This is the oldest part of the whole fortress. The Conqueror, before he entered London, formed a camp, eastward of the city, and probably on part of the ground now occupied by the Tower. Immediately after his coronation he commenced the works here.
At first no doubt, they consisted of a ditch and palisade, and were enclosed within the lines of the old City Wall, first built by the Romans, and repaired in 885 by King Alfred.
The work of building the Keep was entrusted to Gundulf, a monk of Bee, in Normandy, shortly afterwards Bishop of Rochester, who probably commenced operations in 1078. In 1097, under William Rufus, the works were still going on. A great storm in 1091 damaged the outworks. Ranulf Flambard, Bishop of Durham, who was imprisoned in the Keep by Henry I, contrived to escape, 1101.
During the wars between Stephen and Matilda, the Earl of Essex was Constable of the Tower, and obtained a grant even of the City of London. When he fell into Stephen's hands the Tower formed the ransom, and the citizens regained their ancient liberty.
When Richard I was absent on the Crusade, his regent, Longchamp, resided in the Tower, of which he greatly enlarged the precincts by trespasses on the land of the city and of St. Katharine's Hospital. He surrendered tile Tower to the citizens, led by John, in 1191. The whole Tower was held in pledge for the completion of Magna Charta in 1215 and 1216.
In 1241 Henry III had the Chapel of St. John decorated with painting and stained glass, and the royal apartments in the Keep were whitewashed, as well as the whole exterior.
During the wars with France, David, King of Scots, John, King of France, Charles of Blois, and John de Vienne, governor of Calais, and his twelve brave burgesses and many other illustrious prisoners were lodged here. In the Tower Richard II signed his abdication, in 1399. The Duke of Orleans, taken at Agincourt, was lodged by Henry V in the White Tower. From that time the Beauchamp and other Towers were more used as prisons, but it is probable that some of the Kentish rebels, taken with Wyatt in 1554, slept in the recesses of the sub-crypt of the Chapel.
In 1663, and later years down to 1709, structural repairs were carried out under the superintendence of Sir Christopher Wren, who replaced some of the Norman window openings with others of a classical character.
The White Tower is somewhat irregular in plan, for although it looks so square from the river its four sides are all of different lengths, and three of its corners are not right angles.
The west side is 107 feet from north to south. The south side measures 118 feet. It has four turrets at the corners, three of them square, the fourth, that on the north-east, being circular. From floor to battlements it is 90 feet in height.
The original entrance was on the south side, on the first floor, being reached as usual in Norman castles by an external stair (this stairway has entirely disappeared).
The interior is of the plainest and sternest character. Every consideration is subservient to that of obtaining the greatest strength and security. The outer walls vary in thickness from 15 feet in the lower to 11 feet in the upper storey.
The whole building is crossed from north to south by one wall, which rises from base to summit and divides it into a larger western and a smaller eastern portion. The eastern part is further sub-divided by a wall which cuts off St. John's Chapel, its crypt, and its sub-crypt.
There is a wooden floor between each of the storeys of the other part. In a staircase which has now disappeared on the south side, some children's bones were found in the reign of Charles II. They were identified, somewhat conjecturally, with the remains of Edward V and his brother who disappeared so mysteriously at the accession of Richard III, and were removed to Westminster Abbey in 1678.