Monday, June 25, 2007

Empress Matilda wuz here

The tower Charles writes about below turns out to be the site of one of the most famous escapes in English history.

When we first visited Tony and Bart, they took us to a little village near Milton Keynes. We were walking down the main street, and there was a sign that said something like "Here in [year a really, really, really long time ago] agents of Richard III captured the young king as he tried to escape" So remember the princes who died in the Tower? Richard III's nephews? Who he probably murdered? Yeah, them. Right there, the elder met his doom. Captured, taken back to London, dead before he reached puberty.

So I guess I knew that history just jumps up here and smacks you. But...

We toured the castle here in Oxford, walking round the existing structure and the streets where the walls used to rise. The first stop on the walk was down by the river, and the tour guide pointed up to a small window in the Saxon/Norman tower.

[The tower was first built by the Saxons in about 1055. The Normans showed up a few years later, and they took it and built it higher in 1071. It survived the turbulent 17th century, only to become a prison in the 18th. Many people died in its central square, hanged or beheaded or burned. Oxford University had the legal right to use the bodies of felons for medical experiments. After they were dead, obvy]

Why was this window significant? Because it was from this window, during the chaotic period when King Stephen and Empress Matilda battled for the throne, that Matilda escaped a seige. It was January, and she had herself lowered from that window, wearing a white cloak, and crept across the frozen river to freedom. Freaky.

So all I have to say about touring England is this: beware. You'll be walking along, thinking about the Krispy Kreme donut you're going to eat in an hour, and Boom! There will be one of the most famous episodes in English history, lounging on the street as if it's just no biggie.

You have been warned.

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