Wednesday, August 1st:
We've made quite an early start today in order to get to the Tower of London before all the crowds. The tube station nearest our hotel seems to be closed to incoming traffic this morning, so we've gone on a brisk walk to the next closest station. While we waited in the short line for the Tower to open, we watched a man walk a goat on a leash in what was, at one point, the moat. At one point the goat tried to make a meal out of the man's behind!
Tower Hill, which is actually outside the Tower itself, was where most of the public executions were held - some 125 of them - and then the heads would be spiked. They be-headed only very special VIP's in the Tower itself. Those executed had to pay for the privilege that hopefully their head would be taken off in one whack. James Scott, one of the 13 illegitimate sons of Charles II, thought he should be the next king after his father died, but lost the power struggle, and his head in the bargain. His execution was botched - it took forever to behead him. Afterward, when it was realized that, as tradition had it, they had forgotten to paint his portrait, they had to resew his head on his body and do the painting.
As for the Tower itself, it was built by William the Conqueror 12 years after the Norman Conquest. It sits along the Thames and is made up of 20 towers, fourteen in the inner walls and six in the outer walls. The moat was poorly designed (by a bishop rather than an engineer) and rather than bringing in fresh water with the tide and removing the soiled water when the tide retreated each day, the water stayed stagnant. Since it was, in essence, a sewer, the sewage remained for 500 years rather than floating out to the river. It was finally dredged in 1840.
Henry VIII probably made the Tower most famous because of the wives and advisers who were beheaded during his reign and as a result of his reign. Sir Thomas More, for instance, was beheaded for refusing to denounce the Catholic Church and accept that Henry was head of the Church of England. More was sainted and canonized two hundred years later. An interesting tidbit - the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty comes from Richard III's defeat by Henry VII. Richard was up on a hill and knew his men couldn't hold out much longer, particularly since some of his noblemen and retainers had deserted. Surrounded by his personal guards, he decided to charge Henry directly. His men were cut down around him until he was the only one left. Richard was then pulled from his horse, overpowered, and slain. The famous quote from Shakespeare comes from this, "My kingdom, my kingdom, my kingdom for a horse!"
The crown jewels are even more incredible than I remember, and they've changed how they are displayed. Now there's a people-mover on either side of the largest and most impressive, which keeps traffic moving. You can travel the mover more than once, though, and so we did.
To the right is a scepter with a 530-carat diamond in it. The Sovereign's Sceptre with Cross signifies the Sovereign's temporal power. It is 36.5 inches long, mainly gold, and is decorated with 393 precious stones as well as the Cullinan I diamond. The diamond is the largest top quality cut diamond in the world. The diamond is so huge it's difficult to comprehend that it is real. To some extent, the same could be said for the emeralds and rubies and sapphires on the crown below.
Not pictured here, but seen was a solid gold punch bowl about three feet across and half as wide. And, of course, Charles II washed his face in a solid gold fountain basin.
There is much superstition about the birds in the Tower. According to the story, if the ravens (as seen to the right) left the castle, the white tower would fall. So there have always been six ravens here and to keep them here they have to have their wings clipped. Well, ravens only mate in flight, so they have to continually restock the ravens. On the outside world, a raven might live to be five years old. Here, with their wings clipped and celibacy, they live to be 25 years old. Oh - ravens are carnivores.
The Tudor House was built by Henry VIII; it housed both Anne Boleyn (his second wife) and Catherine Howard (his fifth wife), who were then put to death in the inner scaffold. Five people lost their lives in the inner scaffold, not far away from the Tudor House, although a sixth played an important role as well.
The Tudor House
Those beheaded at the inner scaffold were: Anne and Catherine; Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, who was the last Plantagnet princess and they wanted to end her line of succession; Lady Jane Gray, who was the uncrowned queen for nine days; Robert Devereaux, Lord Hastings; Viscountess Roquefort, who was taken as a political prisoner while her son was in Rome trying to end Henry's Protestantism; and Lord Hastings. The sixth was the Earl of Essex, Lady Gray's husband - he was beheaded on the hill and his body dumped beside the inner scaffold, which she saw before her own beheading.
We've gone into one of the towers now, one where they kept prisoners of very high rank. Some of them carved inscriptions on the walls. To pass through the doorways, my husband, at six feet, had to duck.
Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned at the Tower for 13 years. He managed to write the history of the world from his room. They moved his entire family into the Tower and it's much nicer and larger than many people's lodgings would have been in London at the time.
The Tower of London contains a medieval palace museum. In it we saw a chess set from the 12th century - I had no idea that chess was that old of a game. King Edward I, one of the medieval kings (he is the Edward married to Eleanor of Castile and not Aquitaine, as I originally thought), wanted to be the sole successor to King Solomon of Israel. He used Jewish symbols on a candelabra and his throne to perpetuate this idea. There is a small chapel which is part of the throne room with beautiful stained glass - you can see the window to the right and Edward's throne below.
After leaving the Tower of London, we took the tube to St. Paul's Cathedral, which is quite spectacular. Before going inside, however, we decided to have lunch at Pret a Manger, a chain of sandwich shops we've seen all around London. Lunch was surprisingly good - we ate outside across the street from St. Paul's, which has the second largest dome in the world. The largest, of course, is at the Vatican. St. Paul's was built by Sir Christopher Wren and is considered his crowning achievement, although his ideas for simplicity inside were altered after his death.
St. Paul's was built between 1675 and 1708 to replace an earlier cathedral destroyed by the great fire of London in 1666. Lord Nelson and Lawrence of Arabia are both buried here. There has been a cathedral church at this location since 604 AD and worship has been offered here continuously ever since.
The inside is very different from Westminster Abbey, which has a very gothic look to it.
St. Paul's has a far more Renaissance or Baroque look to it, which is understandable since that's when it was built. It's very ornate, and as you walk towards the altar, there are painted ceilings in gold.
I’m standing directly under the dome now and it seems to have been painted in sepia tones. Underneath the dome on the upper walls are iconic representations of angels. The pristine glass at the back of the church (where the altar is) its really beautiful and there are crystal chandeliers. The altar piece goes up quite high towards the smallish domes that form this part of the church and those domes look like they are decorated by mosaics. We saw a sculpture as we continued that I recognized as looking like one of Henry Moore's mother and child; indeed it is called "Mother and Child," and the artist is Henry Moore. Both Lord Nelson and Wellington are buried here, as well as Wren himself.
St. Paul’s was hit during the Blitz in WWII. The interior stonework was originally covered in oil-based paint when the cathedral was completed in the 1700's. By Victorian times, however, and it had been repainted so often and lime had built up on it so that the queen complained that St. Paul's was a most dreary, dingy, and undevotional church. By the early 1850’s the dome paintings were almost completely obscured by dirt and an attempt in restoration ended in some repainting to brighten the interior and mosaics were added between 1864 and 1904.
It's now mid-afternoon and we've taken another tube to the Kensington High Street Station to visit Kensington Palace. We've walked and tubed quite a lot today, and we're pretty hot and tired. It is a substantial walk to the Palace, at least it feels like it! We've now reached the extensive gardens and park surrounding the Palace. Is the difference between a palace and a castle that the former was never meant as a military structure?
Londoners appear to really love the sun - we saw so many people on the grounds surrounding St. Paul's - including the steps - but here at the park space surrounding Kensington Palace, as with every single green space we've seen, there are a ton of people enjoying the weather.
On the side of the palace as you near the entrance is a statue of Queen Victoria.
The royal residents of Kensington Palace were William and Mary, who bought the palace in the 1600’s. Queen Anne, George, and George II made this their London home. Queen Victoria was born in the palace in 1819. If I remember correctly, Princess Diana lived at Kensington Palace before her death.
Just before entering the Palace, we visited the formal gardens.
Queen Victoria's Bedroom
We visited the king's and queen's apartments at the Palace, then went through the fashion museum exhibit. The exhibit used dress from the 1700's through early 1900's to show how what was worn reflected on societal mores at the time for the nobility. For instance, we now know that how much brocade a man had on his jacket indicated how powerful, important, and wealthy he was. I also now know what a mantua was - in the 1700's these very wide (but flat) hoop skirts were worn to Court presentations. It became a tradition even when less formal wear came into vogue. Another affectation for Court were the hats men held - they were flat and could not actually be worn, just held. There was a very precise way you were supposed to dress and how you were supposed to behave.
We are now back at the hotel - it is 4:30. We are going to rest before going to the Federal Express office to send a package back home and walking to dinner near Picadilly Circus to Veeraswamy, an Indian restaurant highly recommended by one of my husband's British clients. After we rest a bit we'll get cleaned up and pack because we have an early morning again. FYI, we rode on seven different subways today.
We just came back from our wonderful evening - the cab we took to the Federal Express office was the one and only we've taken in London so far and the walk from their to dinner was through some interesting neighborhoods. It started out w/a funky sort of feel and ended up with a Regency sort of feel. Veeraswamy had the most delicious Indian food either of us has ever tasted - what they did with lentils and chickpeas (and I don't like chickpeas!) was unbelievable. We leave the hotel at 6:45 in the morning to go to Paddington Station and our train to Oxford. One last thing - before turning off the TV we saw a commercial for the Always String Pad to wear under your thong underwear. What will they think of next?
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