The British monarchy has reigned over England for more than a thousand years. During this time, the crown has amassed a treasure chest full of legends. Like all good legends, some may be as tangible as Othello’s ghost, but at their core, these stories serve to teach, inspire, or make us smile. If there’s one thing I learned from my time in London, it’s that the British love their legends.
The holy beggar
A thousand years after Christ, Edward the Confessor, then the King of England, was riding his horse in front a church in Essex when he came across an old man begging for alms. Having no money in his possession, the king removed a large ring from his finger and handed it to the beggar. Years later, two English pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land became stranded, only to be helped by the same old beggar, who introduced himself as St. John the Evangelist and asked them to return the ring to the king, telling them that in six months he would join him in heaven. The king indeed died a short time later and is buried in the church he helped to construct, Westminster Abbey.
A most profitable heist
In the summer of 1671, one of the most daring robberies in the history of England took place at the Tower of London. An Irishman named Colonel Blood disguised himself as a priest, convinced the Jewel House keeper to hand over his pistols, then forced his way into the Jewel House to steal the Crown Jewels of England. Blood flattened St. Edward’s Crown with a mallet to better conceal it, though he was stopped at the gate and arrested. King Charles II was so impressed with the audacity of Blood’s robbery that instead of executing him, he restored his estates in Ireland and even made him a member of the court, complete with a royal pension. I’ve personally always wanted to be a royal court member, though I doubt if the queen would feel the same way as Charles II if I were to borrow her crown for the day.
The talking tree
King George III, who ruled England from 1760 until 1801, was one of the country’s longest reigning monarchs. He was also rumored to have been a bit insane, earning the nickname “Mad King George.” In one legend, King George was seen speaking to a tree for hours, thinking it was the King of Prussia. Towards the end of his life, the king was deemed unfit to rule and lived in seclusion at Windsor Castle. It’s not clear if the King-of-Prussia tree was on the grounds of Windsor Castle, and it’s a shame I couldn’t find it on my visit because it deserves heartfelt thanks for possibly being responsible for giving the poor tactical advice that eventually led to America.