So I put it in quotes because, well, it doesn’t “tower” very high.
First time I saw it I was like, oh, that’s it? There had been such a build up: “Oh, the Tower of London, you gotta go to the Tower of London.” “There are great tours at the Tower of London.” “Anne Boleyn was executed at Tower of London.” “Gotta see the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London.” Yadda yada yada. Tower of London, Tower of London, Tower of London.
I don’t know what I was expecting but it didn’t seem like much of a tower. It’s not a tower that towers, if you get my drift. (Wow, haven’t used that expression in years.)
See what I mean? That so-called “Walkie Talkie” building that’s pretty far away is taller than the Tower that’s in the darn foreground.
So, looking at it now, no it’s not much of a tower compared to the other buildings in London. Then I got to talking to a tour guide (the Beefeater guys at the Tower are hilarious! Check them out on youtube) and he explained: it might not seem very tall now, BUT when William the Conqueror built it in the 11th century it was like an alien space ship that had landed.
People were just living in wooden shacks and this monster of a structure erupts from the ground. His motivation was to intimidate people (they didn’t call him “Conqueror” for nothing!) and boy, did he! Imagine you’re living in a wooden shack and that space ship rocks up? I mean, that IS a bit intimidating. Well, ok, that’s not what rocked up, the Tower did, but it’s still pretty scary. Look:
It’s been used as a royal palace, the crown jewels are stored there, there’s an armory, it’s been used as a mint, an observatory. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But did you know it had been used as an impromptu zoo?
Ok, so in the 11th century, there was some monarch in Finland — maybe it was Norway — yea it was Norway — ok so this Norweigan king wants to give our King a present. Now what do you give to a guy who’s got everything? (Same problem people have trying to find a gift for Dad at Christmas.) The Norwegian king dude gives our king dude a POLAR BEAR. Yes, a polar bear. Google it if you don’t believe me.
Well, what the hell do you do with a polar bear in London? Yep, you put it in the Tower. But it was so expensive to feed the creature that they started letting him out daily (chained up) to catch his own fish in the Thames. And people miles away would delight in watching it. There are still pubs called the White Bear– that’s where the name comes from.
There’s also been lots of lions, leopards and even an elephant. Always gifts from other monarchs. One of the Louie’s in France (Louie the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth – i dunno, how the heck do people keep them straight?) gave our king a creature that the Brits had never seen before; it had a very long snout, was huge, no fur, grey. Like I said, an elephant. But they had no concept, “elephant.” So it must have been a very “wow” kind of moment. But, get this: the French told the Brits that the only thing the creature should drink is WINE!!! (perhaps the inspiration for this)
Oh, by the way regarding the guy that originally built the Tower of London, “William the Conqueror”: remember, these names are after the fact. It’s not like Bill’s mom went into labor, popped him out and said, “Oh this one ‘ere, e’s gonna be a CONQUEROR.”
Well, ok, so you can’t talk about the Tower without mentioning the beheadings. There were “only” seven. (If it were my head rolling, even one would be a lot.) British school children learn the following ditty to recall what happened to each of the six wives of Henry the VIII.
Divorced, beheaded, died
Divorced, beheaded, survived.
So two of his wives — Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard — were beheaded at the Tower on trumped up charges of treason or whatever Henry could cook up. So let’s do the math: two wives out of six so… if you married Henry VIII, you had a one in three chance of losing your head over him. Not a bad king, but… terrible husband.
PS. Me and the Beefeater tour guide guy. He wouldn’t accept a tip!