Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Crown Jewels (#12)

One day Windsor, the next the Tower of London.
The first person to greet you at the Tower of London is a Beefeater. They're the guys in the big red outfit and black velvet hat. They might look more like actors than soldiers, but in order to be a "Yoeman Warden", you have to have served in the Royal Marines for 22 years. They were very serious soldiers. They look like friendly guys, but they are former high-ranking fighting men. Many wear their Army decorations. They serve the Queen from their post at the Tower and are even given special apartments there until age 66.
You might think that they're tour guides, but don't get into a squabble with them.
The Tower of London is the vault of the royal family's jewels and the jail of the royal family's prisoners. (Although they probably haven't had prisoners there for the past few decades.) It is one of the most guarded places in the world. Royal Marines stand in the open windows, ever vigilant.
Since there are no longer prisoners in the dungeon, then it's pretty clear they're guarding the royal family's jewels. Some people say the jewels in the Tower are paste copies. The guide assured visitors that there wouldn't be such extensive security if the jewels weren't the real thing.
How dazzling and dizzying are the crown jewels? Well, imagine the most regal crown of diamonds and rubies...that would be an understatement. The crowns are working crowns. The Queen takes them out depending on the occasion. Each has a specific function and since the British are such "yekkies", then the crowns are given an airing quite a bit.
More than 30 million people have visited the Tower to see the crown jewels. They are absolutely stunning. My favorite crown was that of the elderly Queen Victoria. Once she got older, she said that the crowns were too heavy for her. So she had a little diamond crown made that sat right atop the bun on her head.
The Tower of London's prison was a pretty nasty place. There was a gruesome display of the different methods of torturing prisoners. Obviously they took their lessons from the stories of Sodom and Gemorrah. They had a rack that stretched a prisoner until his bones were pulled apart. They had a crunch that folded him and crunched his body until he was crippled. The horrors of this reality brought the Sodom stories to life. Horrible.
Walking through the Tower prison, you can see the names and notes scratched from prisoners there. There's also a photo of Herman Hess, a prisoner in 1944. Hess, Adolph Hitler's deputy, parachuted into London to have peace talks with the Queen. He was captured and held for a few months until he was released. But there was no agreed peace.
The place of the infamous executions is now covered with a piece of artwork that asks you to think for a moment about those who were killed at that spot. It seems that when Queen Victoria heard about the executions of the past centuries (including some of Henry VIII's wives), she was so horrified, she immediately changed the place to have a more civilized purpose.

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