There were a number of things in London on my “must see” list. One of them, and probably at the top of that list, was the Tower of London. My fascination with it was based mainly on the role it played in England’s history. With stories of those that died there, lived and ruled, it has fascinated me for years. By being able to finally visit, I felt like I found my very own Disney.
While the Tower of London can’t claim to be the happiest place on earth, the experience of being there after reading so much about it made me the happiest person that day. I spent few hours touring around and soaking up as much as I possibly could.
My experience started with a guided tour by one of the Yeoman Warders named John, who provided a colourful and insightful tale of the history of the tower. If you’re curious, the Yeoman Warders are commonly known as ‘Beefeaters’ and have been a staple here since the 16th century. The name comes from the fact that they were compensated for their services as Royal Bodyguards with an unlimited access to king’s table, which in these days meant lots of meat. Apparently, today there are a couple of vegetarian Beefeaters which probably would be unthinkable centuries ago.
So the tower itself is actually a number of buildings surrounded by a fortified wall. The oldest structure is the White Tower which dates back to the 12th century and the days of William the Conqueror. It was an imposing structure in those days that meant to awe and put fear in Londoners and enemies alike, and has played an important role in the history of England.
The tower was not only a centre of royal power, but it was also known for its bloody and torturous past. This includes the tragic story of Edward IV’s sons who disappeared from the Bloody Tower while under the care of their uncle who eventually became Richard III.
Four of Britain’s queens have entered the gates as prisoners – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, two wives of Henry VIII, Jayne Gray and young Elizabeth Tudor. Only one of them managed to walk out alive.
There were also many other important prisoners who lost their lives here and they all arrived here the same way – down the river Thames and through the Traitor’s Gate, where they were handed over to the Yeoman Warders to await their fate, which most likely ended in death.
Today, the tower is filled with visitors laughing, taking pictures and having a great time. Nobody is imprisoned, tortured or killed. To me, there is something profound about walking in the footsteps of those that lived and died here. I was in awe and I don’t think I can fully articulate why that was such an important place for me to visit. I studied English history including the reign of Henry VIII in quite detail, so being in this place made it come alive.
The interesting point for me was that people actually live at the Tower today. The Beefeaters reside here as does a doctor and a chaplain who looks after the chapel. Apparently when Queen Victoria decided to restore it, there were a number of headless corpses discovered buried beneath the floor. Traitors as it were, were not given a proper burial and since their heads were left on display on the London Bridge, their corpses ended up beneath the church’s floor.
Now imagine yourself sitting in one of the chairs in that church as you are told that story. Kinda makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up a little.
To complete my tour, I saw the exhibition about prisoners and torture at the Tower, the Royal Armouries Collection, the Medieval Palace exhibit and the crown jewels. All in all it was a very informative place.
The Tower of London wasn’t the only place of historical importance that I had an opportunity to visit over the years. Now I can check this off my bucket list and go on to the next one.
What types of things do you like to see when you go to new places? Any favourites? Let me know.
Yes, sign me up for more 🙂