Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Yet another visit to the Tower of London – and an encounter with George, Duke of Clarence

Whenever I visit London, I always seem to end up visiting the Tower of London. Having visited in October, I found myself heading there again in July. I didn’t intend to, but finding myself with a spare 3 hours, in which I intended to go shopping, I realised that yet again I’d be able to fit another visit in. So once again, I found myself heading for Tower Hill tube station. Once inside, I decided not to visit the White Tower or the medieval palace exhibition. My focus was on the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, the Beauchamp and Bloody towers, and the Bowyer tower. I’d managed a fleeting visit to the previous 3 last time, but decided to take my time this visit. I always start off with my visit with a Yeoman Warder’s tour. Yes, I’ve heard their stories and jokes many times, but still enjoy them. They are a huge asset to the Tower – part of the tradition of the Tower. Plus, in my previous visits, it was the only way I could access the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where the remains of, amongst others, Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are buried. I was surprised when the Yeoman ended his tour at the site of the scaffold, and on asking abot the chapel, I was informed it was now open to the public to visit whenever they wished. I headed to the chapel and having been in there many times, knew my way around and who was buried where. I wondered how other visitors would cope without the Yeoman warder giving his usual chat, and that’s when I discovered the latest addition for visitors to the Tower – the audio guide. I have mixed views about audio guides. I used one at Westminster Abbey, and still got confused, and didn’t bother with my visit to Hampton Court. I appreciate their usefulness for those not fluent in English or who have difficulty using guide books. However, I much prefer the Yeoman taking you into the chapel, telling you al you need to know and who is buried where, plus there is a sense of reverence. I also prefer to see people communicating with each other, asking questions and making observations – seeing families walking around in silence with headphones on seems odd to me. There’s virtually no inter-action between them.

The Tower seems to be gearing up for another exhibition shortly – the zoo at the Tower. There is scaffolding, coverings and banners behind the Jewel House making visitors aware of it. The Bowyer tower is behind the Jewel House, and I’d completely forgotten about it during my last visit. Having read Susan Higginbotham’s ‘The Stolen Crown’, which had me absolutely gripped from the start, I made a point of visiting the Bowyer tower, for it was here, as tradition has it, that George, Duke of Clarence, met his end – drowned in a butt of malmsey, if we are to believe Shakespeare. Although there were many visitors to the Tower that day, I think many may have been put off going further than the Jewel House because of the scaffolding and coverings. So when I ventured around the back of it to go to the Bowyer tower, there was no-one there except for one other visitor, heading into the Bowyer tower. Outside was a board informing visitor this was where George had met his end, and I admit I only skimmed it, and inside, was the story of his imprisonment. The tower was empty, apart from a large barrel in the corner and the sound of dripping. The other visitor, a man, was on the opposite side of the Tower. I headed over to the barrel, and thought how clever they had made it look - the top had an image of a hole projected onto it and you could see rippling liquid. As I gazed down on it, the image of a drowning man appeared, clearly intended to be George. It was cleverly done to make it appear as if one was watching from underneath the barrel. It was unbelievably realistic, and so unexpected, I confess I let out an almighty shriek! Very embarrassing, but luckily there was only the other visitor present. He swung round to face me, clearly shocked himself, and I could only garble ‘it’s supposed to be Clarence in there’ and point at the barrel – and of course, there was no sign of the image then. We had to wait several minutes for George to pop up again. On leaving the tower, I noted on the board outside, it did warn to expect a ‘surprise’. That will teach me to skim information boards!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

BBC History magazine September issue

The September issue has 10 places to visit for those interested in the Wars of the Roses. I've listed them in the magazine's order with their reasons in quotes. The magazine also has far more detailed descriptions and pictures.

1. Ludlow Castle, Shropshire - 'where the wars began.'

2. Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland - 'where the Lancastrians clung on'.

3. Raglan Castle, Monmouthshire - 'where Edward IV's favourite ruled'. (William Herbert)

4. Gainsborough Old Hall, Lncolnshire, - 'where civil rule continued'.

5. Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucestershire - 'where the secnd war was won'.

6. Middleham Castle, North Yorkshire, - power base of watwick the Kingmaker and Richard III.

7. St George's Chaperl, Windsor - 'where Yorkist and Lancastrian kings flaunted their power'.

8. The Tower of London - 'where the bloodiest crimes were perpetrated'.

9. Bosworth Field, Leicestershire - 'where Richard III was slain'.

10. Westminster Abbey, London - 'where the first Tudor king built a magnificent chapel'.

I have visited all these places except number 6. Although it seems when I walked Bosworth field, I may not have walked the actual battlefield - complete with red rose (seriously!). Michael Hicks, one of my favourite 'Roses' historians, has written the article.

A visit to Hampton Court

The Entrance to Hampton Court - 'The Tudor Palace'

I decided to make the most of my recent visit to see ‘Anne Boleyn’ at the Globe, and visited Hampton Court Palace. I haven’t been there since I was very young. It’s easy to get a train from Waterloo station to Hampton Court – they run almost every half an hour, and the palace is right by the train station. As last year was the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII, the palace is continuing it’s ‘Henry’ theme this year. Last year, the focus was on the women in Henry’s life, and to some extent, this continues. On the day I went, ‘Henry’ was in residence with his sixth wife, ‘Catherine Parr’. They were celebrating their wedding. The man playing Henry VIII was exceptionally good, and kept making appearances throughout my 4 hour visit, along with Catherine, his courtier and lute player. In keeping with the wedding theme, the Great Hall is set out for the wedding feast, and there were some wonderful notices about Tudor eating and social habits.

The palace is divided into ‘themes’. As well as the wedding theme, there is also a young Henry VIII exhibition running. It is set in part of the original palace, and the rooms occupied by Thomas Wolsey, who acquired the manor house there and turned it into a palace. The exhibition is set around Henry, Wolsey and Catherine of Aragon, and the early years of Henry’s reign. There isn’t really a lot to see, but the story is told through video and information boards.

The ‘Henry VIII’ apartments features the ‘wedding’ of Henry VIII. There are some well known Tudor portraits on loan and are displayed in the so-called ‘haunted gallery’ (the scene of Catherine Howard’s hysteria). The chapel is open to view, as well as Henry’s council chamber, which features ‘video’ performances from Henry’s councillors from the 1540s.

Hampton Court has 2 distinctive styles. The Tudor palace is much in evidence as you enter the palace. The monarchs that altered the palace were the joint sovereigns William and Mary. I have to say, their apartments hold little interest for me, but they make up the third exhibition and if you are interested in them and their baroque design, it’s well worth a visit, and if you are not, well, it’s interesting to see how the palace changed. They ran out of money, and thankfully, were unable to complete their redesign of the palace.

The kitchens at Hampton Court give an excellent insight to what life at court was like, and I’ll save this description for another day.

Below - the 'Baroque' Palace of William and Mary.

Initials of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
'Old and new' meet.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

A little bit about the Globe theatre.

I can’t believe I’ve left it so ‘late’ to visit the Globe. The current Globe theatre was opened in 1997, and was the idea of the American actor Sam Wanamaker. Wanamaker had visited London in 1949 and had set out to find the site of the original Globe theatre. He was disappointed that there wasn’t even a memorial to it, as was I when I read about it. In 1970, he formed the Shakespeare Globe Trust, and in 1987, building work was started on the site of the original Globe theatre. The foundations were laid, and in 1993, the construction of the theatre itself was begun. I find it very sad that Wanamaker did not live to see the completion of his project – he died in 1993.

The original Globe was built in 1599, by Shakespeare’s players company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The Globe burned down on June 29th, 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII. The thatched roof caught fire. No-one was killed or seriously injured.

As well as the theatre, the site also has a lecture room, eduactional facilities, book and gift shop and an exhibition, openly daily. I didn’t have time to go to the exhibition, and not surprisngly, it’s closed during performances.

On the subject of Shakespeare, I’ve been reading ‘Contested Will’ by James Shapiro which I bought at the Globe bookshop. It’s not really what I thought it would be about – that is discussing the candidates who might have been the ‘real’ Shakespeare. It’s actually the history, and I’d say pyschology, about the authorship debate. When it started, possible reasons for it and the thinking of the challengers of the authorship by promoters of Francis Bacon and the Earl of Oxford. It’s thought provoking and an excellent read.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Further Thoughts on 'Anne Boleyn'

I was surprised that Brenton chose George Villiers, later the Duke of Buckingham, as the favourite of James 1st, instead of Robert Carr, who would have been the favourite at the time. The play covers James and Villiers meeting and the start of their relationship. At one point, James puts on Anne Boleyn's dress, dances with Villiers, and then kisses him on the lips. In the aftershow discussion, some of the audience made comparisons with other members of royalty. At one point, when Anne says she is Henry's 'true love', she uses the phrase 'the Queen of his heart', which reminded me, and others, of Princess Diana's desire to be the Queen of hearts, and Miranda Raison said this occurred to her. Another audience member remarked that James and George's relationship reminded him of Charles and Camilla - in being secretive -and also Edward II and his lover. I hoped he meant Piers! Although, the comparison of Charles and Camilla and Edward and Piers I find mind-boggling. Piers cared so much about his appearance and was complimented on his manners - erm, harldy much in common with Camilla. (I'm not a fan). Undoubtedly there were three people in Edward and Isabella's marriage, but the difference is that Charles could have married Camilla before Diana and didn't.

The comparison with James Ist and Robert Carr/George Villiers makes more sense, although James doesn't seem to have been as faithful to his favourites as Edward II. And what about James' Queen - Anne of Denmark? She was not as powerful as Isabella, but she seems happy to have tolerated James and his favourites, and went on to have many children with James. James' relationship with his favourites may have caused petty jealousies at court, but didn't really lead to any crisis. Scandal, yes - the infamous case of the murder of Thomas Overbury by Robert Carr and his wife Frances Howard. James survived it relatively unscathed, and both Carr and his wife, although convicted, were not executed. In my opinion, the majore difference is the role of the monarch and parliament, which had changed drastically since the reign of Edward II.

I will take this opportunity to recommend Anne Somerset's 'Unnatural Murder', about the Overbury case. It's a fascinating and riveting book about the scandal.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

A Review of ‘Anne Boleyn’ by Howard Brenton

It’s been a pleasure for me to attend 2 productions at The Globe Theatre in London. I’ve never attended any plays there or been on a tour of the Globe, so it was a thrill to experience Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and a new play, ‘Anne Boleyn’, in an Elizabethan setting. Fortunately both plays took place in glorious sunshine on the Saturday matinees I attended. ‘Henry VIII’ is not one of my favourite Shakespeare plays – it was written towards the end of his career and lacks a ‘real villain’ in Cardinal Wolsey. The actress playing Anne Boleyn in the play was Miranda Raison, (previously seen in Spooks), and she would go on to play Anne in Howard Brenton’s new play a few weeks later.

Brenton’s take on Anne Boleyn is as a keen promoter of the Reformation, with Anne passionate about William Tyndale’s ‘The Obedience of a Christian man’. The play opens with the ghost of Anne Boleyn, and the setting is the court of James 1st early in his reign. James has been going through Elizabeth’s possessions, and comes across a chest containing Anne’s Coronation day dress and a copy of Tyndale’s book hidden away. James is faced with problems with religion early in his reign, and he calls upon Anne to show him how to finish what she started. James 1st is played by James Garnon, who is out-standing in his portrayal of the ‘wisest fool in Christendom’. James is flamboyant, sharp-tongued, playful, clever and manipulative, as well as great fun to watch. The play then presents us with a serious of flash backs to Anne’s life contrasted with James’ problems with the clergy.

This is obviously first and foremost a drama. Nevertheless, the play is very accurate in it’s portrayal of Anne’s life. We never see Katherine of Aragon, but Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell both dominate the play. Cromwell eventually reveals his reformist reviews to Anne and gives her his support for the divorce. Henry VIII is played by Anthony Howell, ( previously in Foyle's War) and his scenes of courtship with Anne are charming. The play’s language is in stark contrast to Shakespeare’s Henry VIII – speeches are short and precise, and characters give us a modern slant on their thoughts – Anne wishes Katherine would ‘piss off and join a convent’. I thoroughly enjoyed the play.

Afterwards, I was lucky enough to attend a question and answer session with the cast in the lecture room at the Globe. Howard Brenton’s chief source for Anne was Eric Ives book, the best biographer of Anne in my opinion. Miranda Raison said she prepared for the role by reading selected parts of Ives biography. The actor playing Tyndale revealed he had read a bio of him and his works to prepare for the role. Anthony Howell had actually appeared in the film version of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and already had background information. Interestingly, other cast members had not done any research.

Miranda Raison was excellent in the role of Anne – showing the religious side of Anne’s life, her vivacity and charisma. There was none of the ‘sexiness’ of the recent ‘The Tudors’ tv production, and Thomas Boleyn didn’t appear, so we did not have the ‘father pushes daughter’ scenario either. This is a thoughtful and enjoyable play, and I'd recommend anyone with an interest in Anne , Henry VIII or James 1st to see it.

Making Changes

I’ve decided to change the content of this blog. Ultimately, it is dedicated to Piers Gaveston, known sometimes as Perrot, the favourite of Edward II. Alas, I do not have the time to devote myself entirely to researching Piers, and could never hope to match the research done by Kathryn at her Edward II blog. Plus, I read a range of historical biographies and novels, and go on a number of historical visits unrelated to Piers but never get to share them. So I’m going to relate my experiences and opinions here – hence the Plus part. Hopefully this will ensure I post more regularly.