Rex and the Crown Jewels Robbery / Rex and the Royal Prisoner
by Kate Sheppard
These books introduce young children to two of London’s classic historical sights using kid-friendly adaptations of true stories. Rex travels through time, finding himself in the Tower of London just in time to thwart a robbery and, in a separate adventure, helps a prisoner escape after landing in Hampton Court Palace. Rex may not be the most complex protagonist, but the stories are fun and key spaces in these tourist landmarks are clearly recognizable in the beautiful illustrations.
*Note: These books are not currently in print in the US. They can still be ordered from several reliable UK sellers, but be aware that they’ll likely take a couple of weeks to arrive.
Rex and the Crown Jewels Robbery
Rex and the Crown Jewels Robbery is set in the Tower of London. It recounts a humorous and allegedly true tale about a jewel heist gone wrong. Colonel Thomas Blood and his two accomplices, one of them dressed as a priest, attacked the Jewel Keeper and proceeded to steal the crown jewels. In order to conceal the items, Blood and his men sawed the Royal sceptre in half and hammered the crown flat with a mallet. One of the men decided that the best place to hide the orb was in his trousers!
Rex helps to foil the thieves’ plan and they are brought to King Charles II for sentencing. A surprise ending saves them from the typical fate of Tower residents. Here you can find another depiction of this story on YouTube in the excellent Horrible Histories series. Both parents and young (3-6) children will likely find it amusing!
Given that the Tower is considered by many to be London’s best historical tourist attraction, you’ll want to do what you can to extend their interest and attention there.The first drawing of the inside of the Tower in the year 1671 (when the event took place), shows men, women and children in period dress walking about – and attentive children might spot the ever-present Tower ravens. They might also be able to recognize the specific locations depicted in the illustrations throughout.
The Tower of London was used for many years as the residence of the monarch – and also served as a notorious prison for many well-known inhabitants, including Anne Boleyn (King Henry VIII’s second wife), Sir Walter Raleigh, and Lady Jane Grey. Many of the prisoners weren’t as lucky (or as charming) as Colonel Blood – and met their end with a public execution on Tower Hill – something that the Yeoman Warders will explain to you on the fantastic free tour of the Tower. Be warned, however, that some of the details are gory and may be too much for young ones.
The Crown Jewels, which you will be relieved to learn are under far better security today, can also be viewed at the Tower. The lines are often long, but kids might think they will be worth the wait after reading this story. They can pass the time imagining these spirited thieves trying to conceal the crown, sceptre and orb under their clothes!
Rex and the Royal Prisoner
Rex and the Royal Prisoner is loosely based on the story of Charles I’s escape from imprisonment in 1647, during the English Civil War. All of the action takes place in Hampton Court Palace, which is best known for being the residence of Henry VIII.Rex meets another dog, Rogue, and together the two canines help Charles I escape from his rather posh confines in the palace. Charles then picks up a boat on the bank of the River Thames, and rides to freedom on the Isle of Wight. He was later recaptured – although that detail isn’t covered in the book.
This is a very simple story, but a fun one to read to young (3-6 year old) kids to give them some perspective on a place that they’ll likely enjoy visiting.
Hampton Court Palace is located several miles southwest of London along the Thames. Due to it’s location, it’s not a top tourist destination.- but if you’re in London for several days, it’s worth a visit.. The Historic Royal Palaces Organization does a great job of incorporating activities for kids throughout the palace.
A highlight of Hampton Court Palace for the young ones is likely to be the fantastic shrub maze. It’s small enough to be manageable for kids ages 6 and up but complex enough to give parents a fright when their young ones get out of sight.
The palace offers audio guides that come in both adult and kid versions and are well worth the small fee. Medieval cloaks are also available in the audio guide room, which may help transport your family back in time…or at least will help fend off the chill in the London air. Take special note of the timing of the different character shows that take place throughout the day, which bring the history of Hampton Court Palace to life.
Hampton Court Palace is best known as the primary home of Henry VIII. Henry was a frightening king, who was almost certainly somewhat unhinged. Henry VIII was allegedly the inspiration for King Robert Barathean (from Game of Thrones), and there are undoubtedly some similarities in appearance, heft and temperament. This theme – that Henry was angry, violent and unpredictable, is reinforced as you explore the palace. So effective is this message, that when my kids encountered an actor portraying Henry (the resemblance to the paintings was uncanny), they were practically terrified (although they definitely enjoyed the experience)!
The audio tour will take you through the notable Hampton Court Palace kitchen, depicted in Rex and the Royal Prisoner. Children will likely recognize the huge open fireplace after seeing it in the book.
Hampton Court Palace is off the beaten path, but it’s actually not too hard to get to; – a train ride from London’s Waterloo Station will take about 40 minutes. If you’re planning a trip in advance, be sure to get a “Friends and Family” railcard ahead of time which will save you about 50% on your train fare. You could make a day of it pair this destination with a visit to Kew Gardens, another family-friendly destination which is a short (20 minute) bus ride from Hampton Court Palace, and is also great for kids.