Sunday, 15 September 2013

Six Wives of One King day 8

Day 8 Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London
An early start saw us in the train into the nations’ capital city to see two of the worlds’ premier tourist destinations but as it is now September the tourists are scarce on the ground

First up Westminster abbey the Nations’ parish church and called a Royal peculiar church, that is to say the church answers only to the Sovereign and is outside the Church of England hierarchy. 11 of our previous sovereigns lie buried here, Edward the Confessor, Henry III, Henry V, Henry VII, Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor lie in glorious tombs of importance and splendour. But tucked away in a little wall space you would hardly notice there are some gold letters saying here lies Anne of Cleves Queen of England, the only memoriam as far as I know in the country to her.

We travelled by river boat to the Tower and arrived Traitors gate just as Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Princess Elizabeth would have done. It takes about 4 hours to see all that the Tower has to offer, because it’s not just one tower, it covers 22 acres full of the nation’s history. It can be crowded but today the tourist were not too many.

The White Tower is the one that everybody sees on TV but the place is much, much more than that, to begin with there is the Chapel of St Peter Ad Vincular where Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey all lie and all three queens of England. There are other towers that held important prisoners not least of which is the Bloody Tower, so called as this was where the two Princes were said to have been done to death in 1483 under the orders of Richard III.

The White Tower holds the oldest tourist attraction in the world, the line of Kings, all the kings of England on horseback with armour quite an impressive sight. Also somewhat gruesome, is an executioners axe and block. On the top floor is Keeper, a magnificent sculpture of a dragon made will all the bits that represent the institutions that once or are still in the Tower.
We got into the Crown Jewels late in the day and were practically the only people in there so we had along good look at these fabulous crowns, sceptre and gold plate. The largest single cut diamond in the world is here on display and a trick of the light through this unique object throws a tiny rainbow on the wall across the room, yes there is gold at the end of the rainbow.

All that history and grandeur in one place and we were not finished for the day. A Medieval banquet in St Katherine’s Dock was the final event of the whole tour. A splendid banquet held in underground vaults near to the Tower. We were treated to feasting , music, dancing, acrobats and some of the best sword fighting you’ll see outside of the movies.

All to soon we had to finish back at our last character hotel near to the River Thames in Southwark to say our final farewells.
all together a terrific tour through Tudor England.

Six Wives of One King day 7

Day 7 Hever castle and Penshurst Place
We travel north from Lewes into the high Weald of Kent & Sussex to Hever castle the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Pausing again briefly in the village of Hartfield to shop at Pooh Corner, Winnie the Pooh is not exactly Tudor but historic and delightful none the less. Visitors come from all over the world to see the real sights of these famous stories.

Hever Castle was looking splendid in the late summer sunshine after the rain yesterday and to walk around the perfectly manicured lawns & grounds is a pleasure. The castle has had a long history and has passed through a few hands since Anne Boleyn was here. One previous owner was Anne of Cleves who was given it as part of her divorce settlement. It fell into disrepair for 150 years until it was bought by W.W. Astor who set about restoring the castle to it’s former glory and creating the Italian gardens. He did a good job of it too, there was to be a wedding held in the afternoon we were there and the great hall was being set for the dinner. There are many portraits and artefacts of Anne Boleyn in the castle including her book of hours(prayer book) inscribed by her in the margin.

Just outside the gates of the castle is the parish church of Hever, touching notice on the wall reads “here lies Thomas Boleyn grandfather of Queen Elizabeth I” something that is not generally thought about.

After Hever we set off across the high Weald to Penshurst Place Home of the Sidney Family for over 450 years. The p[lace has a completely different feel to Hever as it has been in the same family for all that time. The walled garden holds an apple orchard, fish ponds, a union jack flag, half the size of a football field that you can see the red & white roses and blue lavender form the air as you land at Gatwick airport.

Elizabeth I visited here often as the place had fine hunting lands and the parkland is open to the public to walk around. Many period films were made here including “ Anne of a Thousand days” and The other Boleyn Girl, some of the costumes from that films are on display. Richard burton lost out for the best actor Oscar in 1968 to John Wayne in True Grit, not often a king loses to a Duke.

We spent the night in an old coaching Inn in the town of Tonbridge, the staircases wander around up and down before you reach your rooms.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Six wives of One King day 6

Day 6 Lewes.
The English weather finally caught up with us in Lewes, but the rain didn’t dampen our resolve to see the town and the important historic features. History in Lewes is always just around the corner.

For a start it has a castle, what self respecting town doesn’t have one? But this castle has seen real action, in 1264 Simon de Montford beat Henry III at Lewes and forced Henry to sign the Mis of Lewes, a document that gave us the Parliament that we know today. Henry got his own back the following year at the battle of Evesham, Simon was killed. We had a very engaging chat with a group of dedicated ladies who are sewing a tapestry to commemorate the battle, suing dyes and wool thread that would have been around at the time. It has to be ready by Christmas so the panels can be mounted and ready to display in May of next year.
Looking out over the soft rolling countryside of the south downs from the top of the castle keep is a beautiful sight, even if it has been raining.

Also in Lewes is the Priory ruins, not much to look at now but one of the largest and most important in the whole country until Thomas Cromwell destroyed it during the dissolution. Some of the buildings in Lewes are made from the stones taken from the Priory over the years. Nearby there is Anne of Cleves house, given to her as part of the divorce settlement , she didn’t live there but enjoyed the rental income. The building also holds the town museum and the iron works museum an internationally important collection of the iron workers art.

A couple of hundred years ago Thomas Paine, a radical thinker and agitator wrote and debated his ‘Rights of Man’ and ‘Common Sense’ documents that led to the American war of Independence.

There was also plenty of time to wander around this grand town and browse the antique shops.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Six wives of One King day 5

Day 5 Arundel Castle
We head south from Warwickshire on the longest single journey of the tour to the town of Arundel in West Sussex.
Arundel castle dominates the skyline and all approaches to the town with it’s Norman Keep and massive towers. It is the very epitome of what a castle should look like, High towers, a large keep and battlements along all the high walls.

Arundel is the home of the Dukes of Norfolk and we now have the 18th Duke but it his forbears the 3rd and 4th Dukes we have come to see. The 3rd Duke was uncle to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard both executed Queens of England. Such was the nature of the greasy pole of Tudor court life the 3rd Duke was also to be executed on the orders of Henry VIII, but Henry died the day before the Dukes appointment with the block so he survived. The 4th Duke was not so lucky, he was executed on the orders of Elizabeth for plotting to marry Mary Queen of Scots.

There is the rosary that belonged to Mary that she handed to her lady in waiting on the scaffold as she was about to be executed in 1587 on display in the castle along with many painted miniatures of famous figures form the Tudor such as the poet Earl, more of him when we get to Penshurst.

Whilst waking the ground of the castle we discovered two large white Rhea's, a large flightless bird and not what you expect to find in a medieval castle

The Fitzalan chapel is worth noting as it is unique with two denominations, catholic and protestant sharing the same building but separated by a glass and iron gate that has only been opened 4 times in the last 400 years.

We set off at the end of the day along the south coast to the East Sussex county town of Lewes on the next stage of our Tudor journey.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Six Wives of One King

Day 4 Peterborough and Kenilworth

The magnificent 800 year old Cathedral in the centre of Peterborough is where Catherine of Aragon was laid to rest, but even in death Henry VIII was unkind, he ordered her to be buried as the Dowager Princess of Wales. Today, her grave is marked by a memorial suitable for a queen of England. Paid for by a national newspaper in the 1800’sasking all women called Catherine to donate a penny to help pay for it. The people loved her then and still love her today, rarely a day goes by without fresh flowers being placed in memory and respect. We laid a pomegranate and some Rosemary brought from Catherine's Garden at Buckden, it seemed a right and fitting mark of respect.

The Cathedral also used to hold the body of Mary Queen of Scots after she was executed in 1587 before her son James I had her removed to Westminster Abbey in London. (More of her later in the week when we reach London. ) Curiously the same grave digger performed both burials 53 years apart, a man by the name of Old Scarlet.

A long drive west took us to Kenilworth castle in Warwickshire, a place that has seen some of the most important moments in history. Henry V was here in March 1415 when he received a present of tennis balls from the French Prince, an insult that rebounded spectacularly when Henry, in October of that year fought and won the battle of Agincourt. His small army of about 7000 archers took on a French army three times that number and decimated the flower of the French nobility in one afternoon.
It was here in 1575 that Robert Dudley spent millions in today’s money to convince Elizabeth I to marry him. It was on a glorious progress that Elizabeth spent 17 days here feasting and partying but all that money was not well spent by Robert, Elizabeth turned him down.

Robert lies with his second wife Lettice Knowlys in the gothic family chapel of St Mary’s church in the centre of Warwick.

Six wives of One King

Day 3 Cambridge, Buckden & Kimbolton.

Today saw us travelling North from Hampton Court across London to Cambridge by train and underground. Pausing momentarily to take a photo at Platform 9 ¾ at Kings Cross railway station (for all you Harry Potter fans ) we boarded our final train to Cambridge.

In Cambridge, we saw what is my favourite of all the buildings that Henry VIII has left us, Kings College Chapel. Henry didn’t start it but he finished it and in some style too. Finished in 1525, the building is full of superb features, the largest fan vaulted roof anywhere in the world. The stained glass windows are fantastic and have a guide book alone, in one of the windows we see Henry VIII as Soloman and Katherine Howard looking up at him. Also high up on the East window her initials alongside Henry. There is also Anne Boleyn initials carved in the provost stall along with a falcon with a queen’s crown. Quite how they remain when Henry ordered Anne Boleyn to be airbrushed out of history remains a mystery.

Pausing again for a while outside Trinity college Cambridge in front of an apple tree, a descendant of” The Tree” that Isaac Newton sat under ( he was a professor of mathematics at Trinity), we set off by road to Buckden Towers.

Buckden Towers on the edge of the fens, is where Catherine of Aragon was sent to by Henry VIII. She lived there for 16 months before Charles Brandon tried to move her to a more secure place. He was prevented by the local men standing guard with farm weapons. This standoff lasted for 5 days before he went away to get some more men.

Bathed in sunshine, Catherine’s garden was a quiet little haven with features recreated form the period that she would have known. Buckden has seen many famous & royal visitors down the centuries and today it is a Catholic missionary centre and busy with visitors from Spain, which given Catherine was Spanish seemed appropriate somehow.

On to Kimbolton castle next where Catherine in failing health and spirits spend the last 20 months of her life almost a recluse and with just three maids for company and support. Kimbolton is now a private school with extensive grounds and has been substantially remodelled in the early 1700’s but the Headmasters office is the room where she wrote her last letter and Catherine died. A very odd feeling indeed to stand in that room.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Six wives of One King tour

Day 2 Hampton Court Palace

On a glorious day all we had to do was walk across the road into the palace grounds right up to the front gate before all the usual visitors got there.

It’s one of those great moments to go into the Great Hall when you are the only people on the space. For some reason there is a magic spell that makes you whisper so that you don’t disturb the ghosts of history. Just for a few minutes every sound seems magnified even the eavesdroppers seem that little bit closer looking down from the rafters, and then somebody else walks into the space and breaks the spell.

The palace has loads to see and the list seems endless, the Tudor kitchens, the Chapel Royal, A real tennis court, the rules of the game escape me, complicated for the outsider but easy once you get to know the game.
The Gardens are still spectacular to wander around, after taking a small diversion to walk around the famous maze we visited the oldest known grapevine in the world and still harvesting delicious grapes too.

Inside the palace there are still exhibitions to see like the secrets of the Royal Bedchamber. Huge State beds on display each with a tale to tell of conspiracies and intrigue.

The best part of the day was to follow the story of Henry VIII and his pursuit of Jane Seymour and the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Played out in episodes around the Palace and by the best costumed actors you’ll see playing Henry and His new love. We were fortunate enough to ask his majesty to tarry a while so we could take a quick image.

A perfect end to a perfect day was to have a jug of Pimms quintessentially English on the water deck of the Mitre hotel right on the river Thames and watch the swans go serenely by.