Timeless! By London Tour Guide Mark Kelly (join me on my regular travels to a year in London’s past).
The Tower of London is an incredible sight, changing little since the 1300’s. I wanted to return to see it in the past, and in the end I chose the time of Captain Blood, that notorious Irishman who attempted to steal the Crown Jewels. It was 1671, Blood had lost his land in Ireland to King Charles II, who had removed land rights given by Lord Protector Thomas Cromwell during the English Civil War.
Walking through the streets inside the Tower, I was impressed by its cleanliness. This was the late 1600’s when hygiene was not top of the City’s list, but inside walls of this stronghold the cobbled streets were immaculate. I had made sure I was there for the early evening when Blood was due to steal the Jewels. I did not want to be seen so kept my distance. Not a difficult thing to do in such a vast sprawling castle, because that’s what it is, a Castle.
The Tower was so-called because when built it was the tallest structure as far as you could see. Today, the fortress is overlooked by glass towers, and also the majestic original Port of London Authority building, now a 5 star hotel, but still retaining the original features.
I secreted myself close to the Martin Tower, the one on the north-east corner of the inner wall and recognizable from the outside with its prominent red brick repair after a hit by a World War Two bomb during the blitz.
I also wanted to be out before they locked up for the night. Now called the Ceremony of the Keys, the locking of the doors to the Tower of London has been taking place for more than 760 years, and now as then the doors were religiously locked at dusk. All traders and visitors were required to leave, because within the walls not only would a King or senior dignitary be staying but it was also where the Crown Jewels were kept. The reason I had picked this time to travel back.
When you walk into the Tower of London, and you visit the Crown Jewels, you wonder how on earth Blood managed to get inside, and actually put his hands on the Crown and very nearly get away with the Orb and Sceptre too! Protected by the famous Beefeaters, a body of men formed in King Henry VII’s time, they were responsible for the safety and security of the King and his property. Today to be a Yeoman Warder, their official title, you must have served at least 22 years in one of the armed services, have received the Good Conduct Medal, and reached the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major or equivalent within your Service.
The Jewels in 1671 were not kept in beautiful glass cabinets you see today, but were stored in Martin Tower behind a metal grill. The responsibility of the ‘Master of the Jewel House’ Talbot Edwards, Captain Blood carried out an audacious plan, dressed as and pretending to be a Parson, accompanied by a woman pretending to be his wife to see the Crown Jewels for a fee, (nothing changed there then has it).
Blood had already laid the groundwork with Edwards on previous visits, lying about a relative who could be a match for one of Edwards daughters. He was here now with this supposed suitor, and had grabbed the Crown Jewels and was about to escape with them. Blood had hammered the Crown flat and stuffed it done his breeches (ouch!) as had his friend with the Orb, (trying to impress the ladies maybe!) The Sceptre had been cut in two because it was too big to fit in the bag they had brought, but Edwards son had returned from work early and caught them in the act!
I watched as Blood and his accomplices were restrained with Blood shouting “It was a gallant attempt, It was for a Crown” Imagine if someone tried to steal the Crown Jewels today!
The security measures activated would make anyone’s jaw drop in 1671. But it was Beefeaters shouting orders, doors slamming, Blood and his conspirators being chained up and ironically being imprisoned in the building he had just tried to burgle! That’s poetic justice for you!
I made my way out of the Tower, walking through the cobbled streets, in between enormous stone walls towering either side of me. As I walked past the White Tower, the central and orginal structure built by William the Conqueror, in the 11th century. I glanced over to the Execution Green where the heads of 3 queens had fallen into a basket during the Tudor period after being severed from their bodies at the order of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor his daughter, better known as ‘Bloody Mary’. It sent shivers down my spine, just imagining the crowds watching these executions. I continued to walk on nodding my head to the Beefeater at the West Gate as I left the Tower of London to return home to the present.
If you want to know what happened to Captain Blood, he was pardoned by the King and given land back in Ireland! He was a real character, and when he died, the public did not believe it and had to exhume his body to prove it was him!
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Tower of London’s past. Back to 2020!
I’ll return with another time travelling visit to one of my favourite tourist spots – see you soon!
The Tower of London is a visit attraction today managed by Historical Royal Palaces: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/#gs.8uqy0p
I feature Tower of London tales on my Roman and Medieval London tour: https://blackcabheritagetours.com/tours/roman-and-medieval-london/