What most surprised me about this place is that people still live here! What they call Yeoman Warders – 35 of them and their families – live inside the Tower of London. They are retired soldiers whose sole duty it is to keep watch over the towers and grounds and probably more importantly, the crown jewels, because this is also where those babies are kept. After all of the tourists have gone home, the Yeoman Warders, their wives and children, have this whole place to themselves! What a strange, weirdly wonderful home to grow up in. Playing ball where Anne Boleyn was beheaded. Huh.
Well I skipped the crown jewels and just wandered the rest of the place, learned a whole lot of history. And let me tell you, this place is a lot bigger than it looks from the outside. It’s more than just one tower first of all – it’s a collection of several towers and a palace. It’s gotten a gruesome reputation over the centuries because of the prisoners that were tortured and killed here, but it was never just a prison. It was at times the quarters of the king and queen, especially when they wanted to hide out during troublesome times.
I think what I found most moving was what’s now referred to as Traitors’ Gate. It’s been called that for the silly reason that 3 queens were delivered through it to their deaths – most notably Anne Boleyn. But it was originally called Water Gate (no relation to Nixon’s) because it was built by Edward I so he could have a place to park his barge when he sailed up the Thames to the tower. What I found so moving is that Anne’s coronation procession started from Traitors’ Gate when she married Henry VIII, and then 3 years later, he had her sent back through it to be beheaded.
There are a number of towers where prisoners were kept even up through WWII. Rudolph Hess, one of Hitler’s Nazi party leaders, was kept at Beauchamp Tower for 4 days before his trial! In this tower, you can view a kind of medieval graffiti – etchings prisoners made into the stone during their imprisonment. Very sad and moving. It was surreal to see a very beautiful etching done by one of Lady Jane Grey’s brothers-in-law – Dudley. Jane, the Dudley brothers, and Jane’s husband were imprisoned at Beauchamp after Mary Tudor seized the throne. Jane had been queen for only 9 days and her own father abandoned her and supported Queen Mary after having pushed Jane onto the throne to begin with! She was only 16 when she was beheaded. I’m going off on the history stuff, now, but I can’t help it. I saw the spot on Tower Green where Jane and Anne Boleyn were beheaded.
And of course I saw what’s called the White Tower. This is the oldest on the grounds, built by William the Conqueror in 1066! And I walked around in it! Can you imagine? I've traced the Speegle side of my family tree all the way back to a woman named Muriel De Conteville, born in 1041. Muriel’s mother was Harlette DeFalaise, who also had a son from an earlier affair with Robert I, Duke of Normandy. That son’s name was William, later known as William the Conqueror. So Will was Muriel’s half brother! And if Muriel’s the 27th great grandmother of my great granddad Pratt, then that makes Will my great half uncle, like 2700 times removed, right? Don’t I have some kind of royal rights to claim here? :)
GUEST WRITER'S BIO
Vicki Speegle is an award-winning screenwriter whose feature script LOVED ONES was in development at Amazon Studios and was a finalist for best screenplay. Her screenplay DEAREST was a finalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and her television pilot THE WAKES OF WILBUR POE recently placed in the finals of Slamdance.
Vicki grew up the daughter of a gay single mom turned pastor in Akron, Ohio, where she helped take care of her two younger brothers, an experience that provided fodder for a number of short stories and scripts. Her infatuation with storytelling began at the age of five when she sent a love letter to Donny Osmond, and since then she has worked an eclectic mix of jobs to support her writing habit, including 4 years in the U.S. Navy tracking nuclear submarines on a tiny island called Adak, Alaska, assistant to a very eccentric New York City artist, and a brief bout as the world’s worst waitress. Vicki studied music performance and education at Akron University before making the move to New York University, where she earned her BFA in Film & Television Production. During her studies at NYU she interned as assistant to the editor for Ken Burns’ production of THE WEST. She wrote, directed, and produced several shorts, including her thesis film OLDER, which went on to screen at the Tribeca Underground Film Festival and won 2nd place in the Pioneer Theatre Short Film Slam in New York City.
After graduating from NYU, Vicki joined Rigas Entertainment as assistant to the Director of Development, helping in the development of feature films with directors Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Maggie Greenwald (SongCatcher). In 2005 Vicki began shooting a documentary about her mother’s struggle to reconcile her faith as a pastor with her advancing Alzheimer’s. The project is currently in post-production and has garnered the support of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In 2007 Vicki’s screenplay LOVED ONES placed in the top 5 of the Bluecat Screenplay Competition and won Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival. Her works have placed in several other competitions, including Women in Film, Chesterfield, and American Zoetrope. Vicki’s credits include a teen comedy for Applause Films and radio scripts for Wynton Marsalis, Director of Jazz At Lincoln Center.
Vicki lives and works as a writer, filmmaker, and web producer in New Jersey. She is still waiting for Donny’s response.