Since my arrival at Heythrop College about a week ago, I have been very busy viewing sights and experiencing cultural activities in London. I have visited the Tower of London and Parliament. Also, I have seen the play The Mousetrap and even joined in the celebration of Pride Day 2013 in London. Both the Tower of London and Parliament yielded information about the political history of England and our tour of Parliament explained the system of government that is in place here today. The Mousetrap and Pride Day were all experiences that taught me about British lifestyle and also important topics that are important in London society currently.
The Tower of London is an interesting historical site because it is the home of many speculations and scandals in British history. This is the place where the two sons, and therefore princes, of King Edward IV were sent by their uncle Richard III when they were found to be illegitimate sons and mysteriously disappeared. Also, this is the site where King Henry VIII had Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard beheaded. Even the Crown Jewels can be viewed at the Tower of London. The beefeater leading our tour informed us that Edward IV’s sons were sent to the Tower of London by their uncle, who had claimed that they were illegitimate sons of Edward IV. The two boys disappeared forever when Richard III was crowned King. Anne Boleyn and Kathryn Howard were both wives of Henry VIII, who had them beheaded when the Catholic Church was taking too long to let him get a divorce from them. Our beefeater said that Henry the VIII accused them of crimes of adultery. The two were beheaded on the Tower Green. The Crown Jewels were especially interesting to see considering that it is the sixty year anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Before getting to the Crown Jewels, there was a video of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and it was shocking to see how young the Queen was when she first became ruler of the kingdom. The story about the Princes and their mysterious disappearance, the history of Henry VIII’s two beheaded wives, and the view of the Crown Jewels all made it absolutely clear that the Monarchy of Great Britain is a key part of its history. Ultimately, when Kings and Queens still had political power, their power was almost unlimited. It is still a position that allows a status of great wealth. Power was definitely a concern of Richard III who most likely had his nephews killed in order to be made King. Henry VIII also exercised his immense power when he needed an heir to his thrown and wanted a wife who was willing and able to provide one, regardless of how many divorces it took. I am also sure that, though Queen Elizabeth II has no official political power, she still enjoys all of the jewels that adorn her crown, fingers, and even robes.
Our tour of Parliament was led by a very informative guide who was able to tell us the history of the Palace of Westminster as well as inform us of the procedures of Parliament today. He told us that the Palace of Westminster, which is the location of Parliament, actually burned down in the 19th century and had to be rebuilt. I never knew this and couldn’t believe that such an icon of British architecture as well as the home to Big Ben had once burned down. We also learned that Parliament is home to the House of Lords and House of Commons; you will notice the divide between the two when you cross from rooms with red seats, which indicate the House of Lords, to rooms with green seats, which indicate the House of Commons. The public is allowed to sit in on sessions of Parliament. This tour reiterated the British love of the Monarchy, due to the fact that our tour began with a view and brief synopsis of the Queen’s dressing room and her procedural entry into the chamber of the House of Lords. Also, I learned that the British culture is one that sticks to tradition and this can be viewed in the way that the barristers wear wigs or even the fact that there are not enough seats for all of the MPs in the House of Commons and this will likely not change due to tradition. The tradition of the Monarchy as well as governmental procedure are part of the culture of Britain that allows it to remain the same class-oriented society that it was hundreds of years ago.
The Mousetrap is an enjoyable play that is actually the longest running show in London. It is a murder mystery that keeps the audience guessing until the very end. Throughout the play, the murderer kills two women and has his eye on a third, who is the owner of a Bed and Breakfast right outside of London. I was surprised to find out that the murderer was the very person who had portrayed himself as an enforcer of laws and justice. This play oozed with British culture from the information given from an elderly character about the way an inn ought to be run to the types of food that were served and even the types of music and activities that the characters were interested in. It was entertaining to hear the “bloody hell” from the gentleman in front of me when it began to be clear who the murderer was. I would recommend the play to anyone, especially at the low cost of 16 pounds that I purchased my ticket for.
The London Pride Parade was the first Pride Parade I have ever experienced. I really enjoyed all aspects of the parade, including learning about the different support groups for the LGBT community and also being able to celebrate love in all of its forms. The concert was a lot of fun and I especially enjoyed watching a drag queen sing Frank Sinatra; she had a very powerful voice. The parade was very awesome and I really liked seeing the members of the army who identify themselves as gay and lesbian who have probably had to keep their sexual identities and preferences a secret for a very long time. Overall, I was really impressed by the amount of support that the people of London had for the LGBT community.
The Tower of London, Parliament, The Mousetrap, and the Pride Parade all allowed me to absorb a bit of the history and culture of the British people. From government to theatre, the British still have a strong class hierarchy and love of tradition but also an acceptance for modern day issues that affect the people of their community. After these experiences, I have begun to realize the importance of tradition in culture as well as the negative effects of having established traditions that do not yield for efficiency in procedure. So far, I have enjoyed the British culture and caught myself trying to mock the language and lifestyles of this sophisticated group of people.