The Tower Of London

It’s a new year, and I haven’t written a single post yet!  Time to change that.

So remember that time last fall when I went to London?  Remember how I was going to tell you about my favorite castle, the Tower of London?  And then I told you about board game cupcakes and biscotti with booze in them instead? (P.S. As a side note, I also made some pound cake with Amaretto in it this past weekend which was also pretty fantastic)

Well it’s time to revisit the iconic Tower of London.

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As a stroke of luck, Michael and I thought the Tower opened earlier than it did, so we had some time to kill, and ended up on the banks of the Thames just as the Tower Bridge was opening to allow a ship through.  This used to happen like 400 times a day, but now only happens about 400 times a year. Couldn’t have timed it better if we’d tried.

William the Conqueror built the original building of the Tower complex, the White Tower, back in the 1070s.  The grounds and buildings were expanded and added to by future monarchs.  Over the years the Tower has been used as a prison, a royal residence, scaffold site, and home of the Crown Jewels.

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A word to the wise, and a helpful tip from Rick Steves, beeline it to the crown jewels as soon as you make it in.  Michael and I lucked out.  The day we were there, we got right in, but apparently some days you have to wait in line two hours for a chance to see them.  Once you’re in, there’s a “conveyor belt” moving sidewalk thing that takes you past the jewels.  It’s good that it moves because it keeps the crowd moving, so you don’t have to wait forever for people to get out of the way.  There’s one that goes by both the front and back of the jewels.  Michael and I rode them both multiple times.  One viewing just isn’t enough to take in all that sparklyness!  The crowns are the real deal.  They reminded me of the crowns I’ve seen monarchs wear in cartoons.  All purple velvet, trimmed in fur with huge diamonds and precious stones all over them.  Very impressive.  My favourites were the Imperial State Crown and the Imperial Crown of India.  Unfortunately, you can’t take pictures of them, but pictures wouldn’t do them justice anyway.  You can see what the crowns look like here.

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Other highlights of the Tower include the Beefeater Tours.  These tours are given by the Yeoman Warders, retired officers from the army who live inside the Tower and have been given the nickname Beefeaters.  Very entertaining, and a great way to learn about the history of the Tower.

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I was especially interested to see the scaffold memorial.  Only the most prestigious criminals lost their head at this site, and only six executions actually took place here.  Two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Ann Boleyn and Catherine Howard, and seventeen year old Lady Jane Grey, the nine days Queen, being three of them.  These women’s tragic stories have always fascinated me.  I remember reading a book in middle school about Lady Jane.  At the time, I never thought that someday I would actually go to the site where she was beheaded.

My other favorite display was in the Bloody Tower.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love Philippa Gregory books, and my favorite ones tell the stories of the women involved in the War of the Roses, also known as the Cousin’s War.  My favorite King and Queen, Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville, had two sons.  After Edward IV past away due to illness, his thirteen year old son Edward V was to become King.  His uncle Richard III locked him and his younger brother in the Tower, where the boys went missing and were never seen again, and Richard became King himself.  It’s not known exactly what happened to the boys, but some believe that Richard murdered them to strengthen his claim to the throne.

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I loved my visit to the Tower, and I’m so glad we were there one of the few days it was actually sunny when we were in London.  It’s a place so full of history.  There’s nothing like actually visiting a place you’ve read about in books.  Make sure you include it in your London itinerary.

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