The Tower of LondonCategory: Culture
The Tower’s Cruel Past. The Ravens. The White Tower. Beefeaters. The Ceremony of the Keys. The Museum of Arms and Armour
The Tower on the north bank of the Thames is one of the most ancient buildings of London. It was founded in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. But each monarch left some kind of personal mark on it. For many centuries the Tower has been a fortress, a palace, a prison and royal treasury. It is now a museum of arms and armour,— and, as one of the strongest fortresses in Britain, it has the Crown Jewels.
The grey stones of the Tower could tell terrible stories of violence and injustice. Many saddest and cruellest events took place within the walls of the Tower. It was here that Thomas More, the greatest humanist, was falsely accused and executed. Among famous prisoners executed at the Tower were Henry VIII’s wives Anna Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
When Queen Elizabeth was a princess, she was sent to Tower by Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”) and kept prisoner for some time.
The ravens whose forefathers used to find food in the Tower, still live here as part of its history. There is a legend that if the ravens disappear the Tower will fall. That is why the birds are carefully guarded.
The White Tower was built by William the Conqueror to protect and control the City of London. It is the oldest and the most important building, surrounded by other towers, which all have different names.
The Tower is guarded by the Yeomen Warders popularly called ‘Beefeaters’. There are two letters, E. R., on the front of their tunics. They stand for the Queen’s name Elizabeth Regina. The uniform is as it used to be in Tudor times.
Their everyday uniform is black and red, but on state occasions they wear a ceremonial dress: fine red state uniforms with the golden and black stripes and the wide lace-collar, which were in fashion in the 16th century.
Every night at 10 p. m. at the Tower of London the Ceremony of the Keys or locking up of the Tower for the night takes place. It goes back to the Middle Ages. Five minutes before the hour the Headwarder comes out with a bunch of keys and an old lantern. He goes to the guardhouse and cries: “Escort for the keys.” Then he closes the three gates and goes to the sentry, who calls: “Halt, who comes there?” The Headwarder replies: “The Keys.” “Whose Keys?” demands the sentry. “Queen Elizabeth’s Keys,” comes the answer. “Advance Queen Elizabeth’s Keys. All’s well.” The keys are finally carried to the Queen’s House where they are safe for the night. After the ceremony everyone who approaches the gate must give the password or turn away.