All stories start here, and ravens will always be here…
I’ve always loved history but I admit that I wasn’t the best student to learn it at school. Yeah, exams made me tired, however, after I met my love, I got the beauty of history and literature back. Without any pressure from school, I found myself enjoying it more than ever. Have you had the same experience? 🙂
Today, we are talking about the Tower of London!
The Tower is IT, the one who connects England’s history all the way through. Starting with William the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, well… I know it’s quite shocking to hear this nickname, he is the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. He was brutal and ruthless so he gained this name, but he did get the job done, built a kingdom and he founded the Tower of London at the center of the old city. The very first building is the White Tower, which also was the tallest building in 11th century London.
We booked the tickets on the official website before to avoid the long line, which is a great way to save time, more tips at the end of the post.
After entering the Tower, we are greeted by one of the Yeoman Warder, who dresses in a very distinguish uniform, dark blue long suits with red wreathe overall, a big crown and a royal sign in the middle of the chest. They are so energetic and friendly toward people. It’s my first time seeing them, and I was fascinated by their spirits. They are the ‘Beefeaters’, those permitted to eat as much beef as they wanted from the king’s table.
Those royal bodyguards have long been symbols of London and Britain since at least 1509. Their origins stretch back as far as the reign of Edward IV (1461-83).
Today’s Yeoman Warders need to have at least 22 years’ military service. they are very knowledgeable about the Tower, they are happy to answer questions about the Tower and host Yeoman Warder tours every 30 mins (free), so if you like to catch one, it’s pretty fun. since we are a more self-guided tour style, we went to the closest gift shop and bought the official guide book to get a general idea instead of renting an audio guide but from time to time we overhear the guide by them, it’s very lively and I do recommend it!
The Tower of London has played a big role in English history. It was besieged several times, and controlling it has been an important part of controlling the country. The Tower has served as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, a prison, which was the part that interested me the most: the prison part with several famous people held and executed here: Lady Jane Grey, Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, and Sir Walter Raleigh…
Before our trip to London, we watched some movies about London as our preparation for our trip 🙂 among them “The Other Boleyn Girl” featuring Natalie Portman and Scarlet Johansson playing the Boleyn sisters. It’s a rumor that Henry VIII had Anne’ s younger sister as his mistress. I like the movie very much, the actors’ performances are all great, and the movie has some pretty good shots, so I don’t want to spoil it here, but I highly recommend it, if you would like to quickly learn the history of Anne Bolyn. However, the movie makes me wonder what did people think about her, is she the Helen of Troy? or somehow the smarty girl who sees ahead of the revolution of religion?
We were walking around in the tower, little by little, solving the puzzle of what did Britain think of Anne Boleyn. from the chamber where they kept her in her last two weeks, and the green field where the execution happened in 1536. It’s for sure people have different opinions about her, but I tend to think she has not committed adultery out of her joy but to have another heir.
Henry VIII broke the relationship with the Catholic Church and divorced Catherine the Aragon, but should Anne Boleyn really be blamed for all of this? hmmm…. we saw a memorial green plot in which Queen Victoria asked for information about the exact location where the executions took place. She had a granite paving laid to mark the spot It gives me the impression that Queen Victoria agreed with me on this and didn’t see Ann Boleyn as all that bad.. How about you?
Fun fact: Anne Bolyn’s body never left the tower, but was buried beneath in the altar of the Chapel of St. Peter without mark…
The other famous beheaded story is Lady Jane Grey, who is also known as the Nine-day queen. She came to the Tower looking for her own coronation but Mary I had claimed the throne already as rightfully hers. Her cousin was quick to punish Jane Grey and she was sent to the Tower through the watergate which is called The Traitor’s gate.
As a woman of high-status Jane was granted a private execution within the Tower grounds. Dressed in black, the young woman remained calm as she walked to the scaffold on Tower Green. Jane then asked the executioner to ‘despatch her quickly’ and tied a blindfold around her eyes. As she spoke her last words: ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit’, the axe fell. Jane was just 17 years old. Ohhh… Jane Grey, a poor girl who has considered an innocent victim of the political game. also, her story inspired many painters to paint the final day. the most famous one by Paul Delaroche, The Execution of Lady Jane Grey is presented at the National gallery. we continue walking toward the Traitor’s gate, which is indeed a spooky scene to see, the vault is as serious as it can be, I can’t image how Jane Grey’s mind was running when she entered through this.
Aside from these two queens’ beheaded stories, the tower also has murders! wait… What?
In 1674, two skeletons were found under the staircase leading from the royal apartment to the Chapel of St. John in the white tower. the skeletons appear to be children size, which made people believe it was the murdered sons of Edward IV.
The two young princes were rumored to have been murdered by their uncle Duke of Gloucester since he has the best interest to be the king, who later crowned King Richard III.
The bones were re-buried at Westminster Abbey after all. May they rest in peace, poor little boys. this mysterious story also inspired Shakespeare’s Richard III.
There is a very nice animation show at the Bloody tower which can help you get an idea of the story. I recommend it very much.
So many lives end here, but let’s not forget many animals who live here. The Tower of London was the royal menagerie until the 19th century. It included a “white bear” nowadays called a polar bear which was given by the King of Norway, and like the elephant, lions, tigers, monkeys, and other exotic animals they were once been tributed to please the kings. However, not all lived well since London was so different from their natural habitats.
There is one kind of animal who has never left the Tower. Ravens. Charles II is thought to have been the first to insist that the ravens of the Tower be protected after he was warned that the crown and the Tower itself would fall if they left.
Those spiritual creatures were said to have sat silent and immovable at the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. The saw the battlements and gazed eerily at the strange scene. The ravens of the Tower behaved much worse during the execution of Lady Jane Grey in 1554, purportedly “pecking the eyes from the severed head” of the queen…ohhh… poor Lady Jane Grey.
The ravens are free to roam the Tower precincts during the day and preside over four different territories within the Tower’s walls. We are lucky enough to see one of them snacking on the ground, well, he kind of stole a tourist lunch box more precisely :p even though they are fed well by the Ravenmaster, they eat raw meat, bird biscuits soaked in blood, and an egg once a week. We are so happy to be able to see so close to those cool friends.
It’s quite heavy history happened here, isn’t it? even so, I still think it’s a great place to learn the history of England. there are other towers hold exhibitions all the time, topics from the ancient weapons, prison, animals, Crown jewel to WWII. you can pick something you like to see first because it’s a very popular tourist attraction, the day we visited was a Thursday but still very crowded. The longest line we have seen were entering the White tower for the chapel of St John and the other one for Crown jewel exhibition.
Apart from the exhibitions, the whole site is quite photogenic, you can see some other modern buildings around the Tower, including the Tower Bridge, young mix with old, a very different city view.
However, we choose not to see the Crown jewels exhibition, since we are not huge fans and time is precious. We rather went to St. Paul’s Cathedral on the same day.
What a historical site Tower of London is, many great history lessons have been given to us, even though a lot of them are sad and controversial but we felt fully charged and ready to see more of London. Have you been to the Tower of London before? What are the stories you like the most? please share it with me!
Tip for visiting the Tower of London
- Book the ticket on the official website, It has a discount price will save you a lot of time and get an advantage of entering early!
- The official website also provides a lot of tours different from the Yeoman Warder tours, some are family, children- friendly, please take a look first to see if something is interested you first, and plan it according to the schedule.
- Please print out your ticket, they don’t accept the digital tickets yet.
- Highly recommend at least stay here for 4 hours to be comfortable around the major towers.
- It’s a very popular tourist attraction, so wake up early for this if you intend to have a good shot here.
- Please do not feed or touch the ravens, they belong to the nation.
- Wear comfortable shoes, packing a lightweight backpack, you will have to walk a lot on the site.
I wish you had enjoyed today’s sharing. follow me ＠gabbie_arciniegas & @betterthanauthentic on Instagram or sign up the newsletter of the blog! you will get notification of new post here! a lot of good stuff is coming up!