Jones, Nigel. Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London.

NY: St. Martin, 2011.

I have a longstanding interest in both English history and the medieval period generally, so it follows that my focus is generally on the Norman dynasty, from the Conquest to the coming of the Angevins. I manage to get to London for a visit every few years and on almost every occasion, I make time to wander through the Tower (timing it to avoid the tide of tourists), the most visible and best-maintained Norman structure in Europe.

Of course, there’s not much of the Norman construction left, except for the outer shell of the White Tower itself; the whole establishment has been almost continually altered, modified, expanded, and enhanced over the past 900 years.

When I discovered this book, which runs 450 pages and purports to be a complete history of the Tower, I hoped it would give ample coverage to what (to me) is the most interesting part of its history — its construction and early use as an actual castle, before it became more of an administrative and judicial center. But I was considerably disappointed. Jones is more of a journalist than a historian and most of his books heretofore have been set in the 20th century. For earlier periods of the Tower’s history, he seems to have simply adopted whatever the most standard and least controversial story happens to be. (The “princes in the Tower” must have been killed by their uncle, the evil Richard III, regardless of the rival theories that have been floated in the sixty years since Josephine Tey published The Daughter of Time.) More than that, he seems mostly to regard the Tower as a backdrop to tell various other stories, with heavy use of anecdotes, which may impinge on it only slightly: the quarter-century imprisonment of the Duke of Orleans following Agincourt, Jane Grey, Walter Raleigh, Captain Blood, Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, the trial and execution of Roger Casement, and so on.

The slender section of plates (all black-and-white) contains no images at all of the Tower itself, historical or modern, and there are no other illustrations in the text. I was hoping for a series of architectural plans and contemporary renderings of the Tower as it developed over the centuries, but there’s nothing like that, either. For a rather thick, rather expensive volume, the result is frankly rather lightweight. It may be entertaining, especially to the beginner, but it’s not very informative.

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