Tag Archives: Henry VIII

Who Knews About the Tower

I just finished reading a novel about the Tower of London. Although it was primarily a fictional account of a few quirky characters, many true facts came to light about the tower, as well. Facts I had never heard about. I was quite surprised and, now, curious.

Years ago, I visited the Tower and saw the impressive armory and also the priceless Crown Jewels that have been on display since the late 17th century. I learned about it being a prison and heard about all the beheadings. I thought I had a pretty comprehensive knowledge about the history of the Tower of London. Until now, that is.

Did you know it was built by William the Conqueror in the 1070’s? Or, strangely, did you know it had housed a menagerie of exotic animals from foreign lands that were collected by King John starting in 1204 and later his son, King Henry III. And in later decades some animals were gifts from foreign dignitaries? I didn’t know that. Such diverse animals as lions, kangaroos, leopards, ostriches, bears, polar bears and even an elephant were housed there. The menagerie was closed by the Duke of Wellington in 1835 and the animals became the basis for London Zoo in Regent’s Park.

I didn’t know the Tower had been a Royal Mint from the reign of Edward I in 1279 until 1810. That location was selected because it was the most secure in all of London.

I didn’t know the term; “Beefeaters” had been given to the Yeoman Warders because they were given as much beef from King Henry VII’s table as they wished, to guard the king. Today the Yeoman Warders guard the visitors, but still carry out ceremonial duties, such as locking and unlocking the Tower every day in the Ceremony of the Keys, and that they are long term veterans of military service to the Monarch. I’m realizing how little I knew about the Tower of London.

Most everyone remembers tales about Henry VIII and his six wives and how he had two of them beheaded; Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. And many of you are familiar with the story of the two princes, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York who were imprisoned in the Tower by their devious uncle, who became Richard III. Legend has it that he had the two boys killed so he could succeed to the throne. In recent centuries more evidence has come to light including the discovery of the bones of two young boys in a chest in the Tower which have all but been confirmed to have belonged to the boy princes.

Although only one bomb fell on the Tower of London in the First World War (it landed harmlessly in the moat), WW2 left a greater mark. On 23 September 1940, during the Blitz, high-explosive bombs damaged the castle, destroying several buildings and narrowly missing the White Tower.

During WW2, the Tower was used as a Prisoner Of War camp. Rudolf Hess, Deputy Chancellor of Nazi Germany, was imprisoned in the Tower after he attempted to parachute into Scotland. He was placed in what was the King’s House but is now the Queen’s House and he was free to roam the Tower grounds. After the war, any damage was repaired and the Tower was reopened to the public.

Many of you have heard that Ravens have always been kept at the Tower of London. When Charles II (a very superstitious Monarch) asked for the Ravens to be removed, he was advised that if the Ravens were removed, The Tower would crumble and great harm would befall the nation. Ever since, ravens (at least 6) have been kept at the Tower.

It is also said that several ghosts are said to haunt the Tower, including those of Anne Boleyn, Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, the Princes in the Tower – and a grizzly bear! That’s something else I didn’t know. I guess I can say when it comes to knowing about the Tower of London, I have been almost completely ignorant! Who knew? There’s more history about it to learn, if you’re curious!


Coco Ihle is the author of SHE HAD TO KNOW, an atmospheric traditional mystery set mainly in Scotland. Join her here each 11th of the month.


Filed under history, musings, Travel

The Fright at Castell Rhuthun by Coco Ihle

Years ago I was driving with my family throughout England, Scotland and Wales. I had spent a year mapping out an itinerary that would include a variety of interesting places and things to do for our three-generation group. Our accommodations varied, too. We stayed in bed and breakfast hotels and homes, historic manor homes and castles, traveling just before the tourist season to avoid the crowds.

Castell Rhuthun Gatehouse

Castell Rhuthun

I was excited as we drove through the ancient entrance gates of Castell Rhuthun, more commonly known as Ruthin Castle in northern Wales, because this romantic getaway set on acres of scenic parkland had over seven hundred years of tantalizing history, with such notable owners as King Edward I, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. According to Arthurian legend, when there would have been no more than a wooden fort on the site, King Arthur disguised himself for a romantic liaison with his mistress at Ruthin. In later years, Reginald de Grey, who according to some, was formerly the Sheriff of Nottingham was tasked with forming the “finest army in the land” to defeat the followers of Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest.  Ruthin is even said to be haunted by the “Grey Lady.” Only a few years before our trip there, HRH Prince Charles visited on his way to his investiture as Prince of Wales. This was definitely a place to see.

We settled in our rooms and then prepared ourselves for the Mediaeval Banquet we would be attending that evening. Joining other guests, we started with a tour of the 13th century part of the castle: the dungeon, whipping pit and the drowning pool and then gathered in the Presence Chamber to await the Court Steward and the Ladies of the Court, all dressed in period costumes. After experiencing the hospitality ritual of the partaking of bread and salt, we were escorted into the lofty, candle-lit Banquet Hall.

Here the romance and color of those early times were revived as guests joined together in the lively atmosphere with harp music and singing, in Welch and in English, a song of welcome, “Hi roes, lechyd da” ( Long life and good health). We were served thick vegetable soup in wooden bowls which we held to our mouths, since we had no silverware. Next was a course of lamb and potatoes that we ate with daggers followed by a leg of chicken. Mead, a drink made of fermented apples and honey definitely enhanced the mood and was very, very good. For some reason, I can’t remember what the dessert was. The whole evening was enchanted.

Mediaeval Banquet

I was sad when the banquet was over and we had to return to the 20thcentury, but there was a plush feather bed to look forward to. I slept soundly and arose early next day to shower and set and dry my hair in rollers.

A gentle mist hovered over the expansive lawns and I eased open the casement window to feel the chill morning air. All was quiet and still, but the day promised to be sunny and calm and I was lost in the memory of the evening before. Dreamily, I went about my hair dressing.

My reverie was suddenly broken by a sound so startling I was momentarily frozen in place. It was only one word, but it pierced the stillness in a high-pitched shriek. Where had the sound come from? I wasn’t sure. The castle room was large and the sound echoed throughout. I listened, afraid to breathe. Long silent seconds passed and I wondered if I had actually heard it? Was I imagining the sound? Would it repeat?

Just about the time I convinced myself I had an over-active imagination, there it was again. “HELP!” Someone was shouting, “HELP.” Had my family heard it? No. I didn’t know what to do. Should I wake them? I glanced out the window, but saw nothing. Maybe someone was hurt or in trouble in the hallway. I rushed to open the door. The hallway was empty. What was happening? My feeling of panic grew.

“HELP!” Now I was certain the sound had come from outside.  I rushed to the window again and leaned out as far as was safe. My eyes darted here, there and everywhere.

Then I saw it. The shrill cry rang out again. At the far side of the castle lawn against a rock wall, a white peacock strolled with feathers spread in all their glory.

The Culprit

I was so relieved, I didn’t know if I should cry or laugh. I was a wreck. That was the first time I had ever heard a peacock make any kind of sound. I couldn’t believe it sounded exactly like someone crying, “Help.” Now, as my heart began its return to a more normal beat, I felt embarrassed. I decided I wouldn’t tell anyone about my early morning scare, but I’m sharing it with you, dear reader. Have you had anything of this sort happen to you?


Filed under life, musings, photographs, Travel