London: capital of England, buzzing metropolis … and heaven for Royalists!
I have been lucky enough to spend some time in London recently and have compiled ‘A Royalist’s guide to London‘ – including those places you cannot miss if you are in London which are brimming with Royal and historical connections!
First on my list is The Tower of London, or, as it is properly known, Her Majesty’s Palace and Fortress. The Tower was built by William the Conqueror after his successful conquest in 1066, as a fortress to keep hostile Londoner’s away. In the 1080s, work on The White Tower, the magnificent building at the heart of The Tower, began. The White Tower dominated the landscape for miles around, displaying strength and power. By around 1350, the buildings we know and see today were largely completed, with some later additions and alterations, such as The Queen’s house, a Tudor wooden structure, and a restoration work by The Duke of Wellington after a fire in 1841.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site has seen some of the most interesting and shocking events across England’s history: three Queens have been executed on Tower Green, The Princes in The Tower were supposedly disposed of here by Richard III, Henry VI was imprisoned and murdered, and when used as a prison it held some of the most famous inmates of the era (William Wallace, Sir Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, Rudolf Hess…).
The Tower of London is ran by Historic Royal Palaces, an independent charity that looks after five Royal Palaces entirely on donations from the public. The other Palaces include Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, The Banqueting House and Kew Palace.
What to do at The Tower of London:
1. Take a Beefeater tour when you visit. They leave from just inside the entrance, about five times a day, and is the best way to learn all about The Tower’s history through the entertaining tales of the Yeomen Warders who work and live there. They can answer almost anything about The Tower, including it’s history and almost anything else you can think of. Audio tours are also available, in numerous languages including English, but they come at a fee.
St Peter ad Vincula is also the Chapel Royal at The Tower, which you can see on a Beefeater tour, or during the last hour of opening. No photography is allowed in this part of the fortress, but it is worth seeing: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Grey (the Queens executed at The Tower) and Sir Thomas More and John Fische are buried in the chapel.
If travelling with children, there is a trail for the little ones to do, finding objects and the like, to help keep them occupied; the Beefeaters are also more than happy to pose for pictures if you ask!
2. See The Crown Jewels. No true Royalist could ever leave without seeing The Crown Jewels! The walk through tells you a little history of the items which have been used ever since Charles II’s coronation, in 1661, as well as other ceremonial items. The video of Her Majesty’s coronation is also there to view! A slow moving escalator takes you past the main crowns, sceptres and orb used at a coronation ceremony, to prevent crowding; such items can only be appreciated close up, so do not miss it!
Tip: arrive at opening time, if you can, and head straight for The Crown Jewel exhibition – queues after around 10:30/11am will see you waiting 40 minutes+ (more likely over an hour!) to get into this popular exhibition, as well as a lengthy wait to get IN to The Tower itself! If you cannot get there early, try around 3pm when the majority of visitors have left, leaving queues smaller – but you will have less time to look around, as The Tower closes at 5:30pm.
3. The Ceremony of the Keys. If you are to visit the HRP site, this is something else you may not have heard about that is available at The Tower. The Ceremony of the Keys is the oldest military ceremony in the world, where the Yeomen Warders effectively lock up The Tower for the evening. For 700 years, this ceremony has been conducted, and only once has it been late – after a direct hit from a bomb during the Second World War. Queen Elizabeth’s keys are escorted by an armed guard to lock the gates which need to be locked, and are challenged by a guard.
A Yeoman Warder explains the proceedings to you before the ceremony begins, and you can ask any questions after the ceremony has ended. The ceremony is only minutes long, but is a fun way to spend part of your evening, as few people know of the opportunity to go, and group numbers are limited.
Tip: when you confirm your trip to London, get your tickets ASAP as they are free and taken quickly!
4. The Towers. Make sure you see all of the Towers during your visit (yes, there are multiple!) – each has their own story and history. The Beauchamp Tower, for example, is littered with graffiti from prisoners! This sort of detail is the thing I love when I visit historical sites – proof that people from centuries ago were standing in the same spot that you are. And the name of The Bloody Tower should give you an idea of what went on inside…
5. The Ravens. Seeing the ravens is also not to be missed; I don’t know about you, but I didn’t realise how large they were! Not shy of the public, they often perch on benches and pose for photos, and the Tower’s Raven Master looks after the seven of them, feeding them and the like. Did you know they ate raw meat and bird biscuit soaked in blood? Yup!
6. The Poppies. If you visit before November 11th 2014, the ‘Blood swept lands and seas of red’ installation will still be in the dry moat. A ceramic poppy has been planted for each British and Colonial soldier killed in WWI, totalling 888,246. William, Kate and Harry visited in August, as Royal Central reported here. The poppies cascade beautifully out of a window on the north west corner of the fortress and flow over the entrance walkway. Poppies are available to buy, supporting six Armed Forces charities, and you can also volunteer to help plant them, at poppies.hrp.org.uk
A full tour of The Tower, seeing everything available, will take you around three hours, queue dependent, so do expect to spend a good chunk of your day perusing. There are refreshment spots inside the site, so you can stop off for an ice-cream when needs be! There are plenty of great souvenirs you’ll want to take home in the gift shops, including jewellery, costumes for kids, magnets, key-rings and table-wares, so take plenty of spending money!
photo credits: © Cindy Stockman 2010, © Chloe Howard 2013, loop_oh and Mikepaws via photopin cc, © Chloe Howard 2014.
Wonderful article on the Towers, Chloe!! Love your style. Certainly hope you will be posting more “not to be missed” Royalist spots to visit.
I loved the Tower, I definitely need to go again! Can’t wait to see what will be next in the series!
It’s a great place Mo. It won’t be long to wait now! Hope you enjoy
“The Princes in The Tower were supposedly disposed of here by Richard III” – more likely Henry VII as he had more to lose.
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