Tag Archives: Charles I

On Ceremony of the Keys and tortuous death…..59/100

13754473_10210310621783791_1200527489421743719_n“Halt! Who Comes There?” asks the solider at The Ceremony of the Keys. This official locking up of the Tower of London, a ceremony dating back more than 700 years, takes place every single night, without fail. During an evening of enemy bombing in WWII the ceremony was delayed. The Yeoman Warders sent the King a written apology. Such is the import of this ceremony. Important and beautiful. Spine-tinglingly beautiful. And so it was with much, much pleasure I attended with my younger two and The Guests, two friends and their sons over from both coasts of the USA. It was a clear, warm night, a perfect evening to be at the Tower. It is a magnificent place during the day. At night it is magical, eerie, otherworldly; you can almost hear the footsteps of those who came before. And the ceremony is more than just tradition, it has a sacred quality to it, IMG_2641heightened by the fact that absolutely no video or photography is allowed and strict silence is requested. Which meant we all had to stand still and watch, listen, absorb, quietly. Something we do so rarely these days of non-stop technology. A brief digital detox, if you like. And history. To be part of something so old, so steeped in legend and lore, is a true treat indeed. I will stop there, as should any of you reading this have the opportunity to see it yourself, I would like your eyes and minds not to be fuddled by my observations. It is worth a fresh, IMG_2640unfettered reaction. Of delight and wonder.

If, before or after the ceremony, you would care for a small drink, may I suggest the fantastically, but grammatically incorrectly named pub The Hung Drawn & Quartered, just across the way from the Tower. People are hanged. Pictures are hung. But that is a fussy detail. The pub refers to a particularly gruesome method of execution for men convicted of high treason, dating back to the 13th century. Hanging until almost dead, but still conscious, disembowelment, emasculation and finally a (at that point merciful) beheading and cutting up of the body into 4 pieces. This pub carries the name in remembrance of Major-General Thomas Harrison, one of the men who met his end in DSC_0358this way. Why? Because it was Harrison who signed the death warrant for Charles I. There is a plaque on the outside of the pub, quoting the famous 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys’ account of Harrison’s execution at Charing Cross; Pepys lived round the corner from the pub, which probably explains why it is there. When the first Charles’s son, Charles II, was restored to the throne, 11 years later,  he settled a few scores. Revenge can be a bloody business indeed. But don’t be put off by this grim scrap of history, it is a lovely, charming place. Welcoming to children, if not too busy, and beautiful window boxes (yes, that matters.)

DSC_0002_8“So,” I hear you asking, “how do I get an evening like this for myself?” It is possible, as long as you have patience. The Ceremony is free and open to the public, but tickets are limited. Most evenings sell out months in advance. For those of you who are organized, it will be some worthwhile advanced planning. And if you spend some time at the pub, don’t forget to raise a toast to My London Passion, may she be dazzled by this city for years to come.

To book Ceremony tickets: http://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/whats-on/ceremony-of-the-keys/#gs.dvdBg2A

Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion


On The Lost Palace and holding a dead man’s heart…..57/100

DSC_0464Good guests were coming to town. Really, really good guests. So I needed to pull out the proper showing off stops. Fortunately, as regular readers will know, London treats me very well. Often, I have but to ask and I am given. No exception this time. I wrote “what to do with James and Greg” on the top of a blank piece of paper and within hours the HRP sent me an email about their brand new interactive tour, opening just days after The Guests arrived. Would I be interested in tickets??? Would I ever!!! And so it was that on a sunny afternoon (of course London was sunny for The Guests) that James and his son Alexander (age 11), Greg and his son Danny (age 11) and me with my Stephen and Katherine (ages 10 and 12), history lovers all, set off to explore Whitehall Palace, an enormous complex that extended from Trafalgar Square to Big Ben and over into St. James’s Park. At its height it had more than 1,500 rooms, far more thanDSC_0496 either Versailles in France or the Vatican in Rome. It was a favourite of Henry VIII, who married two of his queens and died at the Palace. Both Charles I and II also died there, under very different circumstances. It hosted plays and masques and enough intrigue to keep thriller writers busy for years. Unfortunately, the whole thing, except for Banqueting House, with its still stunning Peter Paul Rubens ceiling, burned down 300 years ago. But that is the beauty of technology. And imagination. And feet.

DSC_0466Using headphones and the two before mentioned accoutrements, the tour takes you round and through Whitehall Palace, exposing celebrations and secrets alongIMG_2966 the way. It runs in geographical rather than chronological order, so we were sometimes a bit confused by the details. But the main acts were great. Playing Cordelia in the first ever performance of Shakespeare’s  King Lear, overhearing the secret marriage of Anne Boleyn to Henry, eavesdropping on the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. A busker sang us a ballad near 10 Downing Street. The triangular device we carried along the way turned into a sword, complete with satisfying swishing sounds. We enjoyed the full gruesomeness of a cock fight in Horse Guards Parade, though some chose to watch a joust instead. We heard fire consuming the building without mercy and the equally merciless looting that took place after. But best of all, BEST of all, we held the beating heart of Charles I in our hands as he was executed, his DSC_0480head removed from his body just above the current entrance to Banqueting House, the throbbing device in our hands made still by an axe. How often do you get to hold a dying man’s heart in your hands? That alone is worth the tour.

It is only running until 4 September, 2016, so book those tickets now and get ready to live history.


Instagram & Twitter: @mylondonpassion