Monday, September 28, 2009

the tower of london.

Last week we took a trip over to the Tower of London or Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress. The tower first began in 1078 as The White Tower; built by William the Conquerer. Through the centuries it has expanded and now has two rings of many buildings and towers and is surrounded by a moat. Although the moat is now dry it was once a fully functioning defense for the fortress. The tower was has fulfilled many purposes. It was at one time used as a prison, a palace, a fortress, a zoo, a mint, and has housed the Crown Jewels since the 14th century.

We started out our time at the Tower by taking a look at the crown jewels. As we entered the building, we viewed a small clip of the Queen and her coronation. I have to say that since moving to London, I appreciate the Queen more and more each day. As we continued we saw more clips of some of the most beautiful and grand pieces of metal, rock and minerals in the world. Finally we entered a room where we saw the coronation robes worn by Queen Elizabeth II over 50 years ago. I was very interested to learn that these weighed 20 pounds. Can you imagine wearing that on your back for an extended amount of time? I also found it interesting that they use consecrated oil during coronations.We then we able to view a selection of the Crown Jewels. We saw The First Star of Africa embedded in The Sovereigns Scepter. This is the biggest diamond in the world at 530 carats. The scepter represents power over the kingdom and it seems fitting that the First Star of Africa be a part of it.
We learned that since Charles II there have been very strict rules dealing with crowns made for the heir of the crown. For one, there is a single arch above the crown distinguishing it from the monarch's crown. Another interesting fact is that is a king is married before his coronation, his wife is usually crowned with him as Queen consort. She is even given her own crown and scepter. One of the most interesting things I learned with the crown jewels was that when Prince Albert passed away, Queen Victoria spent the rest of her life in mourning by wearing a small crown with a widows veil attatched. I found this very touching and sad.

We viewed many great jewels and left thoroughly impressed with the wealth and power of England. Afterwards, we took a tour with one of the Yeoman Warder's stationed at the tower.
We walked though the grounds as we were told stories. Although the British don't technically consider the tower as a prison, it was definitely a place of torture, imprisonment and death. Guy Fawkes was questioned here after he was found to be one of the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. He was also then killed and cut into quarters and hung around London as a reminder to the people of what happens when you try to revolt. Anne Boelyn is also a important figure connected with the tower. After a great deal of drama she was taken to the tower where she was tried for adultery, incest and high treason. She was found guilty and hung on a scaffold in the middle of the courtyard. This sculpture stands in the spot where the scaffold hung.
The tower is also the site of the legendary Princes in the Tower. Young Edward V of England and his brother Richard were the only sons of Edward IV and lived in the Bloody Tower. Unfortunately these two princes disappeared without so much as a sign and their death remains a mystery to this day. Two centuries later, the bones of two children were found in the White Tower. These bones are believed to be the bones of the boys but no one can know for sure.
The tower was a very interesting place to visit and I learned a lot being there. It is amazing how much more there is to learn that what is listed in your text books. I enjoyed the Yeoman Warder's filling in a few gaps for me.

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