Built by King Edward I in the 13th century as a water gate to provide access from the Tower of London to the River Thames, the name ‘Traitor’s Gate’ came to be applied to this portal in Tudor times in relation to those accused of treason who were brought into the tower under its arch.
The double gateway is part of St Thomas’s Tower, which was designed by a Master James of St George, and behind it is a pool which was used to feed water to a cistern on the roof of the White Tower. While the gate was originally built to give access directly to the river, Traitor’s Gate now sits behind a wharf which runs along the river bank (and where can be seen the bricked up entrance says ‘Entry to the Traitor’s Gate’ – this was bricked up in the 19th century when embankment works were carried out)
Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and even the future Queen Elizabeth I (when a princess) were among those who were brought in by barge through the Traitor’s Gate (their journey would have led them under London Bridge where the heads of executed prisoners were on display). Whether Henry VIII’s disgraced Queen Anne Boleyn entered the tower through the gate remains a matter of some dispute.
Thomas left the employ of Theobold, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1154 when he took up the role of Chancellor for the newly crowned King Henry II(on Theobold’s recommendation).
The new role meant he wasn’t much in London over the next eight years – King Henry II spent less than two-and-a-half years in England during that period and Becket’s new role meant he was expected to be with the King.
One London connection during this period came about, however, when King Henry II awarded him the custody of the Tower of London (the role which is now known as Constable of the Tower and was apparently then referred to as Keeper of the Tower).
Interestingly, Becket is just one of four Archbishops of Canterbury who held the post (although he was Archbishop later) but is the only saint to have done so.
During his time as Constable of the Tower, Becket did carry our substantial repairs on the complex (while Chancellor he also oversaw repairs to other buildings including the Palace of Westminster).
There is a further connection between Becket and the Tower – King Edward I, during his rather dramatic renovations and expansion of the fortress, included a chapel dedicated to the martyred St Thomas in the royal quarters. To this day, the tower which fronts the Thames is known as St Thomas’s Tower (the naming of Traitor’s Gate, formerly known as Water Gate, under it occurred much later and had nothing to do with him).