Thursday, May 21, 2015

Off with yer head: The Tower and other adventures in British History

Our intrepid adventurers!

The Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben

Yesterday was our first "proper" day in London. We spent the day touring with a wonderful guide, Edward Foster, who gave us the 10,000 foot look at the city. We drove around the old historic center--or the "City of London" proper and Westminster in the morning. We walked around Parliament Square, by Number 10, and witnessed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Later we zipped out to the Docklands and the Tower of London via a water taxi, having a great conversation about brown field development, urban renewal, and the various beheadings of British subjects. We braved the Tube during Rush Hour, and finished with a delightful Indian meal at one of the oldest curry shops in London.

It was a great start to an adventure, which has already survived a lost cellphone (since recovered), some missing bags, and possible pink eye!

When I was in college, I took modern British history course that was fantastic, but I'll admit, my knowledge of British history was severely tested! It is quite difficult indeed for me to keep straight the various Edwards, Henry's and James' straight.

From a political science perspective, the most interesting thing I learned occurred during our tour of the Tower. In the United States, the presidency wears many hats, including the ceremonial roles associated with the head of state. In the United Kingdom, the Prime Minister exercises the real executive power while the monarchy takes on the role of head of state. Next week, the Queen will address the opening of Parliament and give the Queen's speech, which is basically an outline of the programs and policies the new government will pursue. It is written by the government and is merely delivered by the Queen. The Queen gives the speech in the House of Lords, as she is not allowed to enter the House of Commons.
Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace
When the Queen addresses the chamber, she will be wearing the Imperial Crown, which we saw at the Tower of London. You see, the monarchs have several crowns depending on the occasion. Every monarch wears a coronation crown when they ascend to the throne. That crown is never worn again. The Imperial Crown is worn on state occasions--and, as the tour guide noted, represents "serious bling." Look for yourself.

The Imperial Crown

So, I guess while the presidency metaphorically wears "many hats", the British monarchy literally does!

The London "Egg" or the seat of London's Metropolitan Government
Today, we have our first meeting with a former MP, Frank Dobson and then we are off to check out some Modern Art at the Tate.

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