Tower, by Nigel Jones

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Blatantly ignoring the sacred rule of holy sanctuary, Henry [II] had Hubert [de Burgh] dragged from a chapel in Brentwood, Essex, where he had taken refuge. The fallen nobleman was placed on a ‘miserable jade’ with his legs tied under the nag’s belly and ‘ignominiously conveyed to the Tower’. Here, where the constable had so recently commanded, Hubert was clapped in chains and thrown into a dungeon. The old man — he was in his sixties — stayed until pressure from the Church made Henry change tactics. He returned Hubert to the chapel, but placed guards around the building to ensure no food was brought in. Hubert was literally starved out, and a blacksmith summoned to clamp the old warrior back in irons.

I bought this when we actually visited the Tower in 2017, partly out of general interest but mainly because I wanted to get a little more on the gruesome death of my ancestor and namesake, Sir Nicholas White, while a prisoner in the Tower of London in 1592 (or possibly 1593).

It’s a rollicking good book on British political history between the construction of the Tower in the eleventh century, and its transformation from security asset to tourism spot in the nineteenth century, and how that affected the building – most often of course as a prison and place of execution for those who had fallen out with the state, but also as a centre of administration, in particular as the location of the Mint.

But the gore is the point. Two kings of England were murdered there in the late fifteenth century (Henry VI and Edward V). Two of Henry VIII’s queens were executed there (Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard). Thomas More ends up there. So does Samuel Pepys, for a while. Unfortunately Jones doesn’t mention either Sir John Perrot or my ancestor who was brought down in his wake.

I’d hoped for a little more. A book about the exercise of state coercive power and government-sanctioned violence could surely have interrogated these concepts a bit. There’s also a whole city outside the gates which underwent its own transformations – there are a couple of moments when the two intersect (the Peasants’ Revolt; the Great Fire) but otherwise thebook treats them rather separately. So it’s a good starting point, but I’m going to have to dig further.

You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2017. Next on that pile is The Revolution Trade, by Charles Stross.

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