Please, Can We Have the 'Kohinoor Diamond' Back?
It was a lovely Sunday morning as we took the tube from Bayswater for Tower Hill station. I wanted to get in early for the tour of the Tower of London, because I'd read so much about this most historic structure. A quick breakfast consisting of baguettes and coffee was enough to take us through the 2-hour tour. We joined the crowd with Alan, Yeoman Warder-cum-Guide as he commenced the tour, but not before taking a dig at two young Australians in the entourage, on how sad they must feel having lost the Ashes to England.
The foundations of the Tower were laid in 1078 during the reign of William the First, or more popularly remembered as 'William the Conqueror'. It holds an important place in British history. It served as fortress to protect and control the city of London from its enemies; a prison with deep, dark and cold dungeons; it has witnessed murders, acts of treason, imprisonments, beheadings and executions (at Tower Hill just across the road) of many a Monarch. Most Towers within the complex were prisons within prisons offering no chance for prisoners to contemplate escape. Those who dared were captured and executed. It's also the permanent home for the Crown Jewels and Royal Regalia that are on public display, including the 'Kohinoor' Diamond.
The Yeoman Warders, those colourfully dressed men in dark blue uniforms with red trimmings - also known as the 'Beefeaters' - are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguarding the British Crown Jewels. Now of course, they mainly officiate as tour guides and live within the premises of the Tower of London. There are many stories and theories abound as to why they are called 'Beefeaters'. But one thing is certain, it's not just because they eat beef.
We were now assembled at the most infamous spot within the Tower, on the banks of the River Thames known as 'Traitor's Gate'. Alan explained its significance. Prisoners - most of who were accused of treason against the monarchy - were brought to this gate by boat camouflaged in the darkness of the night and imprisoned in cold dungeons. Amongst those who were brought in through these gates included Queen Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry the Eight); Margaret, Countess of Salisbury; Queen Catherine Howard (fifth wife of Henry the Eight); Lady Jane Grey, uncrowned Queen of 9 days; Lord Hastings; Sir Thomas Moore and hundreds of others - never to see the light of freedom again.
Trinity Green, a small area on Tower Hill was the site of many executions between the 14th and 18th centuries; men and women of noble birth who had their heads chopped of by the axe at this very spot. Immediately after an execution, the executioner would raise up the severed head to the crowd proclaiming, 'Behold the head of a traitor; so die all traitors. God save the King!' The head would then be mounted on a soldier's spike and paraded around the streets of London with great ceremony, as a permanent reminder of the fate that awaited all would-be traitors.
From Traitor's gate, our tour guide led us up the stone stairs to the courtyard of the White Tower and the Raven's lodging. To you and me, these oversized black birds may look like the common crow, but they are in fact a very integral part of the history of the Tower of London protected by a Royal decree. It's not clear as to when the ravens first arrived to live in the Tower, but legend has it that if ever they leave the Tower, the White Tower will come crumbling down and a great disaster befall England. Live and let live, seems to be the policy and the Ravens go about their business unmindful of throngs of people clicking away taking their pictures.
In front of the chapel, there's the 'Site of the Scaffold'. Though most executions took place at the Tower Hill, the 'Site' was reserved for private executions, in order not to embarrass the prisoner as well as the monarch. Amongst those executed were, Lord Hastings, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, beheaded for treason.
Next came the best part - the Jewel House where the Crown Jewels are housed; not behind massive steel vaults, but in glass cabinets and on public display. The Royal collection is considered to be the most valuable jewellery collection in existence and comprises of gold, silver, diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds and pearls. Don't even ask the value. Priceless, I'd assume. Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in this area. Somebody' scared that the jewels will be stolen as it happened once, when Thomas Blood, a person of dubious character almost managed the heist, but his luck ran out.
We got onto the conveyor that whisks the tourists past a long glass cabinet. We passed by dozens of crowns and regalia worn by kings and queens; and I remember, somewhere towards the end we saw what we were looking for - the Kohinoor, arguably the largest diamond in the world. Last worn in India by Ranjit Singh, the ruler of Punjab in 1813, it's now set in the Crown that was worn by Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother.
The first time was too quick; so I had to see it again. Mona and I walked back and joined the 'Q' once again. This time I ignored all else and when the Crown appeared, I simply stared at the Kohinoor and something stirred my patriotism? Did we actually own this? Is it rightfully ours? Just then, one of the Yeoman Warders went past us and I waved out to attract his attention. "How can I help you, sir?" he asked.
I replied, "Please can we have the Kohinoor Diamond back?"
Coming Next: The Royal Palace of Hampton Court