Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Terror in the Tower

Magnet # 76: Beefeater Guarding the Tower of London

Material: Resin

Purchased By: Debbie

When William the Conqueror designed and began construction on the Tower of London in 1078, it was intended to serve more as a trifold castle, prison, and fortress. Many of the kings of England later called this site their home and expanded to it. But over the years, the Tower became more of a prison and a place to hold treasures and weaponry. Eventually, the monarchy ceased to reside there and its primary use became holding and executing prisoners. It's a function that has earned the Tower a somewhat dubious standing in European history, as it is now the oldest palace, prison, and fortress on the continent.

I'm not sure if there is any other place in the world where so many historic figures have been imprisoned and even killed. Kings of France and Scotland were held there and even a King of England, Henry VI, was imprisoned at the Tower until he was murdered. Richard III kept his nephews, Edward V and Richard Duke of York, housed at the Tower, insisting it was for their own protection. However, the pair disappeared and were most likely killed there, presumably under Richard's orders. They were only twelve and ten years old at the time and have come to be known as the Tower Princes. Sir Thomas More, author of Utopia, was held at the Tower, executed at Tower Hill, and his remains are buried at the Tower. The Tower Green, a more private location inside the complex is where nobles such as King Henry VIII's wives, Katherine Howard and Anne Boleyn, as well as her sister-in-law, Jane Boleyn, all died. Later, the Lady Jane Grey also met her fate there. Guy Fawkes was held at the Tower after his failed attempt to blow up Parliament. Even Elizabeth Tudor spent two months there prior to becoming Queen when she was accused of treason against her sister, Mary I.

The anniversary of one of the Tower's most notorious executions is actually two days from now, on October 29. In 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded there. Though his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I was not always smooth, he was in her favor at the time of her death. Afterwards, however, he was arrested and tried for treason against King James. During this time, he was imprisoned at the Tower of London. He would spend over 13 years at the Tower, for although he was found guilty, King James continued to spare his life. He was finally released in 1616 and sent to lead an exploration to Venezuela. This did not go well, however - his men attacked a Spanish outpost and Raleigh's son was killed in the process. Upon his return to England, King James finally imposed Raleigh's death sentence, in part due to the Spanish Ambassador's demands. Defiant to the end, Raleigh was said to have made a quip about the axe and urge the executioner on. Some have called his execution a travesty and one of the ugliest moments in the history of England's justice system, for there was no real proof that Raleigh had ever plotted against King James, and they most likely killed an honorable, innocent man.

With all of the suffering, death, and torture that has occurred at the Tower, it is now rightfully known as England's most haunted building. For centuries, there have been ghost sightings at the Tower. The first reported one occurred in the 13th Century, when the Inner Curtain Wall was being built and the ghost of Thomas A. Becket was said to have appeared and destroyed a portion of the gate with a blow from his cross. A chapel was soon dedicated to him, and there were no more assaults on the site's progress. People have also claimed to see the ghosts of the Tower Princes, two boys in nightshirts, holding hands. About 200 years after their disappearance, a chest was unearthed in the Tower, containing the remains of two children. They were assumed to be those of the princes, and now they may haunt the site of their tragic demise. It is said Anne Boleyn walks the corridors, carrying her head under her arm, and the ghosts of Sir Walter Raleigh, who haunts the Queen's House, and Henry VI have also reportedly been sighted at the Tower. Some have claimed to see the ghost of the Lady Jane Grey on the anniversary of her death and that of her husband, who was also beheaded, is said to weep in Beauchamp Tower. It is also said that the cries of Guy Fawkes can be heard at the Tower, for he was tortured there. Perhaps the most alarming apparition is that of the Countess of Salisbury. Henry VIII ordered her execution, but she refused to put her head on the block and ran, forcing the axeman to pursue her and chop her to death in the process. Some have claimed to see her ghost reenacting the grisly chase and also to have seen the shadow of the axe as it fell. One of the more unusual sightings occurred in 1816, when a sentry claimed to see the apparition of a bear come out of the Jewel Room. His bayonet went straight through it and he was said to have later died from fright over this encounter. Considering the Royal Menagerie was once housed at the Tower of London, this tale may have some validity. And, of course, there are those who have reportedly seen entire processions of headless ghosts at the Tower. This place may very well be a hotbed of supernatural activities, and one of the world's most haunted sites.

Nowadays, the Tower is open to tours. It no longer holds prisoners and is very family-friendly. I don't think tours extend beyond 10 P.M., after the Ceremony of the Keys has locked up the facility, but there's plenty of interesting sights to take in during the rest of the day. One particularly interesting area to note is the Salt Tower. Although no particular ghosts are known to haunt this part of the Tower, strange occurrences have gone on there and dogs refuse to enter it. Workers at the site also avoid the area after dark. Some have claimed to be bitten and scratched by a vicious spirit that haunts this part of the Tower. Visitors can also look for the ten Ravens of the Tower, who are kept there by a Ravenmaster. Although Charles II almost had them removed centuries ago, he learned there is a legend that if ravens ever leave the Tower, it would crumble and England would meet with a disastrous fate. Ever since that time, they have been a tradition of the tower. Clearly, this nearly millennium-old structure is steeped in legends and tradition, and even if a visit there does not produce a ghostly encounter, one can certainly have a brush with history, even with some of England's darkest moments.

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