Those who know me and my passion for English and in particular Tudor history would not be surprised that a highlight of our London trip for me was our visit to the Tower of London.
Entering the tower, we passed by the famous “traitors gate” on the River Thames. It was from here that many famous prisoners made their final fateful journey into to fortress. Grassed lawns today replace the boggy moats which once surrounded the sprawling palace.
Yeoman and beefeaters
Making our way along the massive fortress surrounding the castle keep, we found yeoman warders and beefeaters in traditional costume standing guard. They provide an informative commentary of the history of “The Tower” and add a touch of authenticity to the “Tower experience”
Here six ravens have guarded the tower, in the centuries old belief that if the ravens vacate the tower, the tower will fall.
Reading about the Tower previously, I imagined it as being one building. However, we found it is a series of palaces, barracks, towers and chapels within the fortress walls. Each has its own unique and often sinister history.
Viewing the Crown Jewels
Our first stop was to visit the Crown Jewels, including the Imperial State Crown, St Edward’s crown and the Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross. Due to the throngs of visitors who visit the heavily guarded Jewel House each day, ,we are conveyed along a narrow moving walkway past the glass display cabinets. This prevents crowding around exhibits and enables everyone to get a fair view of “The Jewels”.
The white tower
Central to the tower complex is the”White Tower”. The oldest structure within the complex is a world heritage listed building and an example of Norman architecture.
Inside we viewed the magnificent royal armories collection, dating back to the period of Henry VII, including implements of torture and execution used during this period.
A narrow winding brick staircase is reportedly where the two princes, Edward V and Richard of Shewsbury were entombed in 1483. Richard Duke of Gloucester had imprisoned his nephews in the Tower in his quest for power.
Tower Green was the execution site of Anne Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey and Kathryn Howard among others. They were laid to rest in the adjacent Chapel Royal of St Peter ad Vincula. The green today is such a seemingly peaceful spot. A round glass monument marks the execution site. It is hard to imagine that 500 years ago it was the scene of so many violent deaths.
The adjacent tower block was home to many royal prisoners over hundreds of years. It still bears the marks of many of it’s Royal prisoners, with “graffitti” etched into the stone in many of the rooms.
We visited the tower as part of a day-long tour, however individual and self guided tours can also be arranged.