One of the world's most famous fortresses is the Tower of London (actually a complex of 21 towers). In the 1080's, William the Conqueror invaded London and captured the throne. To solidify his hold on this territory, he founded the Tower of London with its first structure, the White Tower. Londoners were awe struck by this impressive 118 foot long by 106 foot wide by 90 foot high structure. Protected by Roman walls on two sides, its primary function was as a fortress stronghold, and not as a royal residence. Initially, the White Tower served as a storage area for armor and swords. Today, it houses 500 years of royal armor as well as "The Line of Kings" ( i.e. The history of the succession of English kings). The first prisoner arrived here in 1100. During the 1300's, the captured kings of France and Scotland were also kept prisoner here. Five hundred years of prisoner graffiti can be found on the walls of the Bloody Tower. Henry III (who reigned from 1216 to 1272) made extensive renovations to the Tower of London, which included a royal residence for the King in the Wakefield Tower and one for the Queen in the Lanthorn Tower. In the 1500's, Henry VIII broke with the Vatican in Rome and created the Anglican Church. Increasing numbers of religious and political prisoners (including Sir Thomas More and two of Henry's wives) were held here subsequently. Following the commoners' revolt in 1645, Charles I was imprisoned in the Tower and eventually executed in 1649. Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector in place of the King and proceeded to sell off the Crown Jewels to raise funds for financially strapped country. In the late 1600's, the Tower became home to the Office of Ordanance for the storage of equipment and supplies. The Tower was also home to an English mint for the creation of coinage. A short distance from the mint is the Jewel House, where the "new" Crown Jewels (23,578 gems, including the largest diamond ever found) are kept.
Overseeing the running of the Tower of London are the Yeomen Warders, who started out in 1509 as royal bodyguards. The Yeomen Warders are required to have served at least 22 years in the armed forces with honorable records before this assignment.