The graffiti commemorating the Dudleys. Beauchamp Tower. Photo Spitalfieldlife
I am, to be honest not a fan of graffiti, also known as graffito, neither do I know anyone who is. However, if you are talking historical graffiti, and from no less than the Tower of London, well that is definitely a different ball game and count me in.
Examples of graffiti including an oak leaf and acorns dated 1537. Photographer unknown.
There are 268 examples of graffiti carved by prisoners who while incarcerated within the Tower walls, sometimes languishing there for many years, wiled the time away leaving behind messages that have endured to this day. I suspect they would have been shocked to know their carvings would survive for so long, some over 500 years old, to be marvelled at as well as now carefully preserved. Some of the prisoners were high status including Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who was imprisoned with his brothers after his father’s plot to put Lady Jane Grey, his daughter in law, on the throne went pear shaped. The Dudley graffiti which is to be found in the Beauchamp Tower, commemorates Robert and his brothers and features, poignantly, roses for Ambrose, carnation or gillyflowers for Guildford, oak leaves for Robert – Quercus robur being the latin name of the oak tree – and honeysuckle for Henry. The carving is thought to have been completed by John Dudley, the fifth brother, who added his name at the bottom. The carved letters read:
“You that these beasts do wel behold and se may deme with ease wherefore here made they be with borders eke wherein four brothers names who list to serche the grounde”
Guildford and Jane were, unsurprisingly, executed. The other brothers were released but John died almost immediately afterwards at Penshurst Place. He seems to have suffered greatly during his imprisonment and was said to have been ‘crazed for want of air‘ (1). Robert would go on to become a close and dear friend to Elizabeth Ist.
Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel was imprisoned by Elizabeth. His name is also to be found in the Beauchamp Tower accompanied with the words
‘The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall get with Christ in the world to come.‘
Arrested for practicing his Christian faith in 1585, Arundel was to die in the Tower in 1595.
The Arundel Graffiti. Beauchamp Tower
G Gyfford 1586 “Grief is overcome by patience Avgvst 8th, 1586”. Photo Ann Longmore-Etheridge
One of the more poignant – ‘My hart is yours tel death’ Thomas Willyngar date unknown. Photo Ann Longmore-Etheridge
Edward Smalley. Smalley was the hapless servant of a member of parliament who had neglected to pay a fine for assault. He was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower for one month in 1576.
Thomas Rooper 1570. Photo The Royal Mint Museum
A lovely example complete with the name Peverel, fruit on a vine, shells and a little skeleton. Photo The Royal Mint Museum.
In 1912 because of the perishable nature of the stone it was decided permanent records should be made of the prisoners inscriptions as some of them were in a state of powdery decay. The Royal Mint was asked for their assistance to which they readily agreed. At this time the Mint was busy using its newly-installed electrotyping plant for the production of postage stamp plates but nevertheless agreed to take on the project. Wax moulds were taken of the whole series of 268 inscriptions with great care taken for the preservation of the original stone carvings. The work was completed In 1914, and 458 electrotypes with a total area of 332.8 square feet were delivered to the Office of Works (2).
Unfinished graffiti. Dated 1573. Name and fate of prisoner unknown…
I have only been able to mention here a handful of the remarkable graffiti at the Tower of London, the greater part of it from the 16th century and thus over 500 years old. Now protected hopefully it will survive another 500 years and the plight of the prisoners of the Tower of London never forgotten.
- Loades 2008
- Writings on the Wall. The Royal Mint Museum. Online article.
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