Jul 122014
 

Join me and my daughter as we travel back to a time when tortures and beheadings were executed in the Tower of London.
Tower of London Traitor Gate

We are in a boat with Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, headed for the Tower of London.  King Henry VIII is now in love with Jane Seymour, so some trumped up charge like treason is needed.  This doesn’t mean Anne has betrayed her country, just displeasing the king becomes her vile act of treason.

Anne’s boat enters the Tower of London through the Traitor’s gate and is met by the Constable of the Tower.  We hear her ask if she will be taken to a dungeon.  He assures her that she will be imprisoned in the same Royal apartments she had stayed in three years ago, when she became queen.
Tower of London Torture Rack
Tower of London BeheadingThe Tower received a ghastly reputation of innocent prisoners being tortured into confessing their guilt.  I noticed a somber mood fell over our group, as we read how bodies were stretched on the rack.
Tower of London Scaffolding siteThe Spanish A-Frame successfully extracted confessions the opposite way by compressing the body.  I found it curious that these torture items were never destroyed, but I guess “what happens in the tower, stays in the tower.”

Let’s join Anne Boleyn again, as she hears that her sentence will be either burning or beheading.  King Henry VIII shows what a nice guy he is by selecting the quicker, less painful death.  English executioners didn’t get much practice hacking off heads, and needed several whacks to finally finish the bloody job.  As another act of kindness, an expert French swordsman with a sharpened sword is brought in to do the slicing.  We hear Anne commenting that fortunately “she has a little neck.”

The site of the scaffolding built for the beheadings is located on the Tower Green and marked by this crystal pillow.

My daughter and I weren’t very eager to test the rumors about ghosts haunting the Tower.  Supposedly, Anne Boleyn is sighted the most often as a headless body drifting near the Tower Green.  She has also been seen near the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, where her bones were buried within the Tower.

I have never seen or felt the presence of apparitions, have you?

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Jul 072014
 

Come along with me and my daughter to the Tower of London where heads rolled and Crown Jewels glitter.
Tower of London
Photographs are not allowed as we entered the vaulted, huge, two ton doorway. The phrase “all that glitters is not gold” came to mind, as my eyes took in this array of diamonds and gold displayed on velvet.

Tower of London Crown Jewel Door
What is on display? Basically all the glitz and sparkle that is used in coronations as British symbols of the ruling royalty.  Most of the collection is from the coronation of Charles II , when royalty was restored to England in 1661.

The long glass encasements are low enough to peer in from the top and then crouch to see from all sides. Since there are no queues to stagger the crowd, you can stand or walk at your pace. With no photography allowed, no one is jostling to get a better picture.

CSvBibra

CSvBibra


What happened to the earlier monarchy’s wealth?  Charles I  believed in the divine right of kings and triggered an English Civil War that lasted six years. Defeat also meant that the divine right to keep his head was permanently severed and Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England.

The monarchy was abolished, but the newly created English republic found itself in a desperate financial situation. In order to raise funds, the personal estate of the monarchy was sold to the highest bidder. Much of the gold was melted down and used for coins.

For Charles II coronation, many items were replicated. The oldest piece made by the royal goldsmiths that survived and was returned was a 12th century Coronation Spoon. Also the Coronation Chair was used for Cromwell’s installation as Lord Protector and never sold.

St. Edwards Crown, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootbearwdc/

St. Edwards Crown, http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootbearwdc/

St. Edward’s Crown is placed on the head of the new monarch by the archbishop on coronation day. This 1661 remake with 443 gems weighs five pounds and worn for only 20 minutes. The original was known to cause headaches for the newly crowned royalty, if worn too long.

England is steeped in superstitions, and the most famous diamond in the world is the Koh-i-Nur or “Mountain of Light”. It has only been set in crowns made for female members of the monarchy. “It is said to bring bad luck to any man who wears it, but is believed to bring long life and happiness to any woman who wears it.” Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was 101 when she died, so this legend would seem to hold true.”

British Imperial Crown of India Photo by Wikipedia, CSvBibra

British Imperial Crown of India Photo by Wikipedia, CSvBibra


The only crown allowed to leave the country is the Imperial Crown of India. Set with more than 6000 diamonds, it was made especially for the Delhi Durbar in 1911 when George V was crowned Emperor of India.

It was overwhelming and difficult to comprehend all this glittering collection grouped in one room. There is very little description of each item, which keeps the crowds moving along quicker. One of the sceptres has the biggest cut diamond in the world, the 530-carat Star of Africa.

Queen Victoria and small diamond crown  Photo by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Queen Victoria and small diamond crown Photo by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Queen Victoria’s tiny silver and diamond encrusted crown measures only 3.7 inches tall. It was designed to be worn over her mourning veil, following the death of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. Colored stones wouldn’t have seemed appropriate for wearing while in mourning. The 1,187 diamonds came from a necklace owned by Queen Victoria. After viewing such grand crowns, this coronet seemed so tiny and out of place in comparison.

The Crown Jewels were just a small part of our visit to the Tower of London. I could easily have spent another day absorbing this ongoing tradition of regalia, which aren’t just old, unused museum pieces. Should this collection of glitz and gold be replaced by fake gems or allowed to be photographed by tourists?

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