Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tower + Execution = A Good Day?

Perhaps it isn’t always a good idea to leave a blog post until the last minute, specifically if you’re doing as many activities per day as I am. Because at this moment, sitting in front of my computer screen, I have an overwhelming amount of things I can write about.

For instance, I can write about a Soho pub called Molly Moggs, that has the best karaoke in the city (though it’s the only karaoke I’ve been to in London so far). Or I can write about all of the great shopping available at Portobello Road Market. On top of that, I could also write about my “self-guided” tour through the British Museum.

In front of the Tower of London
But I think that I will leave those stories to be told through the pictures I will one day upload to Facebook (with my internet connection so slow here, I think I will leave that huge task to be done once I get back home). Instead, I will tell you about a place synonymous with the city of London, with the English monarchy, with death, with torture, with execution—the Tower of London.

First let me start by saying that anyone, ANYONE, visiting London should visit the Tower. Though there is an entrance fee (and a steep one at that), it is worth every pence! The exhibits are superb; there is something for everyone, whether their interest lies in the Crown Jewels, in gruesome murder stories, or in warfare and weaponry. And they offer a free hour-long tour every thirty minutes. The tour guides are actually yeoman warders, otherwise known as beefeaters, though they will be quick to tell you that the origin of the nickname is unknown. To be a yeoman warder, you must have served in the military for at least 22 years. Another interesting fact is that most of the beefeaters actually live on the premises; their houses look into the Tower Green. And our beefeater guide was great! He was loud enough for the huge tour group to hear, he knew a lot of information, and he was able to crack a joke (or two, or three). All in all, it was a very good tour.

Tower Green. The Queen's Rooms are to the back-right, behind the tree.
It was especially exciting for me to make connections to those famous personalities I’ve read so much about. The Tower Green is the execution site of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Jane Grey; it was considered special treatment that they were executed inside the Tower walls (a “private” execution), considering that everyone else was killed at Tower Hill, about a quarter of a mile away from the Tower itself. Before her execution, Anne Boleyn stayed in the White Tower, which was coincidentally the same place she stayed in before her coronation three years previous. Catherine Howard was placed in the Queens Rooms, and Jane Grey was housed to the right, just one door down; these houses are not only still standing, they are the homes of current Yeoman Warders and their families. The Governor of the Tower of London lives in the Queen's House. I love Tudor history, but I don’t love it enough to live in the potential haunting grounds of Catherine and Jane!

An inscription of "Jane" in the Beauchamp Tower
Most other prisoners were sent to the Beauchamp Tower, directly across from the White Tower, and overlooking the Tower Green. One can see many carved inscriptions on the walls of the Beauchamp Tower, made by sad, helpless prisoners leaving one last message before their untimely end. I found two different inscriptions of Jane, in reference to Jane Grey; they were probably inscribed by one of her supporters, perhaps even her husband Guildford Dudley (who was also imprisoned in the Tower, and later executed).

Our last stop was the chapel in the Tower, St. Peter ad Vincula (Latin for “in chains”), where the bodies of Anne, Catherine, Jane, and Jane’s husband are buried. No photography was allowed in the chapel unfortunately, but I can say that the chapel was rather small. Plaques for each of the above-mentioned people were placed directly under the pulpit.

A memorial to those executed in the Tower Green
I couldn’t help but think about what it must be like to be sentenced to death—specifically by your husband or your cousin, someone you knew very well. And to be killed so gruesomely. It was sad to see all of these memorials for people who had no legitimate reason to die. Yet we can’t go back and change the past; the best we can do is remember and respect their memories.

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