Chapter 6: London
Worldly, Regal London (Politely) Asks for Your Attention
It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire…
It was the world’s first true global powerhouse. From the British Isles to the Americas, Africa, India and Hong Kong, Great Britain was virtually limitless. As its influence spread across the globe, it absorbed not only power, but also the culture and spoils of every place rolled into its empire. Tobacco, tea, spices and jewels – everything that belonged to the world eventually belonged to Britain.
Time has changed some things, but not everything. It’s been nearly a century since Britain’s heyday, but the sun still hasn’t set on the United Kingdom (thanks to the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, population 49, estimated 2016). Despite Britain’s decision to pull out of the European Union, its capital city is still the nexus of global finance and world order.
Is London the most important city in the world right now? It’s possible. In a way, the many cultures across the globe that came into Britain’s dominion are what make London the complex modern power center it is today.
But to say it’s the most important city the world has ever known? Hardly a stretch.
London is where the English language as we know it sprang to life… where the words of Shakespeare were first interpreted on the stage… where the world’s most valuable gold market was forged… where some of history’s most powerful and famous monarchs were crowned…
To say London has history is like saying the ocean has water. But like the Mariana Trench, it’s dizzying to dive down and see just how deep London’s history goes… so deep that the lines between antiquity and legend become blurred…
Legend Has It
According to Historia Regum Britanniae, London was founded in the 11th century B.C. by Brutus of Troy, after he defeated a giant called Gogmagog. In triumph, Brutus lent his name to the island, Britain, and to the town, which he called New Troy. Sometime later, the Welsh king Lud renamed it Caer Ludein.
But we don’t know either of these things for sure…
What we do know is that Londinium, as the ancient Romans called it, was an important commercial port, linking Britain to other cities on the European continent as early as the first century A.D. As the Roman Empire fell apart, so did Londinium, and it was abandoned sometime in the fifth century. The London Wall built during this era still stands in the Tower Hill section of the city’s East End.
Not everyone agrees exactly when people began to live in London again. But most agree Britain changed forever with the arrival of William the Conqueror during the Norman Invasion of 1066. A more formal structure of government, a linguistic revolution and a transformation of society set in motion the emergence of a global juggernaut.
And so began the London we’re acquainted with from history lessons and movies: the kings, the queens, the peasants, the poets, the merchants, the empire that expanded without bounds… until it drifted into the background.
What the Empire Brought Back
The British Empire didn’t disappear overnight… in fact, it never really went away.
Today, the U.K. is the fourth most powerful country in the world. Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace continue to stand as timeless symbols of nobility and prestige. And there are few addresses on Earth that command more respect than 10 Downing or Threadneedle Street.
But aside from military, political and commercial might, the British Empire lives on through the cultural preeminence of London. And that comes from its diversity.
Consider, for example, the food of London. The first two dishes that come to my mind are tikka masala and jerk chicken. They are about as “typical London” as tea. And yet, neither dish is from there.
Then again, neither is tea.
This begs the question, what things about London are actually the city’s own?
Is it really just Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster? What about the Royal Albert Hall? So many of the legendary concerts there have been put on by artists from across the pond or across the continent…
The Tate Gallery? It doesn’t get more British than that… until you consider that it’s the home of some of the finest contemporary artwork from across the world…
From where I’m standing, the cultural mosaic of London makes its “classic” institutions stand even taller. The city has evolved over time, yet it maintains its Old World wisdom and charm… as well as the prestige and grace of an empire-maker.
The closer you look, the clearer it becomes: London doesn’t ask for your attention so much as it commands it.
P.S. The Oxford Club is hosting a Financial Discovery Tour of London this October 4-8, 2017. Guests will be treated to the finest London has to offer, including a private after-hours tour of the Tate Gallery and a private yacht tour of the Thames.
The Oxford Club Financial Discovery Tour will feature talks from financial experts such as Charlie Morris, director of The Fleet Street Letter, Tim Price, manager of the VT Price Value Portfolio, and Robert Vrijhof, head of the portfolio group at Weber Hartmann Vrijhof & Partners Ltd., as well as The Oxford Club’s own Chief Investment Strategist, Alexander Green. There is an option to attend the seminar and luncheons only, as well as an option to visit Scotland. To get more information and to register, please click here or call Karoline Bowman at AESU Travel at 800.638.7640, ext. 113 or 410.366.5494, ext. 113. You can also email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.