Recently my friend Katie wrote the following comment under my post on Chichester: “I love the photo of the tomb with the couple holding hands. Isn’t it amazing to walk among such history?” Her words inspired me to revisit those places where I’ve come face to face with History while in England.
I recently read The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory. This historical novel is set in the late 15th century and tells the story of Lady Margaret Beaufort and how she helped her son Henry gain the throne of England. Henry VII and his Queen, Lady Elizabeth of York, are buried in Westminster Abbey, in the magnificent Lady Chapel. Not only did I enjoy its wonderful artwork, I also knew about them and that, in a way, helped put a face to the characters from the book.
It’s interesting how even films help you appreciate historical places and events. While in Westminster Abbey, I saw the tomb of Edward I, also known as Edward Longshanks. I told my friend “This is Edward Longshanks!” Blank stare. “You know, the king from Braveheart.” He knew exactly who I was talking about.
Canterbury was a very popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. Thousands flocked to the Cathedral to kneel at the shrine of St Thomas Beckett. The place where he was murdered is marked by a modern altar.
The city and its pilgrims inspired Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (although I haven’t read the book, I saw Chaucer’s tomb in Westminster Abbey.) I visited Eastgate Hospital, where the poorest pilgrims were given a bed and a meal. It helped bring all those pilgrims stories to life. I was surprised to see Edward the Black Prince’s tomb in Canterbury Cathedral too. All those stories of chivalry and battles (Crecy, Poitiers, and so on) came rushing back.
I have to admit that the fact that I can recognise a handful of famous historical figures or know a bit of the history of a place makes me feel a little smug. And a lot like a nerd. The only occasion in which facing History troubled me was when I took a harbour tour in Portsmouth and it took me by surprise.
As we sailed past the naval base, the guide described the characteristics of every vessel, destroyer, and the like docked there. I wasn’t very interested until a name made my ears perk up: HMS Exeter. I remembered that name very well from my childhood. This destroyer was deployed to the Malvinas (Falklands for some) in 1982 to replace HMS Sheffield, which had been sunk by the Argentinean Navy. I was 10 at the time. HMS Exeter appeared in new broadcasts at the time because it shot down Argentinean aircraft.