The superstition holds that “if the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” What the superstitious British had been doing since the reign of King Charles I was to keep a few captive ravens in the tower. They stop the birds from flying away by clipping off the feathers of the birds every two weeks. The birds can fly but only for short distances. Prior to this, I certainly did not know that British could be so superstitious.
I visited the Tower of London with Aneke and Hester (from the Netherlands) on one beautiful Saturday afternoon. To our dismay, there were so many people at the Tower of London! We had to line for around 15 minutes just to get the tickets. Currently, there is an exhibition at the Tower of London to commemorate the centenary of the First World War with poppies in the moat. Each poppy represents a soldier who died in the war and they were all hand-made. I get the idea behind the commemoration but personally, I find it a bit extravagant. Nonetheless, the hand-made field of poppies in the tower’s moat are really pretty!
The first thing we did when we got into the tower was to watch a re-enactment of the World War I recruitment. It happened every hour; I imagine the actors must be quite bored from saying the same things over and over again. The story is this: a boy wanted to join the army but the soldier tried to dissuade him because they had enough people and a lady tried to argue with another soldier that it was stupid for Britain to enter the war. I would not say it was entertaining but it certainly gave the audience some ideas of the different points of view people in England had about the war back then. Some people did not want to join the war, some people were eager to join the war and some people were forced to join the war. It is scary to think that today somewhere out there in this world, these things are still happening and societies are fragmented. When will we finally learn?
Together with 200 other visitors, we went on a free tour led by a witty beefeater. As there were unfortunately too many people, sometimes I could not get near to him and I could not hear what he was saying. What I learnt from him is this: the Tower of London was built in 1066 and while it served as a royal residence in its early days, it was mostly used as a prison. This Traitor’s Gate served as the entrance into the prison during the Tudor dynasty. Some famous people who had entered this Traitor’s Gate included Thomas More who refused to acknowledge King Henry VII’s marriage with Anne. Prior to this precedent, kings were not allowed by the Church to divorce their wives but King Henry VII was adamant to divorce Queen Catherine. On the scaffold, he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” Quite a chilling story I must say. Apart from the Traitor’s Gate, there are other areas in the Tower of London that remind visitors that it was previously used as a prison, e.g. the Bloody Tower and the execution site for prisoners. Anne Boleyn was among the prisoners who were executed here. As I am quite a big fan of the Tudor saga, I was quite excited when the beefeater made numerous references to the stories and characters of the Tudor saga during the tour. This is where so many key events in the saga happened.
Admittedly, the history of the tower as a prison is sufficient for tourists to visit the site. However, most tourists do not really come for its chilling history. Instead, they usually visit the tower to see the Crown Jewels. I thought I would only see one crown so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw all the crowns of the former kings and queens of the United Kingdom. Furthermore, apart from the crowns, there were other ceremonial objects used for coronation (grandeur, exquisite and usually gold) in the room. There was a line to see the Crown Jewels, I think we queued for about 30 minutes just to see the Crown Jewels. It is certainly a magnificent sight – the diamonds are so bright! The crown for Queen Elizabeth II contains 2800 diamonds! Well, for tourists who want to leave the Tower of London with a piece of British history, they can buy the “Crown Jewels” from the souvenir shops. Without the jewels of course.