Thursday, 22 July 2010

The Tower of London

As my birthday is steadily approaching, I decided to do something special for my birthday and thought The Tower of London was the place to celebrate!

Tower of London

My sister and I had always wanted to do this together so we used our 2 for 1 tickets and gained entry. We had the guided tour which included one of the Yeoman's (Beefeater) showing us around and telling us about it's history, so let me share what I was told!

The Tower of London was established by William The Conquerer towards the end of 1066 and used for many different things. At first it was a place of Royal Residence, and sometimes used as a refuge from the general populace in times of unrest. During the Tudor period, The Tower of London was mainly used as a prison rather than Royal Residence which is what The Tower of London is well known for, as well as being a place of execution, though only 7 people were beheaded there as executions mainly took place on Tower Hill.
The first execution to take place on Tower Hill was on the 14th June 1381, and it was the Archbishop of Canterbury (Simon Sudbury) to be the first person to lose his head there. He was the one responsible of rising taxes and, of course, the public were not happy about it and he was killed by an angry mob. What a lovely bunch of Londoners we were.
It wasn't just anyone that was executed; only high profile criminals which usually consisted of Dukes, Lords, Earls, and Archbishops (Simon wasn't the only one!) Executions were made public and people could go and watch them.

The Tower of London originally had a moat surrounding it to help defend the castle, but there was also another use for it. When people would relieve themselves inside the castle, their excretements would end up in the moat and the idea was that it would be washed out into the Thames and then later replaced by clean water. However, this didn't work. The moat was too deep to wash away everyone's business and so it all sank to the bottom, creating a very horrible smell. One could say that, ironically, it ended up being the Tower's best defence system. The moat has since been taken out and replaced by land.

There are many gruesome stories about The Tower of London and not all executions were very successful.
For example, our Yeoman told us that one execution went so badly that the person being executed had to be hit multiple times before they died. He told us they were hit five times, internet websites report an astounding eleven times, but I am unsure as to whether this is the same person. The Yeoman explained that the axeman was actually drunk and a butcherman, and his first blow hit the victim's shoulder. The axe - which was probably blunt - hit the victim's neck four times and it was still not completely severed, so his used one of his butcher knives to saw the rest off. The severed heads were held up to the crowd by the hair whilst still bleeding, and were then placed on a spike on Tower Bridge to act as a warning to traitors.

Anne Boleyn's execution is probably the most famous one, and was held inside the grounds of The Tower of London rather than in public on Tower Hill. She was so afraid of the axe that she requested to be executed the French way. King Henry VIII granted this and a French executioner was brought over from Calais. Queen Anne was wrongly accused for adultery and incestry because she failed to produce a male heir, and whilst saying a prayer before she was beheaded, the French executioner swiped his sword at her neck with a very clean blow. It was so clean, it has been reported that Anne's lips were still moving from her prayer after being beheaded. This is actually quite probable, since it is the lack of oxygen to the brain that causes the body to shut down rather than the actual beheading itself, and the head can stay alive for an appoximate 8 seconds after it has been separated from the body. King Henry VIII built a house for her as a wedding gift but wasn't completed until 3 years after her death.
This is the place where she and 6 other people were beheaded, including another wife of Henry's (Katherine Howard, whom did commit adultery and was sentenced to death at the age of 18 or 19 and saw the severed heads of her lovers on spikes on Tower Bridge when she was on her way to be executed herself).

Another terrible tale about The Tower of London is of the sad story of two young Princes. I don't recall the exact details of the story, but I believe that their father had died and were to be looked after by their uncle, Richard III. He took them to The Tower of London and, knowing that these boys stood in the way of him claiming the throne, it is reported that he hired someone to kill them and were apparently suffocated whilst sleeping in bed. This stayed a secret for many years, and Richard III became King and people thought the boys just disappeared.
Some stairs inside The Tower needed renovating, and whilst work was being done to it a worker found a box that was hidden. The box was opened, and inside were skeletons of two children.

Guy Fawkes is another horrid story. As some of you may know, he and several others tried to blow up the houses of Parliament with gunpowder but was caught redhanded. Guy Fawkes is the one responsible for Bonfire Night which takes place in the UK every year on November 5th. Some people choose to create an image of Guy Fawkes by using objects in their house and then putting it on top of a bonfire and burning it, some choose to let off fireworks, and it's also where the term "penny for the Guy" comes from. Anyway, Guy was interrogated at The Tower of London and was ordered to name the other people involved but he refused. He was then taken to the rack - a torture deviced that makes you taller i.e. dislocates all the bones in your body - and it didn't take long for him to confess. He was still condemned to death and instead of being beheaded, he was hung, drawn and quartered. It has been revealed on the internet that Guy Fawkes actually jumped from the gallows, rather than hung, broke his neck and died, therefore avoiding the agony of being cut open whilst dying. He was still drawn and quartered and his body parts were then distributed to "the four corners of the kingdom", as a warning to other would-be traitors.

The last story is of a man from the Royal Family to be beheaded. After his death, the people realised that he was the only monarch to not have his portrait done! They retrieved his head and actually sewed it back on his neck so he could be painted. He remains to be the only person beheaded to be buried with his head.

It was a beautiful Summer's day yesterday, and believing all these terrible, gruesome stories proved quite difficult. I don't doubt that they happened, but it's quite amazing how London has changed since then. Even standing by places where people were killed or buried seemed very surreal. However, it's a fascinating experience (especially the Crown Jewels, which I still believe is very brave to show to public. And the doors to the room itself - Jeez! Never seen such thick, metal doors!) and I would definitely recommend going, whether you're a foreigner or not.

After The Tower of London, my other sister arrived so the three of us went to eat by St. Katharine's Dock and we ended up walking all the way to Embankment. From there we took the tube and we ended up seeing Sweet Charity! It was a complete surprise and a birthday present! It's a great musical with some very well known songs (Hey Big Spender, There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This, Rhythm of Life, If They Could See Me Now) and is pretty much about a girl in a dead end job as a Dance Hall Hostess (where she gets paid to dance with men and...whatever else they want) and how she tries to find her way out of it and the sort of men she encounters along the way. My sisters and I knew nothing about this musical at all, and we were pleasantly surprised at how funny it was from start to finish. It's a musical I recommend.

Here are some pictures of London I took throughout the day, including pictures inside the Tower of London!

The Bell Tower
Left to Right: The Chapel where Anne Boleyn is buried, and where the Crown Jewels are held.

Erm...I just thought it was pretty.
The Bell on top of the Chapel
The Traitor's Gate - Anne Boleyn came this way when she was about to be beheaded.
Tower Bridge
Sphinx near Embankment

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