Friday, February 10, 2012

This Day in History -- Catherine Howard

Four hundred seventy years ago today, young Catherine Howard was taken to the Tower of London.  She was no longer queen, as her titles and possessions had been stripped by an Act of Attainder earlier in the month.  She was just a girl, convicted of treason, taken to the Tower to die.  We don't know exactly how old she was, because her birthdate was never recorded.  She was somewhere between seventeen and twenty-two.

The stories say that Catherine was moved from Syon to the Tower by a barge that "shot the waters" that rushed under London Bridge.  When she saw the water gate (now called Traitors' Gate), she began to cry, and had to be hauled from the boat and into her lodgings.

Catherine wasn't the first queen in English history to enter the Tower through Traitors' Gate.  And she wasn't the last.

Before I started writing GILT -- back when this novel was just an idea -- I wandered alone through the Tower to get a sense of it.  To try to see it as it might have looked in 1542.  The Tower is probably as crowded now as it was then -- only these days with people carrying cell phones and long-lens cameras, and speaking languages from all over the planet.  But I don't think it's as forbidding.  Today, the Tower feels like history.  Back then, it must have felt like obliteration.

Traitors' Gate brought this side history home for me.  The sharp points at the bottom of the portcullis.  The slick stairs leading up from the river.  No wonder Catherine cried.

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