The Tower of London

The midnight waters of the Thames washing up the sides of the wooden boat and the steady beat of the oars is all that you hear in the darkness. A half-eaten moon and a handful of stars glimmer from too far away. You can see the darkness of the sky and the deeper darkness of stone-walled buildings that line the river. With hollow steps you find yourself out of the boat and on the landing, holding your now dirtied skirts with a ringless hand. One glance over your shoulder, and the stars disappear as you find yourself inside the hole that shudders darkly in the night. You are trapped in the Tower of London.

The Tower of London ~ image courtesy Kjetil Bjørnsrud via Wikimedia Commons

Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress

The Tower of London is more that just a tower – in reality, it is a full-sized castle, holding its historical stance on the banks of the Thames. For some reason, I always imagine the Tower in its darkest moments, when royal beheadings and imprisonments were commonplace, when its walls resounded with the cries of its victims: A young Elizabeth I with her disheveled red hair, passing the endless days of her imprisonment reading Latin books by a tiny window. Lady Jane, the nine-days-queen, wondering if she had been right after all in taking the throne. Mary of the Scots, fuming with anger at her cousin that she couldn’t manage to kill. Edward and Richard, the two little princes who disappeared and were found two hundred years later, buried under the staircase. Anne Boleyn, murdered because she didn’t have a son.

"The Princes in the Tower" by John Everett Millais

The passages and corridors are haunted, they say. The murdered and martyred are said to still walk the dank and damp stone floors.

In the Tower of London, large as life,

The ghost of Anne Boleyn walks, they declare.

For Anne Boleyn was once King Henry’s wife,

Until he had the headsman bob her hair.

Oh, yes, he did her wrong long years ago,

And she comes back at night to tell him so.

With her ‘ead tucked underneath her arm,

She walks the bloody Tower,

With her ‘ead tucked underneath her arm,

At the midnight hour.

~ from “With Her Head Tucked Underneath Her Arm” by R.P. Weston and Bert Lee

Despite the bloody history of the Tower of London, its original purpose was not to be a prison only. William the Conqueror built the White Tower in 1078, and the royal family called the palace their home for hundreds of years. In its thousand years of history, the Tower of London has been used as an armoury, a fortress, and even the Royal Mint. For over six hundred years, the Tower was home to the Royal Menagerie, a collection of exotic animals such as tigers, bears, cheetahs, and elephants. During the reign of James I (1603-1625), some of the animals were made to compete in coliseum-type fights called baiting. The animals were eventually given to the London Zoo, and now the only captives in the Tower are the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, which have been kept safe in the fortress ever since 1303.

The Crown Jewels ~ image courtesy Joseph Echeverria via Flickr

Today, the Tower of London is mostly a tourist attraction, and for about 20£ you can  see with your own eyes the White Tower, the Jewel House, the armor collection, and the Tower Green where Anne Boleyn was beheaded.

The White Tower ~ image courtesy Bernard Gagnon via Wikimedia Commons


1 Comment

Filed under History, Places

One response to “The Tower of London

  1. This is the new exhibition at The Tower of London –!

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