Site of the Block
In front of the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula a railed off plaque marks the site of the scaffold where seven famous prisoners were executed.
The first was William, Lord Hastings, in 1483, hurriedly beheaded after his arrest at a meeting of the royal council in the White Tower at the instance of the Protector, Richard Duke of Gloucester. The next five victims were the only women to suffer death by beheading for treason. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's second and fifth wives, had both been convicted of adultery. Jane, Viscountess Rochford, Catherine's lady in waiting, was implicated in her crime and was executed with her. The aged Margaret Pole, Countess Salisbury was 70 when she was killed in 1541 by order of Henry VIII who saw her Yorkist blood and loyalty to the Catholic church as a threat to his rule. Similarly, Lady Jane Grey, who was proclaimed queen upon the death of Edward VI in 1553, in an attempt to secure a protestant succession, was executed in 1554 by her Catholic cousin, Mary I, who claimed the throne a few days into Jane's reign.
These private executions which took place on Tower green were intended to avoid embarressing the prisoner as well as the monarch; the customary place for beheadings being outside the castle walls on Tower Hill, where thousands of unruly spectators turned out to watch.
The last of the seven, Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex, the young favourite of Elizabeth I, was also granted a private execution, probably for the same reason. However, Essex was also very popular with the people of London and when he fell from favour in 1601 the Queen's ministers feared what might happen if he were taken out to be executed among the crowds on Tower Hill.