Skip to content

Graffiti at the Tower of London

December 6, 2011
by the gentle author

Now that tourists are scarce and the trees are bare once more, it suits me to visit the Tower of London and study the graffiti. The austere stone structures of this ancient fortress by the river reassert their grim dignity in Winter when the crowd-borne hubbub subsides, and quiet consideration of the sombre texts graven there becomes possible. Some are bold and graceful, others are spidery and maladroit, yet every one represents an attempt by their creators to renegotiate the nature of their existence. Many are by those who would otherwise be forgotten if they had not possessed a powerful need to record their being, unwilling to let themselves slide irrevocably into obscurity and be lost forever. For those faced with interminable days, painstaking carving in stone served to mark time, and to assert identity and belief. Every mark here is a testimony to the power of human will, and they speak across the ages as tokens of brave defiance and the refusal to be cowed by tyranny.

“The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come.” This inscription in Latin was carved above the chimney breast in the Beauchamp Tower by Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel in 1587. His father was executed  in 1572 for treason and, in 1585, Howard was arrested and charged with being a Catholic, spending the rest of his life at the Tower where he died in 1595.

Sent to the Tower in 1560, Hew Draper was a Bristol innkeeper accused of  sorcery. He pleaded not guilty yet set about carving this mysterious chart upon the wall of his cell in the Salt Tower with the inscription HEW DRAPER OF BRISTOW (Bristol) MADE THIS SPEER THE 30 DAYE OF MAYE, 1561. It is a zodiac wheel, with a plan of the days of the week and hours of the day to the right. Yet time was running out for Hew even as he carved this defiant piece of cosmology upon the wall of his cell, because he was noted as “verie sick” and it is low upon the wall, as if done by a man sitting on the floor.

The rebus of Thomas Abel. Chaplain to Katherine of Aragon, Abel took the Queen’s side against Henry VIII and refused to change his position when Henry married Anne Boleyn. Imprisoned in 1533, he wrote to Thomas Cromwell in 1537, “I have now been in close prison three years and a quarter come Easter,” and begged “to lie in some house upon the Green.”After five and half  years imprisoned at the Tower, Abel was hung, drawn and quartered at Smithfield in 1540.

Both inscriptions, above and below, have been ascribed to Lady Jane Grey, yet it is more likely that she was not committed to a cell but confined within domestic quarters at the Tower, on account of her rank. These may be the result of nineteenth century whimsy.

JOHN DUDLE – YOU THAT THESE BEASTS DO WEL BEHOLD AND SE, MAY DEME WITH EASE WHEREFORE HERE MADE THEY BE, WITH BORDERS EKE WHEREIN (THERE MAY BE FOUND) 4 BROTHERS NAMES WHO LIST TO SERCHE THE GROUNDE. The flowers around the Dudley family arms represent the names of the four brothers who were imprisoned in the Tower between 1553-4 , as result of the attempt by their father to put Lady Jane Grey upon the throne. The roses are for Ambrose, carnations (known as gillyflowers) for Guildford, oak leaves for Robert – from robur, Latin for oak – and honeysuckle for Henry. All four were condemned as traitors in 1553, but after the execution of Guildford they were pardoned and released. John died ten days after release and Henry was killed at the seige of San Quentin in 1557 while Ambrose became Queen Elizabeth’s Master of the Ordinance and Robert became her favourite, granted the title of Earl of Leicester.

Edward Smalley was the servant of a Member of Parliament who was imprisoned for one month for non-payment of a fine for assault in 1576. Thomas Rooper, 1570, may have been a member of the Roper family into which Thomas More’s daughter married, believed to be enemies of Queen Elizabeth. Edward Cuffyn faced trial in 1568 accused of conspiracy against Elizabeth and passed out his days at the Tower.

BY TORTURE STRANGE MY TROUTH WAS TRIED YET OF MY LIBERTIE DENIED THEREFORE RESON HATH ME PERSWADYD PASYENS MUST BE YMB RASYD THOGH HARD FORTUN CHASYTH ME WYTH SMART YET PASEYNS SHALL PREVAIL – this anonymous incsription in the Bell Tower is one of several attributed to Thomas Miagh, an Irishman who was committed to the Tower in 1581 for leading rebellion against Elizabeth in his homeland.

This inscription signed Thomas Miagh 1581 is in the Beauchamp Tower. THOMAS MIAGH – WHICH LETH HERE THAT FAYNE WOLD FROM HENS BE GON BY TORTURE STRAUNGE MI TROUTH WAS TRYED YET OF MY LIBERTY DENIED. Never brought to trail, he was imprisoned until 1583, yet allowed “the liberty of the Tower” which meant he could move freely within the precincts.

Subjected to the manacles fourteen times in 1594, Jesuit priest Henry Walpole incised his name in the wall of the Beauchamp Tower and beneath he carved the names of St Peter and St Paul, along with Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Gregory – the four great doctors of the Eastern church.

In this graffito in the Salt Towerr, the “E” in the heart stands for Elizabeth. Giovanni Battista Castiglione, Italian tutor to Queen Elizabeth.

JAMES TYPPING. STAND (OR BE WEL CONTENT) BEAR THY CROSS, FOR THOU ART (SWEET GOOD) CATHOLIC BUT NO WORSE AND FOR THAT CAUSE, THIS 3 YEAR SPACE, THOW HAS CONTINUED IN GREAT DISGRACE, YET WHAT HAPP WILL IT? I CANNOT TELL BUT BE DEATH. Arrested in 1586 as part of the Babington Conpiracy, Typping was tortured, yet later released in 1590 on agreeing to conform his religion. This inscription is in the Beauchamp Tower.

T. Salmon, 1622. Above his coat of arms, he scrawled,  CLOSE PRISONER 32 WEEKS, 224 DAYS, 5376 HOURS. He is believed to have died in custody.

A second graffito by Giovanni Battista Castiglione, imprisoned in 1556 by Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, for plotting against her and later released.

Nothing is known of William Rame whose name is at the base of this inscription.  BETTER IT IS TO BE IN THE HOUSE OF MOURNING THAN IN THE HOUSE OF BANQUETING. THE HEART OF THE WISE IS IN THE MOURNING HOUSE. IT IS MUCH BETTER TO HAVE SOME CHASTENING THAN TO HAVE OVERMUCH LIBERTY. THERE IS A TIME FOR ALL THINGS, A TIME TO BE BORN AND A TIME TO DIE, AND THE DAY OF DEATH IS BETTER THAN THE DAY OF BIRTH. THERE IS AN END TO ALL THINGS AND THE END OF A THING IS BETTER THAN THE BEGINNING, BE WISE AND PATIENT IN TROUBLE FOR WISDOM DEFENDETH AS WELL AS MONEY. USE WELL THE TIME OF PROSPERITY AND REMBER THE TIME OF MISFORTUNE – 25 APRIL 1559.

Ambrose Rookwood was one of the Gunpowder Plotters. He was arrested on 8th November 1606 and taken from the Tower on 27th January 1607 to Westminster Hall where he pleaded guilty. On 30th January, he was tied to a hurdle and dragged by horse from the Tower to Westminster before being hung, drawn and quartered with his fellow conspirators.

Photographs copyright © Historic Royal Palaces

You may also like to read about

In the Debtors’ Prison

Graffiti at Arnold Circus

17 Responses leave one →
  1. December 6, 2011

    A little more considered than the modern spray paint version!

  2. December 6, 2011

    Truly extraordinary. The taggers and brick-scribes of Brick Lane could learn much from these walls…

  3. December 6, 2011

    Exquisite work. This is reason enough to re-visit the Tower of london.

  4. Catherine permalink
    December 6, 2011

    Very beautiful and moving.

  5. December 6, 2011

    Fabulous. I had no idea the Tower contained such treasures. Who on earth would go and see crown jewels when these carvings are on offer? Reminded me of Eric Gill, who could bring stone to life either in sculpture or in carved letters. Is it Caen stone the Tower is built of? Evidently excellent carving stone…

  6. the gentle author permalink*
    December 7, 2011

    Dear James, It is not unlikely that Eric Gill knew the graffiti at the Tower.

  7. Stephen Evans permalink
    December 7, 2011

    I have a copy of the book Treasures of the Tower, Inscriptions, published in 1976. Fascinating stuff.

  8. December 8, 2011

    Wow this is fascinating. As the Tower of London is the former home of The Royal Mint it seems the designs on the coins of today may owe their origins to graffiti of years gone by!

  9. December 9, 2011

    History teaches so much, these people are somehow still in touch with us

  10. December 16, 2011

    This is amazing!

    I would have never known that there are graffiti of this type at the Tower, much less what they are like, had it not been for this article – thank you!

  11. Maryellen Johnston permalink
    February 1, 2012

    I’ve been reading these inscriptions as I live in the southern hemisphere and on the othe other side of the world but I feel very stongly the pull of “the Old Country” and the enduring sorrow that is invoked by these inscriptions. May the souls of those who wrote them rest in peace!

  12. Vera Sines Klank permalink
    February 6, 2012

    Thank you for sharing these moments forever captured in stone. While some are so beautifully carved others are beautiful in the sheer voice of the text. It is as if writing their thoughts served as a mantra to aid in surviving the mental strains through their time in captivity. Wonderfully honored!

  13. Frank Brownlow permalink
    July 10, 2012

    Never forget that under the Tudors the Tower became a hell-hole. Either St. Henry Walpole carved his name before they hung him up in the gauntlets, or someone else carved it for him.

  14. November 18, 2012

    I have a photocopy of a document signed by William Rame with reference to Her Majesty, regarding the Manor of Stockingford which has a reference to Henry VIII, also Cooke, Wotton and Dannet (the three, who had just purchased the Manor of Stockingford from Charles Brandon the Duke of Suffolk) and the document also refers to Campis Pasture and Pratis Pasturs in the Manor of Stockingford.

    The “Pratis pasturs” would be the former pastures of St Mary de Pratis or St. Mary de Pre, so the document is referring to pastures at Stockingford before the dissolution. The Campis de Stockingford would refer to a period before c.1143, as the religious houses held the Manor from c.1143 until Dissolution by Henry VIII.

    Perhaps the slightly disguised reference in the document to the religious house and the distinction between the religious lands and the earlier settlement in the Manor of Stockingford, got him into some very serious trouble, indeed!

    Mark Hood

  15. Imola permalink
    January 26, 2014

    These are genuinely amazing. It’s fantastic to see that when people are locked up and everything is taken away from them, what they do is share and create. Some of these guys must have been disappointed to get out before their elaborate works were finished!

  16. Nanci permalink
    August 30, 2015

    So much interesting but terribly sad history on these walls. Poor souls…

  17. Dale permalink
    October 24, 2016

    What did they inscribe these with? Did they have carving tools?

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS