The Great Britain and Irish branch of the Union Corps San Lazare International at the Tower of London (June 2012)
On the evening of 29th June 2012, members of the Union CSLI GB&I joined members of the British Association of Chevaliers of the Order of Saint Stanislas in a private tour of the famous Tower of London. The evening was both a fund-raising event and a social get-together for members of the two organisations. The Union Corps San Lazare International forms part of the United Grand Priories and has excellent working relations with the British Association of Chevaliers of the Order of Saint Stanislas.
The host for this event, Yeoman Warder Dave Phillips MMLJ, part of whose 'day job' is guiding visitors to the historic site, ensured that the evening was both educational and great fun. Dave began with a brief description of the buildings and walls of the Tower and his confident delivery and probing questions soon revealed his background as a senior Warrant Officer in the British Army.
The group were professionally and enthusiastically lectured on various historical anecdotes related to the Tower; that the central 'White Tower', home of British Monarchs for 700 years, was begun in 1078; that there are actually 20 towers in The Tower of London; that the Yeoman Warders, or 'Beefeaters' have been guarding the tower for 900 years; and gory details of various historic executions.
As Dave explained, for centuries traitors and other important prisoners were held in the Tower. The unfortunate ones like Sir, now Saint, Thomas Moore, who refused to accept King Henry VIII as head of the English Church and Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up our Parliament, ended their lives at a public execution. Dave’s vivid description of the five axe blows it took to behead the Duke of Monmouth in 1685 while he writhed, screamed, and moaned on the scaffold certainly was quite a vivid analysis and kept the audience spellbound.
The tour of the Tower grounds ended at The Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula where the execution theme continued. The group learned that the bodies of three Queens of England Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Jane Grey, and two saints of the Roman Catholic Church, Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, are buried here.
On a less macabre note, the Chapel also contains monuments that commemorate previous officers and residents of the Tower, including The Duke of Wellington who held the appointment of Constable of theTower of London for 26 years.
At this point the group retired to the Yeoman Warders' Club for an eagerly awaited drink or two and a delicious supper before the second treat of the evening - witnessing the ancient Ceremony of the Keys.
Just before 10 o'clock, as has happened every night for over 600 years, the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower, carrying the keys to the main gates of the Tower and escorted by four soldiers of the Palace Guard, locks the outer and middle gates of the Tower.
On his return the Chief Yeoman Warder is challenged by an armed sentry with the words:
"Halt, who comes there?"
"The Keys!" he answers.
"Whose Keys?" asks the sentry
"Queen Elizabeth's Keys" replies the Chief Warder.
"Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys." says the sentry, "and all's well."
The Chief Warder and escort then march through the Bloody Tower archway and up towards the Broadwalk Steps where the Main Guard is drawn up. There the Chief Warder calls "God preserve Queen Elizabeth" and the Guard replies "Amen." The ancient ceremony ends with The Last Post sounded on a bugle.
This wasn't the end of the evening, however, as the group returned to the Yeoman Warders' Club for further refreshment and drawing of the raffle. Proceeds from this and booking donations for the evening totalled over 850 GBP which, appropriately in the light of the wonderfully historic evening, was donated to The Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula appeal.