London – The Tower

Having wandered so long in its neighbourhood, let me hurriedly make the shamefaced confession that I share Richard III’s opinion about the Tower and that I have never seen it. I have skirted it, I have gazed into its asphalted moat, I have looked with awe on its battlemented towers, but I have never crossed the drawbridge.

To me it is the storehouse of mistakes-a place redolent with the memory of bygone blunders-where the great men of the nation, like Sir Thomas More, Archbishop Cranmer and Sir Walter Raleigh, and innocent, beautiful things like the little Princes and Lady Jane Grey, were done to death. There must surely be left something of Lady Jane’s agony when she saw the headless body of her young husband carried past her on the morning when she knew that she too was to die-something of the sickening sense of injustice that great men like Raleigh and More must have felt as their doom approached.

Of course, for less squeamish people there is an unending interest in the historical and architectural features of the Tower. It is open every week-day from ten to six in summer and ten to five in winter, and on Saturdays the fees to the White Tower and the Jewel House are not necessary. It is staffed by a constable, a lieutenant, a resident governor and about 100 yeomen warders called Beefeaters, all of which information, as well as the fact that the best way to reach it is from Mark Lane station on the Underground, is writ large in Mr. Muirhead’s excellent Blue Book on London.

Writ more small are tales that almost make me want to go and see for myself the place where Charles d’Orleans, the royal French poet, who wrote such haunting songs as “Dieu qu’il la fait bon regarder,”was held a prisoner for fifteen long years. Other things it seems besides murders happened in the Tower,-Henry the Eighth made two of his marriages here, James the First lived here for a time (a fact that does not mitigate my distaste for the Tower), and Charles the Second slept here the night before his coronation in 1661. No monarch has done that since his day. Then, if guide-books may be believed, there are hundreds of things in the armouries and weapon room and small-arms room, the cloak on which Wolfe died in far-off Quebec, a Grinling Gibbons carved head of Charles the Second, and armour and weapons of every period.

Most of these historic places are sepulchres of bygone crimes, but the Tower has known tragedy within its walls in these latter hideous years, for nearly a score of our enemies were put to death there in the Great War.

One or two of them were brave men, serving their country even as we served ours; one likes to think that they were treated as such. The story of Carl Lody has already been published, but I give it again because it redeems some of the Tower’s tragic history.

I believe he had asked to be allowed to testify to the fair and just treatment he had received, and when the last moment came the German said to the Provost-Marshal: “I suppose you wouldn’t care to shake hands with a spy? The Englishman replied without hesitation, “I am proud to shake hands with a brave man.”