Virgin Queen’, ‘Gloriana’ or simply as ‘Good Queen Bess’. As Elizabeth never married and left no heir, she was the last of the five monarchs in the House of Tudors. She was succeeded by James VI of Scotland, and became James I of England.
It is hard to find even the simplest statements of Anne Boleyn during her life as Queen. Anne was literally wiped out of history books at least for the remainder of Henry VIII’s reign. The portraits of Anne that exist now were created by her daughter, Elizabeth I during her reign. Unbiased descriptions of Anne were written after her death, though this is a rare find.
Stay tuned for more on Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn family
The ghost of Anne Boleyn is regarded as one of the most famous in Britain and has reportedly been seen many times at the Tower of London especially around Tower Green where she was executed. Anne is also regarded as “The most well travelled ghost in Britain” because she is regularly seen around Salle Church, Blickling Hall, Marwell Hall and Hever Castle – “often seen the way she was in life: happy, young and beautiful.” Read more on Anne Boleyn’s ghost sightings in Anne Boleyn Britain’s Most Well Travelled Ghost.
Lady Jane Grey | ‘9 day Queen’
Lady Jane Grey is a tragic story and is another of the forgotten stories of 3 royal prisoners at Queen’s House. Jane Grey is remembered in British history as the monarch with the shortest reign, Queen for nine days, July 10 1553 to July 19, 1553. She was also known as Lady Jane Dudley as she was married to Guildford Dudley of the Dudley family, who was imprisoned at the Beauchamp Tower. Jane Grey was an English noblewoman, the great-granddaughter of King Henry VII, and cousin to King Edward VI, son to King Henry VIII.
Lady Jane Grey was fifth in line to the throne but was proclaimed Queen on the death of King Edward VI, to retain England under a Protestant rule.
Lady Jane Grey on her Procession to the Tower
Jane was wearing a green velvet dress embroidered in gold, with a long train carried by her mother.
Her headdress was white, heavily decorated with jewels, and on her neck a chinclout (a type of scarf) ‘of black velvet, striped with small chains of gold, garnished with small pearls, small rubies and small diamonds … furred with sables and having thereat a chain of gold enamelled green, garnished with certain pearls.’
However, King Edward’s half-sister, Mary, who was a Catholic, daughter to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, second in line to the throne, was proclaimed Queen, at just nine days of Lady Jane Grey becoming Queen. Lady Jane Grey was found to be guilty of high treason, imprisoned at the Queen’s House in 1553. She was just seventeen years old when she was executed at the Tower Green, on February 12 1554.
Learn more about Lady Jane Grey – future article
Lady Arbella Stuart
Lady Arbella Stuart is virtually unheard of in English history, but yet she may have changed the course of history and the lines of succession of the monarchy had she inherited the throne from Queen Elizabeth I instead of James I.
Arbella Stuart was English, the first cousin of James I and grand daughter of formidable Bess of Hardwick. She married William Seymour, grandson of Lady Catherine Grey. who himself had a claim to the throne, secretly and without seeking permission of James I. As a result, Seymour was sent to the Tower and Arbella on house arrest. In June 1611, the couple plotted to escape but Arbella was caught and brought back to the Tower, while Seymour made it to France.
Arbella was confined to the Queen’s House. Her health deteriorated during the course of 1612 and 1613. In her later days, Arbella refused food and drink. She died September 25, 1615 at the young age of thirty-nine. She never saw her husband again.
James I refused a royal funeral and Arbella was placed without a ceremony in the vault of her aunt, Mary, Queen of Scots, in Westminster Abbey.
Born of royal blood, Arbella had a better claim to the throne than her cousin, James VI of Scotland (James I of England) because she was born in England – it is this, that some historians say may have changed English history all together had she inherited the throne.
Learn more about Arbella Stuart and of her childhood in Hardwick Hall – stay tuned for a future article
Tower Green Memorial
The Tower Green Memorial is a permanent memorial dedicated to all those who were executed on Tower Green.
The Tower Green memorial designed by Brian Catling features two engraved circular glass. The glass circles lists the names of all those who were executed at Tower Green. There is a sculpted glass pillow in the centre as a focal point. On the polished black stone base is the following poem, curated by the artist himself:
Gentle visitor pause a while,
Where you stand death cut away the light of many days;
Here, jewelled names were broken from the vivid thread of life,
May they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage,
Under these restless skies.”Brian Catling
Brian Catling explained his reasons for a circular design:
I wanted to make people walk around the piece, “Before, people would come and stand in front of the small plaque that used to be here – they just stood and didn’t know what to do so I thought: ‘let’s give them something to do’, they now have to walk around it to read the poem – they have to engage with it.”
“None of the names on here are really traitors,” added Brian. “Monuments are usually to people who have died in a war or a battle, this is different. You can’t really illustrate the brutal acts of dying that took place here but this I hope is a way of suggesting it.”B Catling
The memorial focuses on ten executions that took place on Tower Green, within the walls of the fortress. In addition to the seven names already mentioned earlier, there were three Black Watch soldiers from the 1743 Highland regiment. The three soldiers were Farquar Shaw, with brothers, Samuel and Malcolm Macpherson. They were shot by a firing squad made up of their own comrades on July 19 1943. A large slab of black marble is set into the floor in the southwest corner of the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, marking the spot where the three bodies lie. Their names are inscribed beside those of queens and nobles.
In 1743 the Highland regiment were en route to Scotland for leave when the King summoned them to London. About one hundred soldiers went absent from duty. They were rounded up and taken to the Tower on charges of mutiny.
The other ninety-seven soldiers were pardoned eventually and released afterwards.
Exploring the stories of those who died behind the walls of the fortress especially the three royal prisoners at Queen’s House in the Tower of London is significant as these are stories that characterised the nation and its identity. This is where the royal prisoners met their last moments and it is a powerful thing.
Visiting the Tower of London is a lot more than just seeing it as an attraction. Every step you take from the moment you enter the grand fortress, past the ticket booth is a step in the thousand years of history of this beautiful living castle. Built as a fortress, to signify strength, and a palace as home for the royals, the Tower of London became a prison even though it was not built for such a purpose. The Tower is the most secure castle in the land and home to the Crown Jewels, the most famous and precious of British treasures.
So, when you visit the Tower, be sure to explore at your own pace and learn the stories that makes this iconic palace a unique destination. To get you started on your journey of discovery of the Tower, I share my passion of history and it gives me great pleasure to share the following articles on the Tower of London with you.
Tower of London | Best Guide to What you need to know
Bloody Tower at the Tower of London
A Must Read on British History | Selection of Books on famous prisoners of the Bloody Tower
Magnificent Crown Jewels at the Tower
Ways to experience the Tower of London
Practical information to consider when visiting the Tower of London
Getting to Tower of London:
Tower of London, London, EC3N 4AB
Tickets & Prices:
Buying online is cheaper and convenient. Entry to Tower of London includes entry to the Crown Jewels Exhibition, the White Tower and the Beauchamp Tower.
Places to Stay in London when visiting the Tower of London
Choices on accommodations in London are literally unlimited! From budget hostels, two or three star hotels to high-end hotels and apartments, it seems endless….
I have personally experienced the superb hospitality and quality and would highly recommend a stay at the Millennium Hotels and Resorts in London. Millennium Hotels are centrally located and within easy access of London’s transport network.
Browse Millennium Hotels & Resorts in London and book yourself a fabulous experience.
You could also take a look at the Radisson Hotels chain for accommodations ranging from upper upscale, mid-market, millennial lifestyle, hotels with a unique personality and story, as well as if you are travelling on business.
Browse Radisson Hotels in London and book yourself a beautiful and memorable stay.
As well, you could run through booking dot com, a site I use and frequent for my searches on accommodations when I travel.
Browse a wide range of accommodations offered by Booking dot com to suit all budgets in the City of London
Activities to do in London when visiting the Tower
As with accommodations, the activities available to do in London are endless. A city that never sleeps, with transportation that works twenty-four hours a day, there is something you could do at any given time. Navigate to Discover London with Georgina and MyCityMyTown series for ideas and inspirations. If you are planning a visit during the festive season, Christmas in London has articles that will inspire you to move London to the top of your list!
A popular destination within a stone’s throw of London is the historic town of Greenwich, renowned for when Time began. View the full article and related articles on Greenwich which includes Cutty Sark, Queen’s House, National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory and Planetarium. As well as recommended activities you could do when visiting this destination.
A visit to London is never complete without a trip to the countryside or wider UK. A day trip from London is highly recommended as it adds value to your experiences of England and not just limited to London. Popular day trips are a visit to Windsor, home to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, an experience that will blow you away, or go on a little adventure to the Isle of Wight. If you are not restricted in time and wish to explore more of UK, then a visit to Scotland is highly recommended. There are many highlights in this amazing land of the fairies that will leave you speechless and an experience of the Highlands will stay with you forever.
The UK boasts a good train network connecting London to the rest of the United Kingdom directly or indirectly via network exchanges. Experience UK like you have never before by train travel, by visiting the best scenic destinations by train while saving on your journeys. Read all about train travelling and unique experiences here.
What to expect in the coming weeks on easy Sunday read:
Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn family
Lady Jane Grey
Beyond the Walls of the Tower by the Historic Royal Palaces
Britain’s most well travelled ghost
Ghosts of Blickling Hall
My sincere wish is that reading this article has inspired you to visit the Tower of London and to know more of historic Britain. Ensure you are subscribed for future articles so you are first to receive the latest on timelesstravelsteps.
BASICS FOR LONDON
- Airport Transfer from/to London Heathrow (Any Terminals) to/from Hotel/Point of Stay in Central London: Group, up to 4 persons
- London Hop-on Hop-off Best Deal Tickets for 1 to 2 days or 1 to 3 days;
- The London Pass from 1 to 10 days for discounted theatre tickets, free entry to top attractions and dine at London’s restaurants for less;
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I am so glad you enjoyed the stories – absolutely, background info to a country we travel to is fascinating :} Thank you so much, I appreciate your comment.
love the stories shared here – its so fun to learn more about the history of places you visit
Absolutely, I think the memorial is awesome and it certainly makes us stop, and ponder.
That is fascinating – I would love to visit the Portrait Gallery one day when we return to normalcy.
Thank you so much Sue, I miss going into London as well and would just love to watch the skyline from the perimeter of the tower. I’m glad you enjoyed your visit to the Tower and look forward to knowing more from your perspective
History has always fascinated me and I am glad you enjoy them as well. Absolutely, I think knowing a little of British history goes a long way to understanding the landmarks in London. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on this article. I appreciate your visit.
This is very fascinating, I really like the idea of the memorial encouraging those who visit to truly read and engage with. This would be a great idea for other artists to consider in future memorials.
Absolutely fascinating – those royal folks were a wild bunch 😀 I’ve visited the tower, but I think I’ve learned more about the history at the Portrait Gallery – that’s actually like walking through a history book. Also there is a painting at the Courtauld Gallery of those two abducted princes – yes, I learn a lot from paintings 😀
I find the Tower of London & the depth of history there fascinating but I have to admit that I only visited for the first time last year between lockdowns. It was sad to see it so empty but made for the perfect time to visit. My highlight was definitely chatting to the Beefeaters & learning some of the stories of individuals who were imprisoned here. I wasn’t fully aware of the background to all these 3 though so thanks for highlighting. I look forward to the day when I can go back to London (& I only live just outside!).
I must admit that I find the Henry VIII period of bloody rule to be fascinating. I did not know that the Queen’s House was where such notable prisoners were housed. Or that the one now standing was re-built after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Certainly built on blood! We will certainly have to visit the Tower Green Memorial on our next London trip. Knowing a little more of this history will make our next visit to the Tower of London more interesting.
Thank you so much, Sarah. Glad you like historical sites in London. I do love a good ghost story myself 🙂 Stay tuned for more.
Fascinating. The Tower of London is my favourite historic site in London and I loved learning the history. The way you write the stories is great, I just love this period in history. And I love a good ghost story 😀
Thank you so much Nancy. We all have a history which we hope never existed but the stories of the past has paved the way for our present. History has found its way to the list of books to read these days due to much time I have at present .
Thank you for such an interesting post. I’m an American and know bits and pieces of British history. I’m always astounded at the power struggles (and executions) in the royal families of the past. It makes me thankful to live in a Democracy…although, as we saw this year, the transition of power is not always as calm as it should be.
Thank you so much Ade. Some of these stories are truly touching and beyond one’s comprehension, nevertheless, as you so rightly pointed out, is part of English history and is worth knowing.
Wonderful blog yet again, especially for those unfamiliar with that part of history. My mum was always fascinated by Henry VIII and recalling the what happened to each wife and what order.
This is so worth reading because in essence the reign of Henry VIII was to have profound consequences well beyond our shores.
The separation from the church in Rome, the events that led from that and to the Reformation and of course the Reformation led to the Pilgrims leaving for America and all that then happened.
Understanding our history in so many ways is not possible without understanding where it began. Much as executions and alike I find hard to read they remain and important part of our history.