Originally posted February 22, 2023.
Several Tudor queens have now come to be associated with the Tower of London. Two of Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, awaited their deaths at the Tower. Henry’s daughter, the future Elizabeth I, was imprisoned at the Royal Palace, situated within the inner ward of the Tower, during the reign of her sister Mary I and released on the anniversary of her mother’s execution.
Lady Jane Grey, England’s Nine Days Queen, also spent her final days within the Tower’s confines, and has long been rumored to have watched from the windows as her husband’s headless body was driven through the streets, only to be executed herself soon after.
But during the reign of Henry’s father, the Tower of London held a markedly different significance, serving as a lavish royal lodge regularly utilised for the birthing of heirs. It was here that the queen consorts of England, including Anne and her predecessor Catherine of Aragon, slept with one eye open before their coronations. And although largely forgotten in modern times, this royal fortress was once heavily associated with Henry’s mother Elizabeth of York, who died within its walls – not from the axe, but rather due to a devastating bout of ‘childbed fever,’ a malady that tragically claimed both the Tudor matriarch and her newborn daughter.
Though ultimately the site of her death, the Tower of London carried fluctuating significance for Queen Elizabeth throughout her life. It became a focal point of contention during her early years as a Yorkist princess when she found herself under siege as Thomas Neville sailed up the River Thames to liberate Henry VI. It served also as the misty backdrop to the disappearance of her brothers, the infamous “Princes in the Tower,” a perplexing historical puzzle that has remained unsolved for over five centuries.
It was also where Elizabeth awaited her coronation, in a suite of sumptuous apartments befitting of a Queen of England, such that her mother had been.
And, tragically, Elizabeth would spend her somber final birthday in the Tower, shortly before succumbing to puerperal infection.
After Elizabeth of York’s death in 1503, the Tower ceased to be used as a royal nursery and instead morphed exclusively into a grisly stage of retribution and macabre executions. This would have been a far cry from the palace and fortress Elizabeth had known and likely admired, an imposing palace on the banks of the Thames which had served as a glorious setting for her accession and, of course, the fulfillment of the most important role for a queen: childbirth.