London can be an overwhelming place. This is my second time here and I don’t think I have even scratched the surface of it. My favorite days include long walks through the city, taking in the familiar highlights, and attending theater production at the Globe. Learning some of the family connections to this city proved to hold unexpected discoveries and learning opportunities as well.
It was good to see the complete facelift of St Paul’s Cathedral….Things looked bright and shiny this visit. This was my first tour inside Westminster Abbey as it was closed last time I was in town. I was struck by the artistic detail in the design of this place. From the woodwork to the marble, everything was in perfect condition. I enjoyed listening to the audio guide here that peacefully moves one through the chapel. It was worth the high price to tour this church as both St. Paul’s and Westminster charge a hefty eighteen pound entrance fee.
It was interesting to see Chaucer’s tomb in Poet’s Corner at Westminster. Chaucer was interned here for his service to the state more than his literary works. He was the first to be buried in what would later be called Poet’s corner. The marble tomb itself is quite short. His red and gold shield is displayed on the wall behind the tomb. There is a detailed marble-work canopy above.
My favorite days were just walking around to see the sights. Covent Gardens, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Parliament, Buckingham Place and the Changing of the Guards, Hyde Park, St. James Park, Diana’s Fountain and Temple Church to name a few. I enjoyed meeting a friend I met in Cape Town last December. It was nice to see a familiar face and have a local tour guide on a sunny London day. I also survived two rainy walking days in London and I did not succumb to purchasing an umbrella. I learned a lot of history on these days of guided walks so I was glad I marched on despite the rain.
I decided I should attend at least one theater performance; I choose to go to the Globe theater to see The Tempest. It was fun to watch a performance here. I tried to imagine members of audience wearing Victorian era clothes as that was all that was missing from feeling completely feel transported back to Shakespeare’s time. I choose to stand in the yard. It was wonderful to be so close up, but after almost three hours, I admit I had a bit os a stiff neck afterwards.
I had decided that this time in the city I would spend a day discovering the Tower of London. I guess, like most people, I just thought of this place as a medieval prison where people were beheaded and tortured. To my surprise it has been a fort, palace for royalty, mint, treasury, place for records preservation, storage facility, armory and the location of the vault containing the state Crown Jewels.
I enjoyed seeing the Crown Jewels and other royal service-ware. The two largest cut diamonds in the world can be seen here. I also loved walking through the armory. There were a few pieces of armor belonging to King Henry the VIII displayed in the White Tower.
I looked at the name by this armor; I expected to see Henry Manning as the crafter in at least one piece as I knew he had made armor for this King. I took a photo of the name, Erasmus Kirkener. Later that night I went back to the genealogy logs my aunt had sent me. There by Henry Manning’s name was his wife Catherine Kirkener daughter of Erasmus Kirkener. The document said that Henry had learned how to craft armor from his father-in-law before becoming keeper of the Royal Park at Greenwich, and later Knight-Marshall in the royal palace. So I learned another unexpected connection!
The main reason I choose to go to the Tower, however, was because is it the place of my sixteenth great grandfather’s death. There is a book that records which records all the deaths that occurred at the Tower. I was able to get a photo of William Baron Hastings entry:
Supporting Edward V in the Council Chamber of the White Tower. Richard III also accused him of sorcery in making his arm so withered. Executed on a crude block on Tower Green on June 13, 1483.
Edward the V was one of the two young princes held in the Tower, named the Bloody Tower after the disappearance of Edward and his younger brother. Edward was the son of King and was next in line for the throne. Richard III was the princes uncle. The tower death record lists the death of the princes directly before Lord Hastings:
“Safe custody” and preparation for coronation. Murdered in the Garden Tower on “orders” of the Duke of Gloucester (Richard III) Bodies fund in 1674
The Yeoman like to tell the tail of these events. I heard about three different renditions while I was there. The bottom line is that there was a council meeting in the White Tower. At some point Baron Hastings said something that questioned the disappearance of the princes or supporting the former kings first born son. Richard III, without ever completing a formal recorded charge and without a court proceeding ordered that Hastings be executed. All the Yeoman seemed to enjoy reciting Shakespeare’s version, “I shall not dine until Hastings head is on a plater.”
All Yeoman agreed that this was the only beheading that was done without a formal block. The executioners used the first piece of wood they came to just outside the Tower near the Green. So that’s that. I guess I am proud that it seemed like he tried to do the right thing. Even though, the right thing could get a person into a lot of hot water at that time. I guess it still can but usually it doesn’t end in beheading nowadays.
Just near the green there is a circular memorial for: William, Lord Hastings 1483, Queen Anne Boleyn 1536, Margaret, Countess of Salisbury 1541, Jane Viscountess Rochford 1542, Queen Katherine Howard 1542, Lady Jane Grey 1554, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex 1601, Highlander Farquhar Shaw 1743, Highlander Samuel Macpherson 1743, Highlander Malcolm Macpherson 1743. This poem struct me as it asked us to pause “while we walk the generations … under these restless skies.” The full inscription reads:
Gentle visitor pause awhile where you stand
Death cut away the light of many days
Here jeweled names were broken
from the vivid thread of life
May they rest in peace
while we walk the generations
around their strife and courage
under these restless skies.
If you have been reading the last few blogs, you are aware that I have been traveling to places where I had past family live in England. It has been a fun way to learn about history and I would encourage others to travel this way if you are able. From my experience in England, it is easier to make meaningful discoveries when you walk where they did. Even if it is just getting lost on a footpath in an area where your family once lived. It does make one think about your connections to a place and a people in a different way.