“No English Queen has made more impact on the history of the nation than Anne Boleyn, and few have been so persistently maligned.” — Joanna Denny “Anne Boleyn: A New Life of England’s Tragic Queen”
I was in my early 20s when I first heard the name Anne Boleyn. I miss heard it the first time it was pronounced on the new hit show “The Tudors,” and I heard Anne Berlin. I remember hearing it and thinking… “wow… that’s the most beautiful name.” (Thus my pin-up name AnneBerlin Atom…find me on Insta). And soon, I fell in love with Anne. A controversial character in history, some might loathe her as she broke up the marriage of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and thusly lead to the split of England from the Catholic Church. Some may find her calculating and vile, but I find her smart, and witty and full of ambition. She used her ambition, wiles and intelligence to woo the King. She found herself the Queen of England, even if only for 1000 days and she birthed one of the greatest monarchs the country, nay, the world, has ever seen, Queen Elizabeth I.
Now I’m not here for a history lesson, or to start a debate on whether or not Anne was a whore or a phenomenal queen, but I wanted to give a background of why my visit to the Tower of London meant so much to me. For those of you who don’t know much about her, Anne was housed in the Tower of London on two separate, significant occasions. On what was the happiest of occasions, the days prior to her coronation as Queen, and on the most somber, and terrifying occasion, the days prior to her execution. Since I first learned of Anne, I wanted to see what she saw, and walk in her footsteps and what better place to start than this important location.
To my surprise though, the Tower of London is much larger and expansive than the prison tower I pictured when reading about Anne over the years. While the Tower of London does house the White tower in the center, there’s much more to the entire complex. It houses the Crown Jewels, museums on the history of the Tower (including being a castle and a prison) stories of different monarchs, and even six captive ravens. The complex also includes private homes of the famous Yeoman Warders, or Beefeaters, the Queen’s guards that work and live in the Tower. Originally assigned to the Tower by Anne’s husband, Henry the VIII, the Beefeaters aren’t tour guides in costumes as many tourists might guess, but working military guards.
Meeting in the area that used to be the moat ever half an hour, you can catch a free tour throughout the complex led by one of these honored Beefeaters. Zoe and I went along on the most amazing tour led by Bill Callaghan. A self-proclaimed “stand-up historian” he combined history and comedy and made the tour funny, interesting and informative. I could have listened to him tell stories all day and we both found ourselves wishing the tour was even longer when it ended.
The one thing I haven’t done on either of my visits to the Tower is view the Crown Jewels. The line was as long as that to ride Space Mountain on a busy summer’s day in Disneyland and they don’t give fast passes here. Since I didn’t really want to stand in line for an hour just to see some giant jewels. I mean… I’m sure they’re pretty but it’s just not my thing. So if you’d like to see them, I’d suggest getting there as soon as they open and getting in line right away, because the line stacks up fast and I haven’t seen it short either time I’ve been there.
Of course the most poignant place for me was the glass memorial which denotes where the gallows used to stand and where Queen Anne Boleyn and several others lost their lives. Though I have read that it’s not the ACTUAL spot of the gallows, it was moving enough just being near. The words encircling the memorial were enough to make me pretty emotional. They read as follows:
Gentle visitor pause, awhile
Where you stand death cut away the light of many days
Here jeweled names were broken from the vivid thread of life
May they rest in peace while we walk the generations around their strife
and courage under these restless skies.
In summary, plan to spend an entire day soaking up the history of the Tower. From the ravens to historical shows to incredible views of the Thames, there’s something for everyone.