Mist gathers on the cobbled rise above the Traitors Gate in the Tower of London, the sound of lapping water a reminder of the nearby Thames. Out of the swirling white comes a Warder, his keys jangling in time to his steps, his red coat illuminated by a candle lantern.
Okay, I admit it sounds rather spooky, but it’s actually the Ceremony of the Keys that’s been part of the Tower’s history for the last 700 years. Each night the gates need to be locked. After all, the Crown Jewels are inside. In true British fashion the dialogue is the same each evening, and the event takes place within a precise time frame. Except, one night during World War ll. A bomb knocked the Warder off his feet, but he stood up, brushed himself off, and carried on. He was forgiven for being late. (Once every 700 years isn’t bad.)
It’s a good thing they lock up each evening. There have been attempts to steal the jewels, which isn’t surprising considering the Star of Africa sits atop the royal scepter. It’s awe inspiring to go through and look at the crown which is still used by the monarchy for affairs of state. The rulers of England are shrouded in tradition, including the decree that ravens occupy the Tower.
Six ravens are mandated to live in the royal holding, with a seventh waiting in the wings–so to speak. As a matter of fact, their wings are clipped so they can’t fly too far. Legend has it the monarchy will fail if the ravens leave the Tower. As you can imagine, the birds are named, well-fed and considered soldiers of the kingdom. As such, they can be dismissed for unsatisfactory conduct.
Poor George lost his appointment to the Crown for attacking and destroying TV aerials. Another raven, Grog, deserted his duties for a nearby pub. (Mmm. Do you think it had something to do with the name?) Animals were not a novel thing for the Tower.
At one time a Royal Menagerie resided in the White Tower and offered the privileged an opportunity to see exotic creatures. A wide variety came and went over the years, a Polar Bear who was allowed out on a chain and used to fish in the Thames, a leopard who loved to shred parasols and an elephant that stunned visitors with his size.
The dangerous animals eventually caused the menagerie to be moved to a zoo. The lions or bears would escape their cramped holding cells and attack guests. My hero and heroine visit the Menagerie in my book, The Perfect Duke, but it is a danger of the two legged variety that threatens their plans.
I loved visiting London’s Tower and attending The Ceremony of the Keys. Do you have any tales about your visit you’d like to share?