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Power and gore at the Tower of London

If the ravens leave the tower, the Kingdom will fall.

It was the Lunar New Year. Somewhere on the other side of the world small envelopes of money were prepared for the kids. Dumplings were steamed and bone broth made the night before ready for the rice cakes to be included on the day.

The traditions and food differ from country to country, but one thing is common. Friends and family will gather to welcome the New Year.

Unlike the Chinese, Koreans don’t greet people with a wish for prosperity. Instead, we wish each other many blessings or good fortune.

Sae Hae Bok Mahn Hi Bahd Eh Sae Yo! It’s a mouthful, and it loosely translates to “May you be richly blessed in the new year!” We bow to our elders, receive a word of advice from them with our envelopes of money, then we eat… a lot.

Back home in Australia, our family would have either flown down to Hobart to spend time with my parents or headed to a Korean restaurant to celebrate.

But not today.

Instead we were, on this cold grey day, at the Tower of London. Surrounded by thick walls, green grass and giant black ravens. It was the place where traitors came to die and far from a steaming bowl of hot rice cake soup as you can get.

They say King Charles II was the first to protect the ravens at the Tower of London after he was warned the palace would fall, and the kingdom with it, if they left.

We took a Yeoman Warden’s tour and heard all the gory stories of betrayal and beheadings; of people who were imprisoned for their faith; and those who died just because they were born into the wrong family.

Centuries old stories were retold for our entertainment. Stories of real people who had once lived and loved. Most died terrible deaths at the hands of those in power.

Stories like Lady Jane Grey. She was Queen of England for only nine days. King Edward VI named her as his successor in his will, removing his half sisters Mary and Elizabeth from the line of succession.

The winds of politics turned on the poor girl. Support for Mary grew. The Privy Council changed sides. In a little over a week, the young Queen was deposed.

Lady Jane Grey was executed inside the tower at Tower Green on 12 February 1554. She was only 17 years old.

They say her last words were “Lord, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”

History was suddenly becoming all too real for me. More so as we viewed the armoury inside the White Tower.

We walked past the Line of Kings. Henry VIII, Charles I, Charles II and James II. All with their impressive battle armour shining under the display lights.

They have been on display for quite some time. More than 300 years. The armour were installed by the Royal Armouries for King Charles II to promote the restored monarchy. Gleaming and scratch free now, I doubt they would have been so clean on the battlefield.

We walked past rows and rows of armour made for noblemen and common soldiers. Used by men who served the King. People who fought and lived and died to preserve the might and power of a family and a kingdom.

The Crown Jewels were held opposite the White Tower. Yes, they were real according to the Yeoman Warden. No, the guards were not actors paid to pretend protecting the fake jewels. They were real soldiers. That was a real gun, with real bullets and we would feel the end of a real bayonet if we did something stupid like attack them.

We made our way through the grand display. The regalia with its thousands of hours of hand stitched embroidery were on show. There were golden maces, and glittering crowns. Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation crown was encrusted with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, rubies. They say the pearls Queen Elizabeth I wore as earrings centuries ago were incorporated into that particular crown.

The power and might of the once great Empire were symbolised by those jewels. This was the reason behind all the gore; behind crushed ambitions and lives lost. Power and majesty that extended beyond the seas over centuries and concentrated on one person.

“Wow. They totally own us, don’t they mum?” my Aussie son turned to me and whispered.

“Yes. You’re right. This history is the history of colonised Australia as well,” I admitted.

We saw an ice cream stand outside the exit, and I welcomed the distraction of eating the cold treat on a grey winter day.

“Look! A machine gun taken on the original Anzac Day in Gallipoli!” my husband pointed out as we wandered the grounds.

25 April 1915.

They say more than 750 Australians were killed defending the Empire that day and thousands more fell as the campaign stretched on. All those men with hopes and dreams sacrificed on a strip of sand so far away from home. Dying for King, but whose country?

I have never been more proud of our ANZACs or more sad.

I burst into tears. Enough. I had had enough.

It was the Lunar New Year. It was supposed to be a time of love and family, of honouring our elders, and enjoying each other’s company as we ate our fill of delicious food. We were supposed to be celebrating hope and renewal; of many blessings and good fortune.

I had seen enough might and power, brutality and brokenness for one day.

“Dad, why is mum crying?” asked our bewildered teenager.

“Shh, son. It’s ok.”

“I want to eat Korean. Can we eat Korean tonight?” I blubbered.

“We can do that,” answered my husband.

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February 2020
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