Chapel of St. John, Tower of London

Chapel of St. John, Tower of London

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Chapel of St. John, Tower of London - History

Interior of St. John's Chapel in the White Tower

9.3 cm high by 8 cm wide, vignetted.

Half-page illustration for Book II, Chapter VI, of William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London , centre of p. 152.

[Click on image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.

[You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Relevant Passage

Upon this, the doors of the chapel were thrown open, and the bishop led the chief proselyte towards the altar. Against the massive pillars at the east end of the chapel, reaching from their capitals to the base, was hung a thick curtain of purple velvet, edged with a deep border of gold. Relieved against this curtain stood the altar, covered with a richly-ornamented antipendium, sustaining a large silver crucifix, and six massive candlesticks of the same metal. At a few paces from it, on either side, were two other colossal silver candlesticks, containing enormous wax lights. On either side were grouped priests with censers, from which were diffused the most fragrant odours.

As Northumberland slowly accompanied the bishop along the nave, he saw, with some misgiving, the figures of Simon Renard and Gunnora emerge from behind the pillars of the northern aisle. His glance met that of Renard, and there was something in the look of the Spaniard that made him fear he was the dupe of a plot — but it was now too late to retreat. When within a few paces of the altar, the Duke again knelt down, while the bishop removed his mitre as before, and placed himself in front of him. [Chapter VI. — "By what means the Duke of Northumberland was reconciled to the Church of Rome," pp. 151-52]


Cruikshank provides a far less dramatic view of Interior of Saint John's Chapel in the White Tower in the sixth chapter of Book Two, "By what means the Duke of Northumberland was reconciled to the Church of Rome," than in the scene from gothic romance in which Lady Jane Grey, temporarily Queen Jane, stumbles upon the headsman's axe, Queen Jane's First Night in the Tower (Book the First, Chapter IV). This prosaic wood-engraving records the same physical space that was the scene of Jane's gothic encounter with the mysterious, black-clad figure and the axe. Although the scene is static in the architectural study, in the following illustration it is the setting for the dramatic reinstatement of the Duke of Northumberland as a Catholic. Here again history and romance intersect. Northumberland's strategy fails to convince Mary Tudor and her Council that the powerful magnate is no longer either a Protestant or a threat to national security. The strategy of having him renounce his Protestant convictions in fact has originated with Simon Renard, whose intention involves executing the devious Duke in spite of his perfidious promises to see that Mary spares Northumberland's life if he does not recant his re-conversion on the scaffold.


"Ainsworth, William Harrison."

Ainsworth, William Harrison. The Tower of London . Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Richard Bentley, 1840.

Burton, Anthony. "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of Fiction." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation . Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 92-128.

Department of Environment, Great Britain. The Tower of London . London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1967, rpt. 1971.

Chesson, Wilfred Hugh. George Cruikshank . The Popular Library of Art. London: Duckworth, 1908.

Golden, Catherine J. "Ainsworth, William Harrison (1805-1882." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia , ed. Sally Mitchell. New York and London: Garland, 1988. Page 14.

Kelly, Patrick. "William Harrison Ainsworth." Dictionary of Literary Biography , Vol. 21, "Victorian Novelists Before 1885," ed. Ira Bruce Nadel and William E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Pp. 3-9.

McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator . English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.

Pitkin Pictorials. Prisoners in the Tower . Caterham & Crawley: Garrod and Lofthouse International, 1972.

Sutherland, John. " The Tower of London " in The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction . Stanford: Stanford University Press, 19893. P. 633.

Steig, Michael. "George Cruikshank and the Grotesque: A Psychodynamic Approach." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation . Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 189-212.

Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank . Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.

Worth, George J. William Harrison Ainsworth . New York: Twayne, 1972.

Vann, J. Don. " The Tower of London , thirteen parts in twelve monthly instalments, January-December 1840." Victorian Novels in Serial . New York: MLA, 1985. Pp. 19-20.

St Thomas's Tower

St Thomas’s Tower was built by Henry III’s son, Edward I, between 1275 and 1279. The Wharf that now separates this tower from the Thames had not been built then, so Edward’s building looked out directly on to the river. His royal barge could be moored beneath the great archway, below the royal apartment, which in later centuries became known as Traitors’ Gate.

Records describe the royal accommodation inside St Thomas's Tower as a 'hall with a chamber'. The first large room – the hall - has been left unrestored. This was where the King could dine and entertain. Remains of the hall’s original 13th-century fireplace, a garderobe (lavatory) wall and a picturesque vaulted turret still survive.

St Thomas’s Tower, with its huge archway that once opened directly onto the river before the building of the Wharf.

Chapel of St. John, Tower of London - History

The Tower of London played an important role in Tudor history. Although it wasn't a major residence for the Tudor monarchs as it had been for the Plantagenets and earlier dynasties, it did serve as a prison very frequently.

When you first arrive at the Tower, you walk by the water entry which has come to be known as Traitor's Gate.

Many famous prisoners arrived at the Tower this way, including Elizabeth I before she became Queen, when she was imprisoned by her sister Mary. Elizabeth is said to have proclaimed upon that landing in 1554: "Here lands as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs."


There is a plaque showing the site of the scaffold used for the private executions on the Tower Green. Seven famous prisoners were executed here. The private executions took place on the Tower Green within the walls of the Tower to avoid embarrassing the prisoner or the monarch. Normally, the executions took place outside on Tower Hill and were usually viewed by thousands of spectators.

A plaque shows the names of those executed on the Tower Green along with the dates.


The original Chapel of St. Peter's was outside the Tower walls until they were expanded by Henry III. The Chapel has served as the place of worship for the Tower community from that time onward. (The Chapel in the White Tower was only for the sovereign and the court)

The present form of the chapel dates from 1519-1520 and is a rare example of early Tudor church building.

All of those executed on the Tower Green were buried in the Chapel and many executed on Tower Hill were buried here as well. The executed prisoners had their bodies hastily buried without markers. The Chapel was renovated in 1876 during the reign of Queen Victoria. The remains uncovered in the nave of the church (some with still intact coffins) were re-interred in the crypt.

The remains that were uncovered in the chancel were reburied under the marble in front of the altar. Some of these skeletons were identified: Anne Boleyn and her cousin Kathryn Howard notable among them.

Built in the reign of Henry VIII, the Queen's House is currently the home of the Resident Governor of the Tower of London. Originally, the Lieutenant of the Tower lived here and was the custodian of several famous prisoners: Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawlkes and the last prisoner held in the Tower: Rudolf Hess in 1941. Anne Boleyn is said to have stayed here before her execution as well (although the current buildings date from after her time as Queen).

The oldest part of the Tower complex, construction is thought to have begun in 1078 under the orders of William the Conqueror. It is the oldest example of a Norman keep in England. Its dimensions are 90 feet tall and 107x118 feet across.

The entrance to the Tower is on the first floor (second story in America) via a removable staircase, designed to make invasion of the Tower more difficult.

The name "White Tower" probably comes from when it was painted white during the reign of Henry III (1216-1272). The onion domes were added to the turrets in the 16th century. The earlier ones were probably cones or pyramids.

The Chapel of St. John the Evangelist is located on the second floor of the White Tower. It is one of the earliest church interiors preserved in England. At one time the columns were possibly painted in bright colors.

This was the place of worship for the sovereign and court when they were at the Tower. (Regular residents would, and still do, attend services in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula.)

Some famous events in royal history took place here: Elizabeth of York (Queen to Henry VII) lay in state here after her death in childbirth in 1503. Mary I was betrothed to Philip of Spain by proxy here in 1554.

The White Tower has been used as a residence, a prison, a place for state events, an astronomical observatory and a repository for papers.

The first record of the Armouries in the White Tower is from the reign of Elizabeth I in 1565. In 1599 there is record of a servant appointed to collect entrance fees. Soon after though, it became a storehouse for arms and records. (Some genius even decided to put a lot of papers next to the gunpowder stores!) In the late 19th century, it was opened to the public.

Several famous prisones were held in the Bell Tower during Tudor times, including Sir Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher and the Princess Elizabeth. During special celebrations for the year 2000, the cell of Thomas More was opened to the public.

This tower was where the sons of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland were held after the attempt to put Jane Grey on the throne instead of Mary I. It has a large number of carvings etched into the walls by various prisoners.

England After the Norman Conquest

In point of law the Norman conquest was supposed to have made no change in the government of England. The old institutions remained in force. The king ruled, taking counsel with his Witan. The freemen still assembled in the shire-moot and the hundred-moot for the conduct of local affairs.

The ealdorman of early days, the earl, by his Latin title the comes, was still the chief man of his earldom, which was again reduced to the proportions of a shire. The king's financial officer, shire-reeve, or sheriff was still the Crown's principal agent in the shire, discharging also certain administrative functions which justified his Latin title of vice-comes.

The Crown still descended by election of the Witan from among the royal family, though it was a new dynasty which occupied that position, since throughout the eleventh century the exclusive title of the house of Wessex had been persistently ignored. Still as of old the freeman was bound at the summons of the sheriff to attend the gathering of the fyrd in arms, and still the thegn, the holder of comparatively extensive lands, was bound to bring to the held a following in due proportion.

Still, as before, the soil was tilled on the Open Field System mainly by occupiers bound to render some sort of agricultural service to a large landholder to whose demesne or private holding their holdings were in some sort attached and still for a time most of these occupiers were politically free men, though they did not hold their land by a free tenure.

But in substance a very great change had been effected, which is illustrated by the character of the Witan. We have seen that under the Saxon kings the name of the Witan appears to have been, applied both to a sort of inner council consisting of the chief officers of the realm, lay and ecclesiastical, together with some other persons called in by the king and also to a general assembly, the relic of the old tribal or national assembly, at which, all freemen were entitled to appear, although very few thought it worth while to do so.

It appears, though it is by no means clear, that this double character of the Witan was reproduced in two forms of council - the magnum concilium, great council or council of magnates, and the commune concilium, or general assembly of tenants-in-chief, a term which we shall examine later.

But in less than ten years after the battle of Hastings practically every one of the magnates was a Norman, not an Englishman, interested in strengthening his own class against the hostility of the natives and the same principle applied to the assembly of the tenants-in-chief, although these included a proportion of English.

The magnum concilium was summoned for general purposes of deliberation, while the commune concilium was called together only when it was desirable that a particular operation or a particular policy should be ratified ostensibly by the nation. Such an occasion was the moot of Salisbury in 1086.

Now, not only were the old native magnates replaced by magnates who were foreigners, brought up in different traditions and wholly out of sympathy with the native population, but the actual powers of the magnates were greatly extended. Under the new system they exercised a much larger personal jurisdiction than before.

How far this was conscious innovation, the deliberate introduction of Norman practices, and how far it was an unconscious interpretation of English customs in the light of Norman practices, it is impossible to say with certainty.

In practice it is probable that the official presidents of the folc-moots of the hundred and the shire had exercised an authority which could without any great difficulty be translated into an independent jurisdiction but the actual result now was that a vast amount of actual jurisdiction was transferred from the folc-moots to the local magnates, the lords of the manor, who, in the great majority of cases, were Normans.

The law previously referred to concerning the murder of Normans shows how the conquering race, a handful planted among a hostile population, felt it necessary to make special regulations for their own protection, and it is natural that they should have found means to evade the jurisdiction of native popular tribunals, more or less as the British in India insist on a similar security for themselves. But consciously or unconsciously the innovation was enormous, while it pretended to be at the most an adaptation of the existing system.

A History of Britain

This article is excerpted from the book, 'A History of the British Nation', by AD Innes, published in 1912 by TC & EC Jack, London. I picked up this delightful tome at a second-hand bookstore in Calgary, Canada, some years ago. Since it is now more than 70 years since Mr Innes's death in 1938, we are able to share the complete text of this book with Britain Express readers. Some of the author's views may be controversial by modern standards, particularly his attitudes towards other cultures and races, but it is worth reading as a period piece of British attitudes at the time of writing.

The Chapel Of St John

The Chapel takes up the south-east corner of this floor and the floor above, and is particularly interesting due to its early date (circa 1080) and perfect condition. It measures 55 feet 6 ins long by 31 feet wide, and has a nave and aisles of four bays and an apse opening by five arches to an ambulatory.

The principal doorway is in the west bay of the north wall, and a second entrance opens from a wall passage at the south-west. The heavy round columns carry carved capitals, some of which bear a T-shaped figure found only at this early date. The arches are quite plain and above them is a clearstory lighted by a second tier of windows its gallery is a continuation of the wall passages of the second floor.

There are no old fittings in the Chapel the glass in the windows was part of Horace Walpole's Collection at Strawberry Hill. The institution of the Order of the Bath was very closely connected with this chapel. It was in this Chapel that Queen Mary was betrothed to Count Egmont, proxy for Philip of Spain, in 1554.

Leaving the Chapel by the north door the visitor enters THE SWORD ROOM.

The Tower of London Virtual Guide

© 2021 CSE. All rights reserved. London Online is a city guide for London and in UK. The content of the London Online website is provided in good faith but we cannot be held responsible for inaccuracies, omissions or visitors' comments.

Chapel of St. John, Tower of London - History

Welcome to our Tower of London website, created in association with the Yeoman Warders of the Tower.

We hope that this site will help to capture some of the magic and excitement that you get when visiting the Tower in person. We have tried to bring you as much information as possible about the tower and show you some of the areas that are not accessible when you visit in person. This website however is no substitute for the real thing and if you ever get the chance to come to London then make sure that you pay the Tower of London a visit (don't forget to tell them you've seen this website).

There is a great deal of information within this website and it may not be possible for you to see everything we have here in one visit so I suggest that you bookmark this site and return as often as it takes to become an expert on the Tower of London.

Navigate around the site by using the image below or the menu to the left. If you have a question about the Tower then try the F.A.Q. page

In order to hear the music and access some areas of the site such as the 'Virtual Tour' and the 'Tales from the Tower' you will need to have the Flash plug-in installed in your web-browser. If you know that you don't have the plug-in then you can download it by using the link below.

If you can hear the music then rest assured that you have the plug-in installed correctly.

The Tower of London

This ancient fortress was founded by William the Conqueror and almost 1,000 years of British history have been played out within its walls.

Standing guard by the River Thames, The Tower is an impressive London landmark.

The Crown Jewels

Gain a fascinating insight into the role of the Crown Jewels in royal pageantry with introductory films which include rare colour footage of HM Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

The Jewel House Wardens will be on hand to answer any questions about this priceless collection.

Yeoman Warder 'Beefeater' Tours

Having guarded this royal palace and fortress for centuries they will captivate you with amazing stories, passed on from generation to generation, and guide you to the infamous Traitors' Gate and the execution site.

They'll also give you the unique opportunity to visit the Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula, final resting place of those executed inside The Tower. Tours are held throughout the day.

The White Tower

Its mighty walls are now home to displays from the Royal armouries including original armours worn by Henry VIII and Charles I plus a reconstructed display of the massive collection of weapons once housed in the Grand Storehouse.

Torture At The Tower

Visit the new exhibition in the Lower Wakefield Tower.


These magnificent birds have lived within its walls for hundreds of years and legend has it that, if they leave, the kingdom will fall.

Look out for these unique guardians around The Tower and make sure you visit their lodgings.

Special Events

A spectacular programme of special events runs throughout the year.

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The Phoenix Continues to Rise

St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury 1200-1666
The story of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury is a story of survival - in the midst of rebellion, plague, fire, and war. Despite many calamities, this church has been an active place of worship for more than 800 years.

The church was founded in the late 11th or early 12th century within what is now the historic City of London. As a medieval parish church, it was responsible for the religious well-being of persons within its geographical area. Sometime before the 16th century it received an endowment from the "late Alderman Bury of London," acknowledged in the church's name.

The parish and church grew with the City of London and shared all of its struggles. It survived both the English Reformation and Restoration, becoming one of the prominent Puritan parishes of the 17th century. Even civil war and plague did not stop the parish's development.

But what social change and upheaval could not stop, fire did. On 2 September 1666 the Great Fire of London began, burning for five days. When it finally burned out, the city of London north of the Thames - including the entire parish of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury - lay in ruins.

This was the prelude to the first rebirth of the church.

The Phoenix of Aldermanbury

Wren Rebuilds the Church
Like the mythical Phoenix - the bird reborn from fire to live again - St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury emerged from the ashes of London.

With so much of London in ruin after the Great Fire, King Charles II commissioned Sir Christopher Wren to rebuild 52 new churches all over London. St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury was the ninth to be rebuilt by Wren.

With approval for rebuilding granted in 1670, work began in 1672 with the removal of 1,068 cubic yards of rubble. The only medieval stones which were incorporated into the new church were the foundation and the stairs that lead to the crypt. The church was rebuilt on part of the old foundation with as much original stone as could be salvaged - saving both time and money. By 1677 the work was essentially complete the cupola was added to the tower in 1679.

No original drawings remain drawings were typically made by Wren's assistants as guidance for the workers and would be in poor shape when the builders finished with them. But, while Wren may not have personally drawn all the plans for St. Mary's, he undoubtedly was the guiding vision behind the design.

St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury contains elements of both Renaissance Classical and Wren's own English Baroque style.

The Blitz
While some changes, such as adding stained glass windows, were made to the church over the centuries, St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury stood proudly in London until 1940. On 29 December, 1940, during a German air raid, St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury fell victim of incendiary bombs dropped by a German Luftwaffe and proceeded to burn again. By the next morning all that was left were the outer walls, columns, and the bell tower.

The church remained in ruins until 1965.

The Phoenix Rises, Again

"I am honoured. The removal of a ruined Christopher Wren Church, largely destroyed by enemy action in London in 1941 [sic], and its reconstruction and re-dedication at Fulton, is an imaginative concept. "

&ndashWinston Churchill to Westminster College, 22 November 1963

Westminster College's Bold Idea
In 1961, College President Dr. Robert L.D. Davidson met with College friends and members of the St. Louis Chapter of the English-Speaking Union to discuss a memorial to Winston Churchill. A recent Life magazine feature on war-ravaged Wren churches slated for demolition sparked the suggestion of importing one to serve as both a memorial and the college chapel. With the help of the college architect, Emmett Layton, his wife, Ruth Layton, and consulting architect, Patrick Horsbrugh, the suggestion turned into a plan. Further investigation proved St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury to be the clear choice, its size perfect for the campus.

But this extraordinary architectural reconstruction plan was not without detractors. A British newspaper called it, ". the last word in sentimental extravagance. Besides it is no secret that. the City of London is glad to get rid of the smoke-charred ruins that have become an eyesore." An architecture student opined, "Hauling all of this rubble to America seems frightfully expensive."

The project's champions, however, persevered as there were plenty of American and British citizens who wanted to see the project succeed. It took four years to secure permissions from the British Church and State, and to raise the necessary $1.5 million (more than $12 million today) to make the project a reality.


Although Westminster's Board of Trustees had determined the College would construct the Memorial at the site of the old West School on the corner of Seventh and Westminster, it seemed more appropriate to have the ceremony near the College's historic Columns. Former United States President Harry S Truman, former Westminster President Franc L. McCluer and the other living members of the 1946 "Sinews of Peace" speech platform party joined British Ambassador Lord Harlech for the Memorial's groundbreaking ceremony. With a collection of the church's outer stones, flown in from London for the occasion, piled beside him, President Truman turned the symbolic first shovel for the reconstruction on April 19, 1964.

A Moving Experience
In 1965 the removal process began. Workers carefully cleaned, removed, and labeled each of the 7,000 stones, noting their location in the church. More than 650 tons of blocks were shipped by boat to Virginia (The U.S. Shipping Board moved them as ship's ballast at no charge). From there, they traveled by rail. In the moving process, the carefully ordered stones became scrambled. Builders in Fulton faced a jigsaw puzzle that spread over an acre. It took them took an entire day to find the first two stones to lay.

A Church Restored
The foundation stone was laid in October 1966, 300 years after the Great Fire of London. While reconstructing St. Mary's, Marshall Sisson, who was the architect overseeing deconstruction and reconstruction, and Frederick Sternberg, who was consulting architect, used photographs to construct the exterior of the church exactly as Wren designed it in 1672. The only medieval stones that were brought over were the stairs that lead to the crypt, which now lead from the organ loft to the bell tower. Reconstruction was complicated by the fact that the original foundation upon which Wren built was not square, requiring continual adjustments in fitting the stone. However, by May of 1966, the last stone was placed and the reconstruction of the interior began.

Meticulously re-creating the church's interior required another two years and a multinational effort. Arthur Ayres was an English woodcarver who worked from pre-war photographs, created carvings for the original pulpit, baptismal font, and balcony. Blenko Glass, an American firm, manufactured the glass for the windows, just as they would have been made in the 17th century, and a Dutch firm cast five new bronze bells for the tower.

Noel Mander, the fire warden who watched St. Mary's burn in 1940, built the organ and helped assure authenticity of the interior details. There are only two departures from the Wren design: an organ gallery was originally in the west wall where vestries now stand, and a window in the tower to illuminate the stairway.


Following a parade led by 41 bagpipers from the St. Andrews Society of Kansas City and a luncheon catered by Vincent Sardi of New York, the official dedication ceremonies began within the Church of St. Mary. In a meaningful and highly ritualistic ceremony, the Right Rev. Anthony Tremlett, the Bishop of Dover, England, rehallowed the Church as a place of worship.

With this act completed, the platform party, Churchill fellows, faculty, trustees and other invited guests proceeded outside where a crowd of 10,000 waited on Westminster Avenue and along Seventh Street. Former British Ambassador Averill Harriman and the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, a member of the Royal Family and the Queen's representative, gave the principal addresses, both reminiscing about their experiences with Churchill and his importance to world history. Special guests at the event included Mrs. Christopher Soames, Churchill's youngest daughter and the wife of the British ambassador to France, and her son Nicholas John Freeman, the British ambassador to the United States and former Missouri Governor John M. Dalton, who had headed the committee responsible for raising the funds for the Memorial. The ceremonies concluded with a benediction by the Rev. Dr. William B. Huntley Jr., college chaplain.

St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury, like the legendary phoenix, had risen once again from the ashes.

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