Jones’ overview of the Tower of London’s thousand year history was no doubt a massive undertaking. Imagine it: ten centuries worth of sieges, celebrations, world-altering decisions, wrongful deaths and sovereign decrees all held within these walls, on just a few acres of land.
Jones visits the (in)famous as well as the less well-known. Henry VIII’s wives are well represented, as is the disreputable reputation of torture of its prisoners. But it also unearths more obscure facts like Issac Newton’s position as the Warden of the Mint. For several hundred years the coins of the realm were stamped on the grounds. And I only knew of the menagerie because of my visit there last year. But I didn’t realize that William Blake visited the tiger in order to observe the “fearful symmetry” of the fierce cat.
Jones’ indexed book is well-researched and, while educational, it is far from dry. This is partially due to the Tower’s rich history, but Jones also presents the information in an absorbing manner. It manages to encompass the years 1078 to present day all within an approachable format. His rich descriptions bring the ancient past to life:
Minting money was hot, hard, laborious, noisy and dangerous work. The interior of the mint’s workshops were a hellish inferno full of the clash and splash of metal, both hard and molten. A sweaty, smoky, smelly world where hammers clanged deafeningly and glittering, jagged splinters of precious metal and molten droplets flew through the filthy air, causing painful injuries. Few mint workers escaped their service without losing a finger or an eye to their risky craft. ~Pg. 35
A good deal of my knowledge of British regicidal history comes from Shakespeare’s plays. It was enjoyable to put those pieces together with the documented stories, and learn more about the place I was fortunate enough to visit. Surely there are layers yet to be discovered, and there is no doubt that some things will just never be known.
This is an excellent handbook for those interested in English history in general as well as the past days of the Tower. I cannot wait to visit again, now with this insight.
** I suggest following @ravenmaster1 on Twitter. Chris Skaife is the official Ravenmaster for the Tower of London and posts great pictures from the site.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for the review copy.
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches, 464 pages
Plus one 16-page b&w photo insert and map endpapers