We lagged behind.
We were now officially those silly lost pain-in-the-bum American women who can’t follow simple instructions to stay with a group. But in our defense, we couldn’t help but slowly soak in the historically charged atmosphere that permeated the very stone, wood and metal of The Tower of London.
|We were here. The Tower of London.|
It was my fault actually. I was moving slowly having just felt the first twinge of a headache probably caused by jet lag and stuffing myself with real English toffee and gin. This trip was my mother’s gift to me for doing well in college and we were devouring every possible experience we could. For two precious weeks, we kept a whirlwind schedule seeing up to two stage plays a day, including Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers. We boarded tour busses and day tripped to Stonehenge, Windsor, and Stratford Upon Avon, the Bard’s birthplace. We strolled through the British Museum in abject awe and found ourselves losing track of time frequently.
In some places, like the other minor stone henges, we got out of the bus to see and touch weathered faces of the giant vertical granite monoliths. The time did seem fluid, flowing and very much alive.
I attributed the electrical goose-bumpy feelings and the peripheral visions of shadows and flying lights I was experiencing to the excitement of the trip. Mom, always the romantic, was convinced that my psychic abilities were tuned up and pinging. I have some latent skills, but all spontaneous. Episodes happen with no warning and often have no relevance until later.
This was not going to do, however, this feeling woozy and fatigued in The Tower of London. So I soldiered on.
Our Beefeater tour guide, dressed in full red and black formal regalia herded the rest of our group around the corner ahead of us into a maze of hallways and rooms. His lilting British-y accented schpiel highlighting who was locked up in what cell before having their heads lopped off became ever more distant bouncing and echoing off thick stone walls.
“Come on Mom. Let’s go this way. We’d better catch up. I hear them up ahead.”
It was potentially serious for us to be separated from the group because the IRA was busy at that time trying to make a point by bombing historical sites.
And now we were lost in The Tower after being admonished to stay with the group. The room was small and had leaded glass windows that overlooked the Tower Green where the headsman’s block once crouched on a platform. The ravens, smart as dogs, strut and peck.
“Well,” said Mom, “They're not here. Maybe we should’ve taken a left instead of a right back there…Hey! You look awful. What’s wrong with you?”
“Headache. Things seem kind of fuzzy. Got some chills.”
I heard the Tower ravens croak and hassle each other outside the window so I went to perhaps catch a breath of air. I put my hands palms down on the window sill to steady myself and I noticed some very deep grooves etched into the stone below. There is carved graffiti all over the walls in The Tower. Doomed prisoners spent their last times alive chipping messages into the walls. Most were light scratches and had worn down over the centuries.
This word was carved into the stone so deeply…It was so deep.
It hit me hard. I had no control. Overwhelming floods of sadness and fear cascaded over me and pushed me down to the floor. I knelt next to the carving and brushed it with my finger tips and burst into tears. The letters – I A N E - felt warm to the touch but the rest of the room was meat locker cold. Sobs spewed out of me and I wept in confusion and pain. My heart hurt. Mom just hugged me and we waited for the spell to pass. Many tissues later, I got it back together, for the most part. A beam of sunlight filled with dancing motes of dust poured in through that leaded glass window and the chill diminished. Peace.
“I know the way out now, Mom.”
As though I had been there before, in some other space in time, I led us through the labyrinth of twists and turns to find our Beefeater. We blended back into the tour group as though we were there the whole time.
When the tour ended, the Beefeater lingered to answer questions. We waited until we had him all to ourselves to admit that we had been lost. He just smiled and sighed. “Happens sometimes. Glad you found your way back to us.”
“We spent some time in a room waiting for the tour to come by and we saw something. You probably know this. What does the word IANE mean?” I asked.
The Beefeater became very still and studied my face which was still puffy and flushed.
“Well, my dear, that is someone’s name. Jane. Lady Jane Grey. Her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley was held, imprisoned, in the room you, ahem, visited. Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for nine days once…”
“So he carved her name in the wall?”
“It took Dudley a long time to incise that stone to the extent that he did. He loved her deeply, perhaps to distraction. And she loved him dearly even though their marriage was a political one. The staff and the guards here at The Tower were smitten with their great love story and guards allowed the pair to walk together on the Green when they could get away with it.”
“Mom, we were in Dudley’s prison cell…”
“But in 1554 by order of Queen Mary, Guildford Dudley went to the block first. You see, Queen Mary the First, a Catholic, was politically united with the Pope and Spain, and couldn’t allow any Protestant heirs of King Henry the Eighth to try to claim the throne. Lady Jane was staunchly Protestant and was almost crowned. But she was overthrown by Bloody Mary just before her coronation and imprisoned in The Tower. Lord Dudley was separated from her and you found his cell. I suspect you had an interesting moment there…We don’t take the tours there for a reason.”
“To say the least” said Mom, her eyes wide.
“She and her husband were sentenced to death as traitors. It is said that Lady Jane may have broken Dudley’s heart when she declined to have dinner with him the night before his execution. She explained that she just couldn’t face him on the eve of such horror. In fact, Lady Jane watched from her cell window as they took her husband to the headsman. She watched them bring his body back too, his head wrapped in a cloth next to it.”
I had to sit down.
“And she was…?” asked Mom.
“Beheaded as well. She asked her executioner to be careful to do a good job. Most notably, she didn’t cry or beg on the scaffold. She was blindfolded and politely asked for someone to help her to the block so she could lay her head down for the axe.”
My stomach jumped and my throat went dry. Lord Guilford Dudley is still in that room in Beauchamp’s Tower overlooking The Tower Green. He remains there hanging on the sword point of profound grief for his beloved IANE even to this day, and there I was, a channel for it. It was as though he and his beloved Jane wanted to be remembered, not forgotten. That was the message.
The Beefeater went on, shaking his head: “Lady Jane Grey, such a remarkable girl. So much turmoil for such a young life. Lady Jane Grey was married, Queen of England for nine days, and executed – and she was only sixteen years old.”
I was reminded that it was time to write this story recently. A young girl in a grey hooded cape, the collar encrusted with red rubies and garnets, stood transparently buffeted by an invisible breeze at the foot of my bed limned by the light of a full moon. She has done so for many years. She simply smiles.