With its rolling hills and numerous royal conquests, there’s no place where history comes alive in such a lush setting as it does in Wales. Everywhere you look, the evidence of kings, queens, conflict and empire call to you. There are more than 600 castles – 641 to be precise – so even without trying you’ll come across a few. Even the country’s young capital has one – right in the heart of the city. Cardiff Castle mixes medieval and Victorian gothic architectural styles to thrilling effect.
These proud battlements are a historical legacy that is testament to a tumultuous past, and to the indomitable spirit of the fighting Welsh – these castles were built for a reason.
When the Romans withdrew, the separate Welsh kingdoms were left to squabble and spar for centuries until the Normans landed in the 11th century. But the Welsh proved unwilling subjects even then. It was not until Edward I – the famous subduer of William “Braveheart” Wallace – launched his war of subjugation two centuries later that Wales finally fell to England’s boot.
Edward consolidated his victory with the impressive castles you can still visit today. Most are in excellent repair, with walls as solid now as when their first stones went in the ground.
Beaumaris – the biggest castle Edward built and a truly imposing military fortress. It is located on the island of Anglesey, separated from mainland Wales by the Menai Strait, which is home to Prince William in his duties as a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot.
William is most intimately connected to the most majestic of the Unesco castles, the stunningly preserved Caernarfon Castle. This is where his father, Prince Charles, was invested as the Prince of Wales – and where, one day, William is likely to follow suit.
God save the queen. And get her a razor for her five o’clock shadow.
The stuntperson who was featured during that showstopping moment in Friday night’s Opening Ceremony when Queen Elizabeth jumped out of a helicopter with James Bond was a better actor than you ever knew. A closer look reveals it was a man dressed as the queen and pulling the cord on the parachute.
Gary Connery, above right, is a 42-year-old stuntperson who has appeared in British television shows and popular movies including the “Indiana Jones” series. He’s a jumping daredevil, having set the record for highest free jump and making close to 1,000 skydives in his career.
Connery was tasked with playing the queen during the ceremony, a role which included jumping out of the helicopter and landing precisely on a nearby bridge and, perhaps more dangerously, wearing a tiara and pearls.
I even watched the CNN footage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee last Sunday, despite all the rain and bad weather. To keep learning about the Jubilee, I found Time Magazine’s special coverage of the event, with more than 25 articles.
As Britain prepares to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year on the throne, the sovereign’s popularity in the United States is at a 15-year high — 82% of Americans say they have a favorable opinion of the queen in a CNN/ORC poll released Friday.
That’s a 35-point jump from 1997, when her favorable rating stood at 47%. That was the year Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. Many Americans and Brits were disappointed in the royal family’s handling of the death of the “people’s princess,” saying the queen didn’t sufficiently reflect her subjects’ sense of loss following the accident.
Since then, however, Queen Elizabeth’s favorable ratings have been on the rise, reaching 75% in 2002 and 80% in 2007.
“Americans love Queen Elizabeth and they think the royal family is a good thing for the people of England, but only one in eight would like to see royalty here in the United States,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.
Prince Philip, the queen’s husband, is not as popular as his wife, though is still viewed favorably by 59% of Americans.