May
15
2010

How did Elizabeth enter the Tower of London?

traitors gate tower of london

Traitor’s Gate, Tower of London (photo by by clarkworldtravel CC-BY)

On Palm Sunday, 18 March 1554, Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I of England, sister of Queen Mary of England, and daughter of Henry VIII, was taken to the Tower of London to be imprisoned pending her interrogation over her knowledge of the Wyatt Rebellion. It was the most dangerous time of her life, others involved in the rebellion, including Lady Jane Grey, had been, or were soon to be executed.

It is commonly believed that she was taken by boat from Whitehall, down the Thames, and entered the Tower through the water gate at the bottom of St Thomas’s Tower, now known as Traitor’s Gate. You may have seen it recreated on the television or in the movies. With a mist rising from the water and torchlights flickering in the distance, a rowing boat approaches a portcullis gate which then lifts out of the water. The boat goes under it into a dank, gloomy tunnel. Stopping at a set of steps, the young Princess alights from the boat and is escorted off to her cell.

Now, many historians believe that Elizabeth did not enter by the Traitor’s Gate. The source for the Traitor’s Gate version of events was taken from The Miraculous Preservation of Lady Elizabeth which was an addition to Foxe’s Book of Matyrs, and written several years after the event. As well as being a staunchly Protestant account of the times, Foxe’s book is known to contain extended and embellished descriptions. A few historians have argued, however, that despite this, the account was based on eye-witness evidence.

Nevertheless, most historians now rely on what is believed to be another eye-witness account of the events during this turbulent period, albeit the author is not known. The Chronicle of Queen Jane and of Two Years of Queen Mary describes how ‘she was taken in at the drawebridge’. This, they argue, is clearly not the water gate, but the drawbridge of the main entrance to the Tower. The state of the tide at the time of her arrival also would not permit access via Traitor’s Gate.

Which ever entrance Elizabeth did use, we all know now that Elizabeth managed to convince her interrogators and Queen Mary of her innocence.

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1 Comment

  • Susan says:

    Actually, Elizabeth did *not* convince anyone of her innocence,but, rather, was able to hold out from incriminating herself. Whether or not she was actually innocent is still a matter of conjecture/debate. But nothing could be proved, so Mary had her taken from the Tower to a house (Hatfield) where she was watched by a hand-picked guardian (goaler), Sir Henry Bedingfield, who was supposed to report to Queen Mary absolutely everything Elizabeth said or did.

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