But there was also a selfish reason that I traveled to England: I am absolute nerd when it comes to English royal history.
It's like approved by the TSA.
You have to understand as a royal history nerd, The Tower of London was the equivalent to Disneyland for me. Which – if you know your history about The Tower of London – is a pretty gruesome comparison when you think about it.
I am a sucker for The War of the Roses and Tudor England, because those two subjects featured the central tension of the people who were imprisoned in The Tower. The conflict between who had a claim to the English throne, who had betrayed the king’s trust and who was a threat to the English crown.
She was 67 years old and innocent.
I did not apply to any study abroad groups when I decided to travel to London. One, because I didn’t know that study abroad groups liked IFSA Butler or Arcadia existed before applying; and two, if I really wanted to have a true study abroad experience I didn’t want to find myself surrounded by a bunch of Americans. I wanted to be fully immersed in the London way of life, and I would have. If Jon, an American from Northwestern University, hadn’t become my flatmate.
Jon and his American friends were part of the Arcadia Study Abroad Group that had received free tickets to get into The Tower of London. This was just one of the many perks that I had wished I had known about before I decided to go abroad alone. Jon told me that if you were part of the Arcadia Group you got free mimosas at the very top of The Shard, plus Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury and free tickets into any of the royal palaces within the city of London. However, since I obviously wasn’t part of the Arcadia Group, I would have to pay for my own ticket to get into The Tower of London. Which was, sadly, an expensive £22 (that’s $32 for one person.)
“They won’t ask you for your ID. You just need to tell them you’re Miranda,” Jon said when we left Tower Hill Station and made our way to The Tower.
“You mean they don’t check you?” I asked.
“Jacqueline, it’s the goddamn Tower of London, not Coachella. Not many people are going to show up at nine in the morning on a Saturday to see this place.”
When the four of us crossed the street, The Tower of London was right in front of us.
Thousands of ceramic poppies were carpeted around the moat to The Tower of London. It looked like a sea of red blood was oozing out from the very bottom of the wall. Jon had explained to me before we left the flat that The Tower of London would be decorated with these ceramic poppies to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the First World War. Each poppy (there were 888,246 poppies to be exact) represented a lost British or Colonial military personal from World War I.
It was eerie and beautiful at the same time.
I was so excited to get inside The Tower.
It was a place that I’ve only read about in books and seen on the Discovery Channel with my Dad; and I was actually here!
I was actually going to see the cells where they held Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Moore and Lady Jane Grey.
As my anticipation grew and grew as I stood in line, the unthinkable happen:
I forgot my “fake” name.
The name, Miranda Cannon suddenly had slipped from my memory!
Jon had already gotten his ticket and was waiting with his Arcadia friends near the entrance of The Tower of London.
THE Tower of London and I forgot my name!
“Name?” The Arcadia leader asked me.
Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
I dropped my eyes straight down to the list of names and said the first name I saw:
Could I have been any stupider?
“All right,” the woman said as she checked Penelope’s name off from her list. “For a second there you seemed like you had forgotten your name.”
“Yeah, that tends to happen,” I said quickly, as I grabbed my free ticket to The Tower of London.
“I got the ticket,” I managed to say.
Jon’s eyebrows hiked up his face. “Are you serious?”
He looked shocked, which confused me because this whole scheme of using someone else’s name was his idea.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You used Miranda’s name?”
“Well . . .” and I explained to him how my excitement for entering The Tower of London deflected me from remembering Miranda’s name.
“I used someone else’s name. Penelope something.”
“Oh good,” Jon released a sigh. “Because I just saw the real Miranda Cannon get in line a few minutes after I bought my own ticket.”
Jon later told me that Miranda just randomly decided to come out to explore The Tower of London – even though she previously told him that she preferred sleeping in.
Thankfully, as the day progressed, the real Penelope Wentworth never showed up to check in with the Arcadia leader.
So for the rest of the day at The Tower of London, I was Penelope Wentworth.
And I had finally made it to The Tower of London!
There's The Crown Jewels which – because they are THE Crown Jewels of England – sets you up on a moving walkway so that you can briefly appreciate the regalia and vestments worn by the past sovereigns of the United Kingdom before being forced to move to another equally priceless object for about four to five seconds.
My favorite was the golden punch bowl, a massive vessel engraved with the arms of George IV. It was used to celebrate the christening of Queen Victoria's son, Prince Albert Edward in 1842. Think of all the possibilities Queen Victoria would have done with a golden punch bowl that size. It was so big that you could even bathe in it. But I couldn't help but imagine how fun it would be if the fraternities back at UMass Amherst got ahold of a punch bowl this size. Talk about a bottomless treasure trove of ice cold Heinekens and Budweisers. Bluto from Animal House would have been proud.
The Bloody Tower, where the two Princes where last seen alive before they went missing. Although, I have a feeling that they had renamed that tower AFTER the two Princes had disappeared. Because imprisoning two Princes of the blood in a tower that was originally called The Bloody Tower, is kinda an obvious giveaway that someone was plotting a murder.
And – so that I would feel like a total cheeseball – Jon and his friends and I ransacked the gift shop. I almost bought my God-Sister a book about Paddington Bear visiting The Tower of London, titled Paddington at the Tower, but something stopped me.
Those chilling moments of visiting The Tower's torture chambers, the basket where Lady Jane Grey's head had fallen after her beheading and witnessing the cells that the prisoners were held in, were one of the big draws of visiting The Tower of London in the first place.
I'll admit, one of my happiest and saddest moment at The Tower of London was standing before the glass memorial site on Tower Green. It was a space that centuries ago was once full of crowds jeering before the scaffolds. Now, a glass-sculpted pillow was in its place. It was encompassed by two engraved circles with the names of the ten famous and not so famous individuals who were beheaded on the grounds of Tower Green.
All I could think about as I looked at that glass pillow was how much nicer Lady Jane Grey's head would have looked if her head hadn't landed in a woven basket.
Why was I so fascinated with a place that had killed so many people? Was that normal? How come I never got this excited whenever I visited Hawaii or Santa Barbara? Why did I enjoy seeing the spot that poor Margaret Pole died at nine o’clock on a Saturday afternoon? I’m a pretty happy person, so why did I compare The Tower of London earlier to my version of fucking Disneyland?
“It’s history,” Jon said to me over dinner with our flatmates when I expressed this concern of mine. “You don’t go there to mourn, you go there to be thankful that the United Kingdom isn’t ruled anymore by a Fat Pig going crazy with syphilis. When I went to the gift shop, you know what I bought for myself? Operation. The King Henry VIII version where you pick out tapeworms from his gut. It’s the past. We see it. We remember it, and we move on from it.”
I said, “Why the hell did you buy the King Henry VIII version of Operation?”
“Why the hell wouldn’t I buy it? It looked cool.”
If I had to nail down the objective of my fascination with royal history – primarily with The Tudors – from what Jon had said to me, it would probably be collective evidence to support my gratefulness that we no longer lived in a world where a Fat Pig named Henry VIII was in power.
Though the world is still a small and scary place, nothing is worse than being sent to your own execution, like Margaret Pole. Especially if you are innocent.
When you know such trivia about the prisoners who were held in The Tower of London, you wonder if their innocence in any way shape or form was a real enough hope for them to believe that they would be released out from The Tower unscathed. Now compare that to the mischief I had gotten myself into in order to sneak my way into The Tower of London.
As Margaret Pole carved on the wall on her cell:
For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou Me!
For such an innocent soul, look how she turned out.
Sorry. Not sorry.