Visiting the Tower of London has been at the top of my list of things to see since we first talked about this trip. There is so much history tied up in the buildings. Famous and infamous residents from the time of William the Conqueror, up through Henry the VIII, to a prisoner during the American Revolution, to an execution of a Nazi spy.
The White tower, the castle structure in the middle, was built first by William the Conqueror soon after his 1066 invasion of Britain, and was the tallest building in Europe at the time it was built. Various kings have added to the complex over the years, including Henry VIII, who put the caps on the tops of the White Towers 4 towers, for the arrival of his promising young bride, Anne Boleyn. Unfortunately, she later arrived at the palace at the Traitor’s Gate, and it wasn’t quite so celebratory at that point. Of course, she had good company at that gate, as our guide pointed out, including Lady Jane Grey, Queen Elizabeth I, William Penn (a nod to my home state), and finally, as our guide put it, Mel Gibson.
There is a spot on the green marked with a glass pillow on a monument near where the executions within the walls took place. If you were royalty, or your execution was not to be made a public spectacle of, you were beheaded there on the green. Otherwise, you were taken out to Tower Hill, outside the Tower of London, and a great show was made of cutting of your head.
We took a Yeoman Warder’s Tour, which is worth it just to interact with the Warders. Ours had a dry, ironic sense of humor, pointing out how all the waste of the Tower would build up in the moat, which was designed to be washed out by the tide of the Thames each day – so all the waste would be washed down stream, out to the English Channel, and eventually onto the beaches of France! (And that’s truly why the the two countries have never got on. (Unfortunately, the builder of the moat then dug the moat deeper than the Thames, so it didn’t quite work as planned!)
The warders themselves are a fascinating bunch. The Yeoman Warders were originally the monarch’s personal body guard, so as you can they were the best of the best and highly trusted. Still today, the position is highly coveted and cannot be obtained without 22 years of service in the military with at least one 15 year good conduct medal. Our guide had 34 years in the Royal Navy with two of these medals at the time he became a Yeoman Warder. The Warders are Guardians of a Royal Palace, of the Crown Jewels, of a national historic site, the final resting place of the honored and infamous, and are icons of Britain themselves. They also live on site with their families – in both a palace and a prison, and are unable to enter or leave after a certain time of night without calling ahead and making arrangements. And they give many, many tours to unruly, dumb-question-asking tourists. It is a dichotomy of a career choice.
There were different favorite things within the walls for us. For me, I liked just being able to explore the nooks and crannies of the old historic structure. We were in one room of the White Tower, and you could see how it would have one day been a throne room or banquet room. We saw a little nook of a room set off the the side, and I stepped in to have a look. Surprise! The King’s potty! The winding stone staircases were amazing to me too, if treacherous.
KatieRose loved, of course, the ravens. Tradition holds that if the Ravens ever leave the Tower, it, as well as the Monarchy, will fall. So, by royal decree, 6 ravens must be kept on site at all times. Therefore, the ravens have their wings clipped, are fed raw meat (sheep’s heart being a favorite) twice a day, and while ravens in the wild live to be 16-ish years old, the oldest on site is 44. Oh, and they actually have seven ravens on site, just in case.
Lydia liked the display of armor mounted on wooden horses, of course, and spent quite a while taking pictures of and reading about them and the various weaponry. It was even set up so you could lift different types of swords from different time periods, which was pretty cool. She also liked the small display on torture, which I do have to admit was fascinating. Thankfully there were just the machinery on display with sketches of how it would work. So nothing too gory!
We all, also, just explored and took photos of the views. There is an amazing view of the Tower Bridge from here, which I suppose is fitting. So we would get a picture from somewhere, and then come around a corner a bit later and find a better view. Then look out a window and there’s a better view. In the end, I went on a very quick partial walk around the walls, just to get up to what I thought would be the best vantage point, and took a few pictures there.