An Elizabethan Prisoner’s Graffiti

The Tower of London, famous though it is for prisoners, had no dungeons as such: the incarcerated would be held in rooms in different buildings throughout the Tower’s 12 acres (5 hectares), and one’s treatment depended a great deal on how wealthy or how well-connected one was.

So Hew Draper, a Bristol innkeeper, is unlikely to have had a luxurious time when he was sent to the Tower in March 1560, at the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth I. The Tower was not a prison for ‘common criminals’, but for those who beliefs, actions or existence were a threat to the state, and so it is with Draper, accused of ‘practising sorcery’. (Draper claimed that although he had been interested in magic, he had destroyed all of his magical books.)

We know of him through the wonderful graffiti he scratched into the stone walls of his cell in the Salt Tower, an early 13th century tower at the south-eastern corner of the complex. It is an astrological sphere with detailed Zodiacal signs, criss-crossed with lines, alongside the inscription: ‘Hew Draper of Brystow made this sphere the 30 day of Maye anno 1561‘. 

We don’t know what happened to Draper. Although there is no record of his execution, there is also nothing about a release, and in the same month that he finished this carving the Lieutenant of the Tower reported that Draper was ‘very sick’.

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