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Executions in the TowerPrevious page: The Tower as a Prison
After Edward IV's death occurred the dramatic scene in the great Council Chamber high in the keep, when the Duke of Gloucester, before the assembled lords, bared his arm, accused Hastings of sorcery, and sent him to instant execution beneath the steep walls.
A few weeks later the lad who should have been crowned as Edward V, and his brother, the Duke of York, were murdered in the Bloody Tower, and Gloucester thereafter was crowned at Westminster as Richard III.
In 1674 bones, believed to be those of the two little Princes, were found at the foot of a stairway of the keep, and were buried by order of Charles II within Westminster Abbey.
The first Tudor King, the founder of the Yeomen of the Guard (about 1485), sent a number of impostors to the Tower, and with them the real son of Clarence, who remained captive until his execution.
Sir William Stanley was another victim. Henry VIII's reign furnishes a long list of Tower executions - the hated Ministers Dudley and Empson, the Duke of Buckingham, Sir Thomas More, the venerable Countess of Salisbury, Bishop Fisher, and many others.
From her prison in the Tower, possibly the which had been splendidly arrayed for her coronation, Anne Boleyn was led to her execution, and within the walls Katherine Howard was beheaded in 1542.
Queen Mary sent Sir Thomas Wyatt, after his abortive rebellion, to the Tower scaffold, as well as the 17-year-old Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Lord Guilford Dudley. There, too, the Queen imprisoned for a time her half-sister Elizabeth, and Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley were detained in the Bloody Tower before their trial and execution at Oxford.
Of Elizabeth I's reign the most famous victims were the Duke of Norfolk, who plotted to set Mary Queen of Scots on the throne, and the favourite Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
Elizabeth sent Ralegh to the Tower for a short time, but it was James I who, accusing him in connexion with a plot to make Arabella Stuart Queen, imprisoned him for 13 years, released him to make the Guiana journey, and upon its failure caused his re-arrest on the old charge, and execution.
During his imprisonment in the Bloody Tower he solaced himself with authorship and the preparation of an elixir of life, the ingredients of which included aloes, pearls, bezoar stone, and vipers' hearts. A fellow-prisoner, the famous Father Garnet, was hanged while Ralegh was there; and another, Sir Thomas Overbury, was poisoned by the Countess of Somerset.
Charles I dispatched Felton, the slayer of his favourite, the Duke of Buckingham, to the Tower. Other victims of the Stuart and the Protectorate periods were Strafford, Archbishop Laud, and Sir John Eliot. The Restoration witnessed the beginning of less embittered years, although Charles II, while able to pardon Colonel Blood's attempt to steal the Crown Jewels, imprisoned Penn, and sent Algernon Sidney and Lord William Russell to the Tower.
The Duke of Monmouth, after his defeat at Sedgemoor, passed to the block on Tower Hill in 1685. A few years later, when James fled from England, Judge Jeffreys was placed in the Tower to save him from the rage of the mob, and there he presently ended his life by hard drinking.
Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, captured after the Jacobite rising in 1745, was the last man beheaded in England, and the last great rebel executed. Flora Macdonald was a prisoner in 1746, hut was released in 1747.
The Tower of London was last used as a place of justice during World War II, when German prisoners of war were held captive and enemy spies were shot in its precincts.
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