tower-of-london-by-night“Hault, who comes there?” “The keys!” “Whose keys?” “Queen Elizabeth’s keys!”  Thus was the exchange between the sentry and the Chief Warder, in the dark of night, as our small group of privileged onlookers stood engrossed.  With that final statement to identify the keys, all was well… The sentry stood down with his firearm at his side and the Chief Warder continued his deliberate march up through the Bloody Tower Archway to meet the other watchmen on duty.  The only sound that reverberated through the crisp air was the squeak of the iron lantern swaying to and fro.  The only light was the dim glow from the candle…
tower-of-london-sceneThe Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London has been performed every night in this exact manner, at the exact hour of 9:56pm, since the 14th century.  It is just one of the many fascinating narratives of this site, which has stood on Tower Hill since 1066 as a beacon of royal rule and, at times, tyrannical justice.  A walk through the grounds, under the speared gates and around White Tower, is quite literally a stroll through English history.

Our exploration of the tower took place in the light of day on the morning of the ceremony.  Upon entering through the outer gate, we took a tip from the guidebook and made a beeline for the Crown Jewels exhibit.  The various crowns, bejeweled tower-of-london-guide-book
swords, and coronation garb glittered beyond comparison. With that and an obligatory stop at the gift shop under our belts, we rushed off to the lawn to meet our resident Yeoman, or Beefeater, for a tour of the grounds.  Under his sage guidance, we learned about the tower’s greater and lesser known stories: the beheading of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Gray at the behest of Henry VIII; how it served as the Royal Mint for a time under the rule of Edward I; and how Charles II’s paranoia led to the keeping of at least six ravens at the tower at all times.  In truth, the traditional Tudor dress of the Yeoman almost upstaged this historical journey. But then we experienced the Ceremony of the Keys…