I visited the Tower of London on the last day of my trip, and it was the perfect morning for it. Overcast, a bit chilly, but not yet rainy. (It waited to pour down until later that afternoon, when I happened to be walking across Tower Bridge to have lunch at The Anchor. Fun).
It wasn’t very crowded there yet–in fact, I had Tower Green practically to myself for a few minutes! I didn’t see any of the famous ghosts, but I did get a rather melancholy feeling. Maybe it’s because Halloween is coming up, or maybe it’s just that history geek-ness that causes intense attachments to people and events long gone, but it does seem that certain places hold onto strong emotions. At the Petit Trianon, I wanted to run and laugh and roll in the grass (I didn’t–I’m a good history geek who obeys Stay Off The Grass signs!). At the Tower I sometimes wanted to cry.
The Tower, of course, is not just one tower, but a compound of many buildings from different eras. The oldest, and most recognizable, is the White Tower, built by William the Conquerer in 1078, of Caen stone brought from France (it was later whitewashed, which gave it the name). In the 12th century, King Richard the Lionheart increased the White Tower with a curtain wall and had a moat dug around it. In the 13th century, Henry III turned it into a royal residence and had palatial buildings constructed within the Inner Bailey, south of the White Tower. (most of these were later destroyed by Cromwell).
A few of the buildings built along the Inner Wall are Lanthorn Tower, Devereaux Tower, Beauchamp Tower (pronounced Beecham–I went here to look at the restored Renaissance grafitti, and peer out the window at the scaffold site). There is also the Bloody Tower (nicknamed after the Princes of the Tower).
The river entrance to the Tower, called Traitor’s Gate, cuts through St. Thomas’s Tower. As I stared down at the stone steps leading up from the Gate, I remembered the tale of Elizabeth I, who was sent to the Tower as a princess by her sister Queen Mary during the Wyatt Rebellion. It was pouring rain, and Elizabeth plopped herself down on the wet stones, refusing to go inside until she had proclaimed her innocence (“It is better sitting here than in a worse place”).
The Tower is certainly best known for its famous prisoners (like Elizabeth). The first prisoner was Ranulf Flambard in 1100, when he was Bishop of Durham and found guilty of extortion. He was also the first (and one of the few) escapees, climbing down a rope, which had been smuggled in via a cask of wine, from the White Tower. There was also Sir Thomas More (imprisioned on April 17, 1535 and executed on Tower Hill July 6). Henry VI, murdered in the Tower May 21, 1471 (on this day each year, the Provosts of Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, lay roses and lillies on the spot where he died). Edward V and his brother Richard, the Princes of the Tower. Sir William de la Pole, the longest-held prisioner (1502-1539). John Gerard, one the many undercover Jesuit missionaries captured during Elizabeth’s reign (he also escaped, climbing a rope over the moat). Sir Walter Raleigh spent 13 years there (1603-1616), but lived in rather comfy quarters where his family could visit–he even planted New World tobacco on Tower Green. Guy Fawkes, of “gunpowder treason and plot” fame. And, during the Regency period, there were Johan Anders Jagerhorn, a Swedish officer and cohort of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, who was involved in the Irish uprising, and Lord George Gordon (of the Gordon Riots)
So, anyway, I took the good advice of many guidebooks to get to the Tower early, and was very glad I did! I zipped through the Crown Jewels (very sparkly! I especially liked Queen Victoria’s little diamond crown), then just wandered around. I saw Raleigh’s rooms in the Bloody Tower, the armorie museum in the White Tower, and more than a few gift shops.
Then I took a quick peek at the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula and stood on Tower Green for a while. On the scaffold site is a flat glass monument, engraved with the words “Gentle visitor pause awhile: where you stand death cut away the light of many days: here jeweled names were broken from the vivid thread of life: may they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife and courage: under the restless skies.” Tower Green was a very privileged place for private executions; only 7 people were beheaded here. William, Lord Hastings (1483); Anne Boleyn (1536); Margaret Pole (1541); Katherine Howard and Jane Boleyn (1542); Jane Grey (1554); and the Earl of Essex in 1601.
Behind the site is the Chapel, where those 7 (along with others, like More, Jane Grey’s husband Guildford Dudley, and Charles II’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth) are buried beneath the floor. Alongside is Beauchamp Tower (where that grafitti can be seen, including Guildford’s pathetic “Jane”, and an RD said to be carved by Robert Dudley). Across is the building known as the Queen’s house (where Anne Boleyn spent her last days). On the west is the rampart known as “Elizabeth’s walk”; next to it once stood the house where Jane Grey was imprisoned.
I stood there for a while, imagining Anne Boleyn walking from that house in her black gown, trying to be dignified in front of the witnesses. What was she thinking? Of mistakes, regrets, good memories? The 3-year-old daughter she left behind? She felt the cool breeze on her face, just as I did that day, and those very same buildings were the last thing she saw. I admit it–I did get a little tearful.
Then I had a cup of tea at the New Armories restaurant and watched the ravens hop around. (Oh yes, the ravens! They stay there because of the legend that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the White Tower, the monarchy, and the whole kingdom will fall. They’re huge, and a little scary).
All in all, a really great day (even if I didn’t see any ghosts!). Have you had adventures at the Tower, or anyplace that evokes the past for you in a big way? Seen any ghosts?
Oh, and there were a few more good Renaissance CDs I found to add to my list last week! “The Triumphs of Oriana” and “Elizabeth’s Music” (both from the Chandos label), and “Pastyme With Good Companye: Music From the Court of Henry VIII”. You can go here to find a poem by Anne Boleyn set to music.
You were there with me and I mentioned this last week, I think. Stratfield Saye and the exhibit with Wellington’s funeral carriage
Your time at the Tower sounds wonderful. I do wish I could spend a lot of time in the UK. There is so much to see!
Thank you, Ammanda, for the detailed tour around the Tower. I loved the piece about Anne Boleyn. No matter what heinous crimes a person may have committed, that last view of the precious sky…that’s awfully hard to imagine.
(My family’s visiting my brother for 24 hours; I’m home alone. Freedom!!!! !!!! !!!! !!!!
“I do wish I could spend a lot of time in the UK. There is so much to see!”
I wish I could go for at least a month every year!! Even then I could only see a fraction of the interesting things. 🙂 But every bit is good. (and I agree that their display of the funeral carriage at Stratfield was very well-done)
Keira, what will you do with a whole 24 hours of freedom???
Okay, Keira, no sliding into the living room in your underwear singing Old Time Rock n Roll, okay! Not unless you film it and post it here.
Amanda, I so envy you your trip. I have visited the Tower twice in my life – once @ age 10 with my Mom and brothers and later at age 21 with a college choir. Both times it was a moving experience. There are spots that are so lonely there. No other word describes it. I spent hours in the armory when I was a kid as I was obsessed with knights and swords, still am a little.
My visit to one of Vlad the Impaler’s castles in Transylvania was a bit spooky. Very hair on the back of the neck rising spooky. Something was there with us. Don’t know what. Don’t want to know.
One of the most haunting places I have visited was Auschwitz. The scent of death is there, always. Sometimes faint, sometimes strong, but it was always there. And there is sorrow there, like a weight on your chest. I had to sing there at a memorial concert and it was very difficult to do.
The American cemetery in Cambridge is another place that is beyond serene, beautiful and sad. I went as a child with my family and I think the most moving thing about it was watching my father look out over those miles and miles of crosses. Forty years later and I still remember.
Louisa, you made me think of other sad places. Arlington cemetery (especially at a burial, which I’ve attended four times, including once with a helicopter flyover) and the Vietnam Memorial, a place I’ve avoided because it makes me so sad.
At Arlington cemetery, following a caisson drawn by horses, accompanied by an honor guard, is a very emotional experience. Those of us who remember President Kennedy’s funeral procession remember that sound. (which was, come to think of it, the same sound in the recording at Stratfield Saye’s exhibit of Wellington’s funeral)
First, I thought on getting in touch with my write meet buddy to go out on a night on town with her. Then I thought…well, I do ocassionally do that when my husband babysits. So instead…
I’m on the laptop IN BED already (6:30pm here). I’m reading. I’ve clothes lying around. Haven’t put the dishes away. Plan on seeing Saturday Night Live because there’s no one to wake me up in the middle of the night or dang early in the morning. You know all those pesky little advantages to being fancy-free with no one to see. Hurrah!! I haven’t stopped smiling since I got up this morning. Hurrah!!
Ammanda, thanks for more music recs. I’m listening away on Amazon.com changing and changing my order that’s not due to ship till mid-Nov.
Louisa, you pegged me just right!! Fortunately for my neighbors, I have some standards. Barely…but still there. Now, that cognac is DELISHshshshsh!!!
Diane and Louisa: How do you speak or sing when your entire being is so weighted down and clogged with emotion?!
Diane and Louisa: How do you speak or sing when your entire being is so weighted down and clogged with emotion?!
Well, I can’t sing even when emotionless, but one gets choked up and speech is difficult.
Keira, enjoy your freedom.
I remember one time my kids and Jim were all away at the same time. I was FREE…except my father and my aunt “felt sorry for me” and invited me to dinner. Freedom…lost
May you not get any dinner invitations.
You sing for the same reason birds sing after a storm or for the same reason a caged canary sings – because you know through the music that this too shall pass, that only beauty and courage and love endure and because there is no evil, no sorrow, no fear that the beauty of music cannot express and then conquer. Music takes you from where you are to where you want to be, from the sadness of the present reality to the joy of the future truth.
Count me as one who can’t sing EVER! But I can’t even imagine trying to do so at a place such as Auschwitz–I’m not sure I could go there at all.
“Lonely” is a good word to describe parts of the Tower! Even though there were always people around while I was there, it just felt sort of melancholy. But I always love seeing places “up close” I’ve read so much about. And the fish and chips and Guiness I had for lunch after helped a lot. 🙂
Then that night I went and laughed at “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Will have to blog more about that, too.
Louisa, that was beautifully said!
Lousia, I’m in awe of you.
Thank you, O Divine One and Keira. I have no idea where that came from, but as you can see my memory of singing at Auschwitz is very powerful. Music and the written word are two of the most powerful forces in history and I love both of them.
“Music and the written word are two of the most powerful forces in history”
Louisa, that is beautiful, and I completely agree. Whenever things get rough, books, music, and paintings are always there to see me through. I don’t know what I would do without them.
Thanks you for the virtual tour, Amanda. I’ve never been to England – much less the Tower. In fact I learned about the Tower through my children and, of all things, Paddington Bear. Btw, it was his birthday last week.
Louisa, you’ve summed up my feelings about the role of music and singing in my life. Some of my best memories are centered around the wonderful opportunities being part of a choir have given me.
Santa! How nice that you’ve been in a choir. I think that’s terrific.
I do love to sing, even though I’m not very good. My other dream, besides being a romance author, was being a torch singer in a piano bar.
You mean ala Baker Brothers?
Sorta. But classier!
“Paddington Bear. Btw, it was his birthday last week.”
LOL Santa! That is good to know–I actually bought a couple Paddingtons on this trip, one in his classic blue coat at (guess where!) Paddington Station and one in a Beefeater’s uniform at the Tower. 🙂