The Tower of Power

For two thousand years, the site of the Tower of London has played an important role in the life of the city and the history of England. We thought it was definitely worth another visit.

The Tower initially provided a good defensive point on the Thames, with original walls following Roman fortifications. It was a good vantage point to repel foreign invaders or rebellious Londoners. Many rulers added bits here and there, and it has served at various times as a palace, an amoury, the treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, the public records office and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. Only the last role is still in play, but the entire site is open for inspection. It must be amazingly crowded in the summer season.

The jewels are a major draw, but sadly, no photos allowed. Since some of the most significant gems in the world grace the important crowns of the realm, the security precautions are understandable.

On our wedding trip 33 years ago, we had the little-known opportunity to see the Ceremony of the Keys, in which the Tower of London is officially locked up at night. Quite wonderful and spooky. That was when we learned about the ravens of the Tower. Six of them must be in residence at all times or else the monarchy will fall. Beware of foxes! Keeping them safe and happy is quite an important job.

The central White Tower was built by William in the Conqueror in the early 1080s and later extended. Windows were provided to allow centuries of tourists to admire The Line of Kings, a display of royal effigies and their armor, dating from the time of Charles II in the 17th century.  We tourists have been admiring these items for centuries. (The only difference is that now things are more accurately labeled.) This makes it one of the oldest museums in the world. And if you are into armor, this place holds many fascinating exhibits. If you’re not, it’s still quite extraordinary.

We took the Beefeater’s Tour, which included the Traitors’ Gate, and a special visit inside the Church of St Peter ad Vincula, the place where the bodies (minus the heads, of course) of poor souls such as Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Lady Jane Grey, Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell are buried in the floor. The church is conveniently located next to the lawn where the chopping block originally stood. It is now inside the White Tower, and a modern sculpture commemorates the sad events which took place there.

We enjoyed this historic display of power and left the ravens in good condition, after admiring some 500-year-old graffiti.

On to the theater tonight to see “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” starring – be still, my heart – Daniel Radcliffe, among others. The confluence of Shakespeare, Stoppard and Harry Potter, so to say.

Every day, a new thrill!


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