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See the Crown Jewels and ancient armour at the historic Tower of London

Published: Tuesday 25th of October 2011

London attractions do not get more iconic than the Tower of London, with its rich history and gruesome past making it a favourite with tourists exploring the capital.

Visitors can embark upon a Yeoman Warder Tour, during which they will be regaled by tales of intrigue, imprisonment, execution and torture.

The Yeoman Warders, nicknamed 'Beefeaters', are something of an attraction themselves, with their history dating back as far as the reign of Edward IV (1461-83).

It is believed their nickname is derived from their position in the Royal Bodyguard, which once meant they were allowed to eat as much beef from the king's table as they wanted.

The Beefeaters had a reputation for bad behaviour back in the sixteenth century, when Sir John Peyton, the Lieutenant of the Tower, complained that some individuals were "given to drunckeness, disorders and quarrels".

However, Yeoman Warders are now required to have spent at least 22 years in the armed forces with an honourable record, and today's contingent have served in Northern Ireland, the Falklands War, Bosnia, both Gulf wars and Afghanistan.

The entertaining tours last for around an hour and depart every 30 minutes near the main entrance.

During a visit to the Tower of London, visitors will want to take a closer look at the imposing White Tower, which was originally built to strike fear and submission into the citizens of London as well as to deter foreign invaders.

Visitors to the White Tower have the opportunity to get to grips with olden-day weapons to understand how a knight might have felt in years gone by. They are invited to don a gauntlet, lift a musket, draw a bow and even handle a sword.

Tours of the White Tower educate guests on the stunning Chapel Royal of St John as well as the famous armours of tyrannical monarch Henry VIII.

Those who particularly enjoy learning about the weapons and armours of historical figures should not miss the 'Fit for a King' exhibition.

The display encompasses 500 years of spectacular royal armour, through which viewers can gain a unique insight into the personalities, power and size of England's famous kings.

Monarchs would suit up when engaging in battle, or taking part in a jousting tournament.

Highlights in the exhibition include a set of silvered armour, which was produced around 1515 - possibly being one of the first works produced in the Greenwich royal workshop of Henry VIII.

The decoration celebrates his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, his first queen, and features the happy couple's intertwined initials along with Tudor roses and the pomegranates of her native Spain.

Another breathtaking piece is the presentation armour, which was given as a diplomatic gift to James I by Tokugawa Hidetada of Japan in 1613.

Of course, no trip to the Tower of London would be complete without viewing the spectacular Crown Jewels, which include the crowns of sovereigns, consorts and princes of Wales both past and present.

The greatest working collection of Crown Jewels in the world, visitors should look out for 'in use' signs to see which pieces are currently being employed by the royals.

Sceptres, orbs, rings, swords, spurs, bracelets and robes are all featured in the collection, which contains 23,578 precious jewels in total.

The world's most famous diamonds - the Cullinan I and the Koh-i-Noor - are also featured in the collection.

It is surprising that any of these priceless artefacts remain at the Tower of London, given their turbulent past.

King John is believed to have lost the Crown Jewels in 1216, before Edward III used them as collateral to pay his troops in the fourteenth century.

Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I, then pawned them at the beginning of the Civil War.

After this, Oliver Cromwell ordered them to be broken up in a symbolic destruction of the monarchy.

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Posted by Kevin Smith

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