On the walls of the Thames guarding the infamous Tower of London sits the equally infamous Traitor’s Gate. On many visits to the Tower as a youngster I was always enthralled by the captivating tales of the Yeoman Warden Beefeaters that were told outside Traitor’s Gate.
Its name derives from the number of prisoners accused of treason who arrived by barge from the Thames and passed through the gate. Many prisoners who entered through this gate never saw the outside world again. Before entering many would have passed under London Bridge where the severed heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on pikes.
As you stand overlooking the gate you can imagine the scenes, centuries ago as a vilified, notorious prisoner arrived to be put on trial and in many cases to meet their makers. The thoughts that must have been racing through their minds as they crossed beneath into the fateful foreboding walls of the tower.
It was designed by the Medieval architect Master James of St George on the orders of King Edward I between 1275 and 1279 as part of St Thomas’s Tower. It was originally built to provide a new water-gate by which King Edward could arrive at the Tower by river. St Thomas’s Tower provided additional royal accommodation for the King and his family.
The restored timber framing above the arch was built in 1532 by Henry VIII’s master carpenter James Nedham as part of preparations for Queen Anne Boleyn’s coronation ceremony which began at the Tower on 1st June 1533. Less than 3 years later Anne would return as prisoner and eventually meet her fate within the Tower walls.
Famous prisoners who have passed through this space include Sir Thomas More, Queen Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Gray, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Cranmer, Edward, the Duke of Buckingham, Queen Anne Boleyn (there is some disagreement whether she passed through the gate or the steps next to the Byward tower) Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex and James, the Duke of Monmouth, the wandering son of Charles II.
Princess Elizabeth I, aged 21 before she was Queen, was imprisoned in the Tower by her sister Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) and entered through these gates. She refused at first to land at the gate, angrily proclaiming that she was no traitor but eventually reluctantly acquiescing despite fearing for her life. Elizabeth was released 8 weeks later.