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Prisoners of the Tower of London

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Prisoners of the Tower of London

From an early stage of its history, one of the functions of the Tower of London has been to act as a prison. The earliest known prisoner was Ranulf Flambard in 1100 who, as Bishop of Durham, was found guilty of extortion. He had been responsible for various improvements to the design of the tower after the first architect Gundulf moved back to Rochester. He escaped from the White Tower by climbing down a rope, which had been smuggled into his cell in a wine casket. [1]


  • 1106: Robert, Earl of Mortain. POW.
  • 1185: Constance of France on orders of Geoffrey de Mandeville.
  • 1196: William Fitz Osbert. Protesting tax to rescue Richard I.
  • 1199: John de Courcy. Rebellion in Ireland.


  • Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, a Welsh prince, the eldest but illegitimate son of Llywelyn the Great ("Llywelyn Fawr") was imprisoned in 1241. He fell to his death in 1244 whilst trying to escape.
  • 1296 - 1299: John of Scotland (John de Balliol). Imprisoned after forced abidication by Edward I.


  • John Graham, Earl of Menteith. Imprisoned after Neville's Cross. Hanged, drawn and quartered in 1347.
  • 1356 - 1360: John II of France. Captured at Battle of Poitiers. Released to raise his ransom. Returned to England when son Louis (replacement hostage) escaped July 1363.
  • 1399: Richard II of England then moved to and murdered at Pontefract Castle.


  • James I of Scotland, then heir to Scottish throne, kidnapped while travelling to France in 1406. Imprisoned until 1408 then transferred to Nottingham Castle.
  • The family of Owain Glyndŵr was imprisoned in the Tower in 1408, a year after Glyndŵr had been defeated by Henry IV.
  • Charles, Duke of Orléans was imprisoned in various English castles between 1415 and 1440, including the White Tower of the Tower of London.
  • 28 Jan 1450 - 17 Mar 1450: William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk. A royal favorite, Pole was snuck out of the Tower. But having riled up an angry mob, he eventually met his end at sea, and was murdered by a mock trial and execution.
  • 1471: Henry VI of England imprisoned after capture at the Battle of Tewkesbury and murdered in the Tower on 21 May. Each year on the anniversary of Henry VI's death, Provosts of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, lay roses and lilies on the altar that stands where he died.


  • 1502 - 39: Sir William de la Pole. Allegedly plotting against Henry VII. Longest-held prisoner.
  • Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, and his steward Sir John Thynne. Although Somerset was released from the Tower and restored to the Council, he was executed for felony in January 1552 after scheming to overthrow John Dudley, Earl of Warwick's regime.
  • 14 Apr 1534 - 06 Jul 1535: Thomas More. Executed.
  • 1537: Adam Sedbar, Abbot of Jervaulx. Took part in Pilgrimage of Grace. Hung. Drawn. Quartered.
  • 1539: Richard Whiting, Abbott of Glastonbury Abbey. Hung, drawn and quartered at Glastonbury.
  • 1539 - 1541: Margaret Pole, 8th Countess of Salisbury. Executed.
  • 1540: Thomas Cromwell. Executed.
  • 1546: Anne Askew, Protestant reformer. Heresy. Imprisoned, tortured and burned at the stake.
  • 1553: Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. Later sent to Oxford in 1554 to burn at the stake for heresy.
  • 1554: Future Queen Elizabeth I imprisoned for two months for alleged involvement in Wyatt's Rebellion.
  • Oct 1571 - May 1573: Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton imprisoned for his part in the Ridolfi plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and replace her on the English throne with Mary, Queen of Scots.
  • Mar - Jun 1581: Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford imprisoned for impregnating Anne Vavasour, one of the Queen's Maids of Honour, who had given birth to a son. Vavasour and infant were also imprisoned.
  • Anne Vavasour, a Maid of Honour (1580–81) to Elizabeth I, for having an illegitimate son with Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. All were sent to the Tower by orders of the Queen: mother, father, and child.
  • 1588-93: William Stafford, son of Sir Wm. Stafford of Chesby and Dorothy Stafford of Penshurst, Kent for conspiring to assassinate Eliz I.
  • 1594: John Gerard, Jesuit priest operating undercover during reign of Elizabeth I. Tortured and incarcerated in the Salt Tower before escaping by rope across the moat in 1597.
  • William Wright, Jesuit priest arrested in aftermath of Gunpowder Plot.


  • 1600 - abt. 1603: Sir John Hayward "the historian." Imprisoned for his biography, Henry IIII. Probably released around the time of the accession of James I.
  • 1603 - 1616: Sir Walter Raleigh. Thirteen years in relative comfort with wife and two children. For some of the time he even grew tobacco on Tower Green, just outside his apartment. While imprisoned, he wrote The History of the World.
  • 1605: Guy Fawkes. Gunpowder Plot. Interrogated by King's Ministers. Sentence: hang, drawn and quartered in Old Palace Yard at Westminster. Escaped by jumping off gallows' scaffold, but broke his neck and died.
  • 1605-06: Sir Everard Digby. Gunpowder Plot conspirator. Hanged, drawn and quartered.
  • Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland KG (1564 – 1632) suspected of being part of Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Spent 17 years as a prisoner. Fined £30,000.
  • Nicholas Woodcock. Sixteen months in "gatehouse and tower" for piloting first Spanish whaleship to Spitsbergen in 1612.
  • Sir Thomas Overbury imprisoned by James I 22 Apr 1613. 15 Sep 1613 after being poisoned. Murder resulted in one of era's biggest scandals.
  • 07 Jun 1614: John Hoskyns of Morehampton (lawyer, judge, politician and noted poet)
  • Niall Garve O'Donnell, Irish nobleman, one-time ally of English against cousin, Red Hugh O'Donnell.
  • Domhnáill Ballaugh Ó Catháin, last chieftain of Clan Ó Catháin. 1626: Died in Tower.
  • 1640 - 45: William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Treason. Executed.
  • 1668 - 69: William Penn, Quaker and future founder of Pennsylvania. Pamphleteering: 7 months.
  • 1679: Samuel Pepys, civil servant and diarist. Maladministration: 6 weeks.
  • 1685: James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth. Executed following Monmouth Rebellion.
  • 1688 - 89: Judge Jeffries. Defection of James II. Died of kidney disease.


  • 1712: Sir Robert Walpole - future PM imprisoned 6mo. for corruption.
  • 1746: Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat imprisoned after capture at Battle of Culloden. Executed 1747.
  • 1746 - 47: Flora MacDonald. Scottish Jacobite imprisoned for assisting Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden.
  • 1780: Henry Laurens, third President of the Continental Congress of Colonial America.
  • 1780: Lord George Gordon, instigator of Gordon Riots - 6 months in Tower waiting trial for high treason.
  • 1799 - 1801: Johan Anders Jägerhorn, Swedish officer from Finland, Lord Edward FitzGerald's friend, in Irish independence movement spent 2 years. Released due to Russian interests.


  • Josef Jakobs: German spy. Executed August 1941.
  • May 1941: Rudolf Hess, deputy leader of Nazi Party. Last state prisoner in Tower.
  • 1952: The Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, were among the last prisoners. Held a few days for failing to report for national service.


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