On Sunday, Oct. 27 (check local listings), PBS presents the first of three new “Secrets Of” specials, peeking in the corners the tourists don’t get to see at the Tower of London.
Properly called Her (or His, as the case may be) Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower sits on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. Built in the 11th century, it was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, when it housed crime mogul twins Ronnie and Reggie Kray.
As any fan of “The Tudors” knows, a fair number of queens, court officials and sundry undesirables lost their heads within its walls. The ghost of one, Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, is said to haunt the chapel where she is buried and to be seen carrying her head under her arm.
“There are so many stories of it being haunted,” says the film’s director, Vicky Matthews to Zap2it. “I don’t think we saw any ghosts when we were there, but there are plenty of stories about it being haunted.
“There’s so much history there, almost a thousand years of history. So yeah, there are so many characters that have lived and died there, and lots of bloody beheadings.”
A popular tourist attraction in modern times, it also houses the Crown Jewels and the ceremonial guards called the Yeomen Warders, aka Beefeaters.
“We went to the apartment of the Chief Warder,” says Matthews. “You go up these windy stairs in the medieval tower where he lives. You go in the door, and it’s all really modern. You would have no idea you’re in the Tower of London. It can be quite comfortable.
“But they’re pretty much imprisoned in the Tower after a certain time. So after 10 p.m., it’s not easy for them to leave, because the gates are locked.”
There was even a Yank locked up in the Tower.
“Called Henry Laurens,” says Matthews. “It was during the War of Independence. He was captured and kept in the Tower for a year.”
Laurens was luckier than most, having been freed in 1781 in exchange for Gen. Lord Cornwallis.