April 25, 2017

In the morning the bus took us to Greenwich, where we reentered the Western Hemisphere and got on a boat for a cruise to the Tower of London. The modern buildings have just about all been added in the twenty-five or so years since I was last there. The Tower Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks. Many people mistakenly think it is London Bridge, which is more famous for falling down and burning up in great fires, and more recently as a site for terrorist attacks. The modern London Bridge is rather nondescript. The site of the old docks has become a major financial center.

While it is called the Tower of London, it is really a complex of buildings inside a walled fortress. William the Conqueror (also known by less nice names) led the invasion of the Norman French into England and defeated the Anglo-Saxons in 1066, as we at least used to learn in school. The Normans built castles and fortresses to secure their control. The first building in the Tower was the White Tower, so called because at some point much later it was whitewashed. Now it mostly houses an exhibit of arms and armor.

Recently some white supremacist posted a bunch of garbage in response to a post by one of my high school classmates. He was going on trashing other religions and boasting of his Anglo-Saxon heritage. I replied that my Norman French ancestors had defeated his sorry Anglo-Saxon ancestors over 900 years ago, and it was time for him to get over himself. I doubt it did him any good, but at least he went away, and I haven't seen any posts from him again. But anyhow, supposedly our Lee family is descended from the Norman French, and that seems plausible since my Y-chromosome shows a Viking background for my male-ancestry line. It all gets rather swampy into legend, considering that there are at least three separate Lee families of Virgina, who keep trying to trace ancestry to some of the same people in spite of DNA tests that suggest we are not much more kin than just being of the same species. But then, despite appearances, there is really not that much genetic variation between the most distant members of that species, certainly a lot less than between gorillas who live together in the same forest. So anyway, if you are reading this, hi, cousin!

The armor below was made for Henry VIII late in his life.

King James II was the fourth and last of the Stuart kings to reign. Two of his daughters reigned after him, Mary along with her husband William of Orange, and then her sister Anne. During a time of exile in France, he and his wife had converted to Catholicism, and he pushed for religious freedom for Catholics and dissenting Protestants. That didn't go over well, so Parliament invited William and Mary to come from the Netherlands to reign. James fled to France, and they took that to be the equivalent of abdication. He was also King James VII of Scotland, and Scots tried to restore him to the throne, or if not him, his son called Bonnie Prince Charlie. There are plenty of enjoyable old movies that can help confuse you further on this period of history. Some of them include pirates for good measure. Jack Sparrow may fit in there somehow.

I don't know whether he ever wore this armor in battle, but while in his first exile James got a reputation as a brave fighter. He was offered a position of admiral by Spain.

The upshot of all this is that Parliament passed an act in 1701 that limited to crown to Protestants who didn't even marry a Catholic. This meant that after William, Mary, and Anne had all died, the heir was the German George I of Hanover. Anne's son had died of a fever at the age of 11. I've read that Europe has bunches of people who would be much closer in line for the British throne than Elizabeth II and her family if it were not for this act, the closest one maybe being descendants of a queen of Sardinia.

The superstition is that if the ravens in the Tower are lost or fly away, the monarchy and the nation will fall. They have one wing clipped to keep them from flying far, though one time one left to take up at a pub. They are free to roam around the tower, and have these cages to retreat into. I don't know whether it is true that they applied for travel visas after the Brexit vote.

Many of the prisoners were brought to the Tower by boat and entered by the “Traitors’ Gate,” a name that goes back to the sixteenth century.

Reenactors present historical material. Here they are trying to convince a group of student visitors to side with their rival allegiances.

The London Eye is the largest ferris wheel in Europe. One rotation takes about a half hour.

We got back on the bus and headed over to Westminster. The houses of Parliament were closed because of the upcoming election, so I've still never been in there. You probably already know that Big Ben refers to the large bell and not to the tower itself. The tower itself was named Elizabeth Tower in 2012 to honor the monarch on her diamond jubilee. We heard the familiar quarter-hour bells, but didn't hear the strike on the hour by Big Ben. We did get a while to tour Westminster Abbey. No interior pictures are permitted now, so I didn't take any. Next we walked up the street to Trafalgar Square, passing Number 10 Downing Street along the way.

The column in the circle is a monument to Admiral Horatio Nelson, who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

They have tried to preserve the iconic telephone booths, re-purposing many of them now that people carry phones around with them.
This one is a WiFi hotspot. They are painted various colors coded to their functions. The actual phone booths are still red.


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