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Sunday, 11 December 2011

The Brimstone Butterfly's Tower of London:The White Tower


A number of months ago the Brimstone Butterfly found herself with time to spare after a meeting near the Embankment in London. Having my historic royal palaces membership card on me, I decided to wander along the riverside to the Tower of London. I was dressed in a smart suit and equally smart but very uncomfortable shoes. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to take along some plimsolls to slip into once out of sight of the offices I had just been in.
Writing in the guise of the Brimstone Butterfly has made me more aware of my surroundings. Thus, it was that I noticed that the cast iron and timber slatted benches along the Embankment had terminal arm brackets in the form of kneeling camels. I must have sat down on these benches on numerous occasions in the past, such as when I went to the Middle Temple, yet I had never ever noticed this charming decorative feature. The benches were designed by Lewis and G F Vulliamy in the 1870s. Further along the Embankment the terminals are in the form of sphinxes in honour of Cleopatra’s Needle; the ancient Egyptian obelisk placed by the Thames.
I had long admired the Dolphin lamps on their limestone pedestals. They are mid-nineteenth century in origin and like the benches have been listed and therefore given protected status.
Blackfriars' Bridge
Decorative feature Blackfriars' Bridge
Blackfriars Bridge is a vision in pink and dates from the 1870s. It serves as both a foot and road bridge. In the Victorian era and right up until the first few decades of the 20th century, pink was considered a robustly masculine colour. Consequently, baby boys wore pink and their sisters the more feminine and dainty blue.
I was quite smug when I came across the cannons that had given Cannon Street railway station its name. I felt less smug when I discovered that Cannon was actually a corruption of Candelwrichstrete, in honour of the candle making trade that had flourished here in the Middle Ages.
 
Though intrigued, I did not have time to find out why the statues of a girl and a man were placed within a gated passageway.
The Monument designed by Sir Christopher Wren commemorates the Great Fire of London, which supposedly started in a baker’s shop in Pudding Lane in 1666. Until recently it had been closed to undergo a major renovation and very smart it looks too, especially now its flame top has been burnished with over 30,000 leaves of gold. I have climbed the 311 steps to the summit in the past but not for a good many years. I prefer climbing spiral staircases if there is no-one else around fearing I will trip and descend to the bottom as if on a particularly tortuous helter-skelter. Lord knows I puffed and panted my way to the top of the Elizabethan spiral staircase at Eastbury Manor House and that was but a fraction of the height.
The marine imagery of the Dolphin street lamps was echoed in the gilded fish cavorting over the rooftop of a Victorian building near the Tower.


Mammals rather than fish were the theme of a special exhibition within the Tower and along its curtain wall. Wild animals were kept as part of the Royal menagerie from the 13th to the 19th centuries. They included lions, polar bears and elephants. The gifted artist Kendra Haste was commissioned to made sculptors of some of these animals out of mesh. 
 
 
Three mesh lions guarded the medieval ruins of the aptly named Lion Tower. 
The Norwegian “white bear” is portrayed shackled by a leg iron. However, its captors regularly unshackled the bear and placed it on a long rope so that it could dive for fish in the Thames.
As I walked towards the bear I passed under a gateway which bore various ancient inscriptions. These would not have been carved by prisoners but by visitors or bored guards. For some reason one in particular caught my eye. It bore the legend “fry Clovell, Bristoll 1577”. The first part of Clovell’s name was indistinct. Nonetheless there was sufficient detail for me to subsequently discover a great deal about Master Clovell. In their scholarly work: “Tudor wills proved in Bristol, 1546-1603”  by Sheila Lang and Margaret McGregor, the authors reveal that Humphrey was a goldsmith and one of the executors and “loving friends”  of   Thomas Masson,  a baker  who died in Bristol in 1599. Official documents also show that in April 1586 Clovell supplied the city of Bristol with barrels of gunpowder. They were used as part of the civic entertainment put on for Queen Elizabeth’s perennial favourite Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, and his brother Ambrose Dudley, the Earl of Warwick. The receipt books state: “Item paide to Humphrey Clovell for ij. barrells of Gonnpowder wayinge neete two hundred one h quarterne and xvij pounde. at xij d. per li. mounttes to xiij li. ix s. and for xxviij pounde of matche.” 
The Beauchamp Tower
Incidentally, the Dudley family left their own inscriptions on the interior walls of various buildings within the Tower of London including the Beauchamp Tower. Unlike Clovell’s their carvings bear witness to the catastrophe that befell the Dudleys in 1553 when 5 of the brothers, including Robert and Ambrose, their father and their sister-in-law were all imprisoned in the Tower. They faced capital charges of high treason for their involvement in the plan to usurp Mary I and offer the crown to Lady Jane Grey, the young wife of their brother Guildford. Both Guildford and Jane were later executed; he on Tower Hill and she within the walls of the Tower on the green. It was during his imprisonment that Robert Dudley first forged a deep friendship with his fellow prisoner and the future Queen Elizabeth I. It was a friendship that was to last until his death.

In his work “Bristol” Mark Cartwright Pilkinton describes Clovell as both a goldsmith and with premises in Wine Street, Bristol. In 1598 Clovell was involved in a lawsuit with Nicolas Woolfe, who owned the Wine Street playhouse. 14 years later Humphrey Clovells  was paid by the council for "powder, gildinge the sworde and mace”. 1612 was an important year in terms of local civic ceremonials. On 4th May Anne of Denmark, wife of King James I, came a-calling and Bristol was determined to impress her. Anne came to Bristol having taken the spa waters at nearby Bath, in the futile hope of curing her debilitating dropsy. The mayor, wearing his ceremonial chain of office, and the councillors tricked out in their scarlet robes, all rode on horseback. Behind them walked "the chief masters of the several trades, with their hood". The procession made its way to Lawford’s Gate where an oration was made to the queen, after which she was presented with “a rich embroidered purse of gold.” Humphrey Clovell must have been bursting with pride when Bristol’s trained militia stood to attention on either side of Wine Street, the very street where he lived, in their fine hats, coloured feathers and white doublets to loyally salute the queen as she drove past in her carriage. They then hurried to the quayside to fire off volleys from their guns in her honour, probaly using gunpowder supplied by Clovell.
Clovell was very much the proud Bristolian, given that he carved both his name and city on the Tower walls. Providing that he died in Bristol or had his will proven there, it would not take much effort to discover his ultimate fate. The same cannot be said for the Princes in the Tower, the young children of Edward IV. The eldest son, Edward V, was proclaimed king on his father’s death in 1483. Along with his younger brother Richard, Edward was taken to the Tower to await his coronation, at which point the children vanished. It was not until the reign of Charles II in 1674, that human bones were found beneath the stairs of the White Tower. Four years later the bones were placed in a marble casket designed by Sir Christopher Wren and brought to Westminster Abbey, where they were interred. At the memorial service Charles II declared: ”It is right and meet that we commend the bones of these young princes to a place of final rest. Their fates at the order of Richard III grieves us, and though almost two centuries have passed, the vile deeds of that villain shall ne'er be forgotten”. In 1933 George V allowed the bones to be examined for a second time, from which it was concluded that the bones were those of two children, whose likely ages were consistent with what is known about the princes. As I climbed up the external stairs to the modern entrance of the White Tower, a plaque commemorated the discovery of the bones in 1674. Unfortunately I was not able to get a take a clear image of the text. 
 
The White Tower is why the Tower of London is referred to in the singular and not the plural. Building work on the stone tower was started by William the Conqueror within extant Roman walls, remnants of which can be seen in front of it today. It is now a world heritage site. Henry VIII added the cupolas and the weather vanes to the 4 turrets as part of the refurbishments he ordered in advance of Anne Boleyn’s coronation in 1533. It was customary for royalty to reside within the Tower prior to their crowning at Westminster Abbey. Henry also had a range of timber apartments built for Anne for that very purpose. These are not to be confused with the extant timber framed Queen’s House by Tower Green. It was a cruel irony that Anne was brought back to these same apartments three years later as a prisoner on trial for her life. Not surprisingly, subsequent queens showed a marked reluctance to be housed within the ill fated apartments and they were eventually demolished.
View from the White Tower looking across towards the Bloody Tower
From the steps of the White Tower I could see across to where the legendary ravens were kept. Nearby was the Bloody Tower in which, according to legend, the boy-king Edward V and his younger brother were murdered. Walter Raleigh spent the final years of his life a prisoner here. The ground floor has now been staged as it might have been in his day.
 
Inside the White Tower is a collection of armour including a rather fetching steel skirt edged with the initials of Henry VIII and his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, which must have made the king look every inch the iron maiden. There are also other suits of armour known to have belonged to Henry including one sporting a very prominent codpiece. I wonder if it was the same iron codpiece that had become quite worn after generations of women cleaners in the Tower had given it a hasty polish as a fertility symbol. They obviously did not know their history if they regarded Henry VIII as being in any shape or form a fertility god. Henry’s changing physical shape is captured by his suits of armour which range from those of an athletic Renaissance prince to the morbidly obese prematurely aged man. Henry had been transformed from Sir Lancelot to Sir Eats-a-lot.
Unlike King Henry his namesake Prince Henry Stuart, the eldest son of King James I, never fought on the battlefield. But in 1607 when he was 13 he was presented with a suit of field armour etched with battle scenes from the Classical world. I wonder of his tutor, the builder of Charlton House, ever saw his pupil wearing it.
King Henry VIII’s own son, Edward VI would have been around the same age as Prince Henry when he too had a suit of armour made for him at Greenwich in 1550.
 
 
 
 
Effigy of King Charles II
With the Restoration of Charles II it was thought expedient to remind visitors to the Tower of England’s royal past with the so called Line of Kings. Wooden effigies of past monarchs were mounted on model horses and clothed in armour. The horses are still on display but the fragile effigies, which look like a veritable Rogue's Gallery, are now protected behind glass.  The only effigy I was able to identify with any certainty was that of Charles II. It would have ill behoved the original 17th century sculptors to get that one wrong, given that he had commissioned the exhibits.

For one part of an interactive exhibit, I got the chance to test my strength as an archer pulling the string of a bow. As to how I fared, let’s just say the English army at Agincourt might not have enjoyed such a celebrated victory if their archers' skill had been on a par with my own.
 
Also in the White Tower were the uniform, swords and gun owned by the Duke of Wellington when he became Governor of the Tower in 1826.  Unfortunately for Black Jack the raven, he lacked the Iron Duke’s iron constitution and died of fright when the cannons were set off to celebrate Wellington's installation. Black Jack’s stuffed corpse can now be seen at Kensington Palace.
 
 
Near the White Tower’s deep medieval well was a plaque bearing the royal coat of arms. On a table stood a gilded winged lion, the emblem of Venice. It was taken from the Venetian fortress on Corfu by the British navy in 1809. 

 
In contrast to its violent past, I chanced upon a delightful feature along part of the curtain wall. In windows from which soldiers would once have fired arrows and artillery, someone with a wry sense of humour, had placed a selection of dolls, including Beefeaters and most incongruous of all, a Victorian miss in a fur trimmed velvet coat and bonnet.

2 comments:

  1. One of the highlights of my visit to London years ago was a tour of the Tower. I remember most vividly the suits of armor, especially the one with the blatant codpiece. The tour was fun if cursory, considering the vast history of Tower Hill. I imagine one could spend days poking around there, if one were allowed.

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  2. Hello Petrea,
    That is why membership of the Historic Royal Palaces can be such good value if one lives in London. It means I can pop into a palace for an hour or two whenever I am in the vicinity and can examine a particular aspect of the palace at leisure rather than try and cram everything in in one go.
    I forgot to mention that the White Tower is looking particularly smart because it has just undergone a major renovation of the exterior. The scaffolding had come down by the summer but it was still up when I took the main picture.
    Caro

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