November 23rd, 2014
I have had some requests to post more frequently and post more about our life in London. I have been wanting to post more often, but with one thing or another, I haven’t gotten around to it. I hope to start having shorter posts about our life in London, neat restaurants we’ve tried, or new areas we have explored interspersed with my longer posts about our travels.
Last Saturday, Stephen and I went to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park which truly was a wonderland! I can’t wait to post about that, but I’m going to wait until I have more photos. Most of mine turned out really dark. There is no way we will stay away for long since it is up until January and only a 15 minute walk from our house, so that post should be up soon!
The next day we were supposed to go to Blenheim Palace, but it was so miserable and rainy that we couldn’t marshall enough internal resources to do the two-hour commute. Instead, we took a 30 minute bus to the Banqueting House since we couldn’t even bear the idea of the 15 minute walk, unacclimated to the cold and spoiled as we are. The bus dropped us off across the street from the Banqueting House and right next to the Royal Horseguard’s Parade, where two splendidly-uniformed guards sat atop two irritable and cantankerous horses while tourists milled about and took photos. Two different signs warned that the horses were prone to biting and kicking, and advised- in italics and capitals, no less!- to BEWARE but no one seemed to pay it any mind, including the tourists who sidled up to take photos, not appearing to care in the slightest about the horse’s particular views on Instagram.
One particular man strode up, bold as could be, stood a few inches from the horse’s mouth, and proceeded to grin and give the camera the thumbs-up sign while the horse was chomping at the bit trying to take a bite out of his temptingly-displayed thumbs. The guard atop the horse was in the unfortunate position of trying to keep control of the now extremely enthusiastic horse throwing its head, gnashing its teeth, and stomping its feet while still keeping a stony, expressionless countenance. I didn’t envy him, I’ll tell ya. While wondering idly what would happen if an ambulance had to be called, the tourist struck a few more poses, and then walked away. (My internal monologue: “Do they come out for things like horse bites, or is that not considered an emergency? Is it only an emergency if the finger is actually severed or does a little chunk count?”).
The horse calmed down immediately, either tremendously sad at not getting an afternoon snack, or tremendously relieved to have those pesky thumbs out of his face. We started to walk towards the crosswalk and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the tourist approach the horse again! Evidently the photo didn’t meet his expectations because went back up, calm as could be, for a second take. I couldn’t decide if the man fell into the exceedingly foolish or astonishingly oblivious camp. Either way, let’s hope he’s not a zookeeper.
We headed across the street to the Banqueting House, which is the only surviving bit of a massive complex that was called the Palace of Whitehall. The Palace was absolutely enormous in scale, reaching all the way from Trafalgar Square to the Palace of Westminster, so the entire length of the road that now bears its name. Today, Whitehall refers not only to the road but also to the government in general since it houses so many government buildings, similar to the way Americans sometimes say “Washington” to refer to our own government.
Cardinal Wolsley, Henry VIII’s most trusted advisor whom he later accused of treason (you really didn’t want to get too close to that guy did you? Who needs enemies when you have friends, right?), owned the palace and built it up quite a bit, until it was one of the biggest and most beautiful palaces in the country. When Henry decided he was a traitor (or needed another scapegoat?), he had charges brought against him, but Wolsley died in route to the proceedings. With that obstacle out of the way, Henry snapped up Whitehall (then called York Place) and Hampton Court Palace, which is a really stunning palace and a super fun day trip that I will have to post about sometime! (Teaser: there are capes and robes involved!).
It wasn’t until James I, a few monarchs later, that the Banqueting Hall was actually added to Whitehall as a space to receive foreign ambassadors. His son, Charles I, commissioned the famous Rubens to paints its ceiling, which is still a stunner to this day. In 1698, the Palace of Whitehall burnt down and all of the enormous complex was lost except the Banqueting House. It is the only part of the once magnificent complex that still stands.
Besides this, the house is also notable for being the site of Charles I’s execution, the first and last of any British monarch. After spending a small fortune beautifying the building and commissioning great works of art to fill it, he was led out of one of its windows onto a scaffold and beheaded in front of a shocked crowd.
The Banqueting House is now a museum and used mainly for black tie events instead of beheadings. But if you’re interested in seeing any bethumbings, I know a place nearby!