“Twenty one years incarceration in the Tower” – John Keohane
John Keohane spent twenty-one years working at the Tower of London, rising through the ranks to become
the former Chief Yeoman Warder. He told us that it was built as a palace and fortress by William the
Conqueror after his successful invasion of England in 1066. It has been used as a royal residence and as a
prison for royalty and nobles. With few exceptions, these people were well treated and their imprisonment
was a form of house arrest, excepting that they continued their previous lifestyle without the liberty and
freedom of movement, such as hunting, that they previously enjoyed. Sir Walter Raleigh spent 13 years in the
Tower, during which time he paid for many privileges including alteration of rooms to accommodate his
The Yeoman Guards originally served as bodyguards of the monarch and are known as beefeaters. This
originates from the past when the monarch would give them the leftover beef from banquets.
Many people have been locked up in the Tower for religious beliefs or suspected treason, including Guy
Fawkes, Anne Boleyn, Queen Mary, Elizabeth I, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey.
Despite grim stories of the Tower as a place of torture, it was rare and could be used only with specific
permission from the king. The most common forms of torture were “the rack” on which prisoners’ arms and
legs were pulled away from their sockets and “manacles” from which prisoners were hung by the wrists.
These were enough to get a confession from Guy Fawkes who within two hours of torture had admitted his
guilt and given the names of his co-conspirators.
The Tower houses the crown jewels and it is open to the public as a museum with beefeaters serving as