Travel like a history nerd

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.

Eastgate Pilgim's Hospital. The pilgrims slept in the undercroft.

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.

Altar marking the spot of Thomas Becket's martyrdom

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.

Edward the Black Prince

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.

HMS Exeter is the one on the far left

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14 responses to “Travel like a history nerd

  1. Very nice post. England is so full of history everywhere you turn. Though for you as an Argentinian, seeing the HMS Exeter must have been a somewhat disquieting experience, I imagine …

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    • Hi Sophie. It’s difficult to explain. I have no hard feelings (in fact, I married a Brit!) but still, seeing that ship and hearing the story brought back memories of that time. And I deplore the terrible loss of young lives on both sides.

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  2. I’m glad my comment served as inspiration. :)

    “It’s interesting how even films help you appreciate historical places and events.”

    I’ve picked up quite a bit of history from the movies. While we shouldn’t rely purely on the Hollywood version of events to teach us about the past, I know movies often pique my interest in a period of history that I may otherwise never would’ve studied or read about. For example, I recently saw “The King’s Speech,” an excellent movie that taught me a lot about King George VI, whom I knew nothing about previously. In fact, I even read more about his life after seeing the film.

    Your experience at the naval base struck me as interesting. For better or worse, you made a connection with history during your visit – it wasn’t just a bunch of ships docked at some naval installation.

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    • If I’m not mistaken, there is (or was) a TV show that compared historical events with their Hollywood version. Films are to be taken with a pinch of salt but, as you say, you do learn things from them.
      You’re right: seeing HMS Exeter gave the visit a different perspective for me.

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  3. I loved walking through Westminster Abbey and seeing all those famous writers and poets names (along with the kings and queens) – it is a strange feeling seeing them as tombs but seeing inscriptions, decorations etc somehow gives a little of their character.

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  4. Your post reminded me of a scene from the film: “Clueless”! :D (very profound…) There’s this rather shallow girl, the main character (Alicia Silverstone) and she quotes Hamlet for her friends. Her more brainy brother, impressed, corrrects her about either the words of the scene in Shakespeare’s play by remarking at the end, “trust me, I know my Shakespeare”; to which she replies, “trust me, I know my Mel Gibson!” :D

    IT is indeed fantastic to walk among such grand historic monuments. I remember while visiting Hampton Court Palace with a group once, I was talking about King Henry VIII and his wives, thinking that the girls might be interested in the story (I was practising for my diploma). We were standing just at the door of the King’s chapel and i started explaining how the king had been at prayer when Queen Catherine (Howard) burst in to beg for her life and was dragged away in tears…. Suddenly, we hear someone screaming down the passage, we turned around, and there she was, Catherine Howard herself, coming towards us asking for mercy! :D She was an actress in full costume, of course – but she gave us quite a fright!!

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    • I can only imagine the fright! Something similar happened to a friend f mine: she was having a picnic in the gardens when she looked up and saw Henry VIII! It was and actor too, they were shooting a film there.

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    • The HMS Westminster, which I served on, was used in the James Bond film ‘Tomorrow never dies’ for all the shots of the vaurios Type 23’s in film. I was not aware of that. Tomorrow Never Dies is my favorite Bond film and I knew that they had cooperation from the Royal Navy but I didn’t know which ship was used. Thanks for that info.Now, being an American, I think that the U.S. Navy is the best in the world but you guys across the pond do have some beautiful ships. I do have a question though. Here in the US, the Navy has a lot of cruisers and destroyers that help provide the backbone of the US Surface Fleet. I went to the Royal Navy website and I noticed that your Navy doesn’t have any cruisers and, based on the info I could find, only a handful of destroyers. Does the Royal Navy rely more on Frigates than its destroyers and, if so, why is this case?

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