Historical Ghosts at the Tower of London
The Best Place to Visit to Witness a Ghost
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Restless Ghosts Revealed
Thomas Becket is the First Ghost on Record
Sir Thomas Becket, once a close friend of Henry II, was made the Archbishop of Canterbury. Later, Henry, furious that Beckett wouldn’t play by his rules, made his anger known. Several loyal knights, thinking that Henry wanted Becket dead, murdered Archbishop Beckett at the Canterbury Cathedral in 1170.
Although killed at Canterbury, his ghost is reportedly one of the first ghosts seen in the Tower of London. It was speculated that his ghost haunted the tower because, at one time, he’d held the title of Constable of the Tower.
The next King, King Henry III, commissioned an inner circle wall. It’s claimed that Becket’s ghost appeared twice during the construction. Allegedly, on both occasions, he touched the newly constructed wall with his cross, causing it to crumble.
Incredibly, more sightings of Becket’s apparition are reportedly seen near his tomb in the eastern crypt of the cathedral. Supposedly, to appease this troublesome ghost, King Henry had a new chapel built in the Tower and named it after Thomas Becket. After this, his ghost stopped appearing at the new wall.
History of The Bloody Tower
The Tower of London is perhaps the oldest historic site in the city of London, England. The place of many executions, horrific torture, and imprisonment, the Tower of London is an obvious location for ghostly activity.
Not surprisingly, the long and bloody history of the Tower earned it its name as the Bloody Tower. The stone structure became the perfect prison for kings to house political prisoners, religious dissidents, and traitors awaiting execution. Imagine languishing in a stark and cold stone cell awaiting a terrible death.
The infamous Tower of London stands on the north side of the River Thames in central London. Built around 1066, as a stronghold by the usurper William the Conqueror, it was never intended to be a prison.
Places of Execution in the Tower of London
In the years that followed, a succession of monarchs added more towers within its confines. In the inner part of the Tower is a grassy area designated for the beheading executions of high nobility.
As befitting their station, executions inside the Tower were a privilege reserved for those of high rank to keep them away from the gawking crowds. Notably, just outside the Tower of London is the notorious Tower Hill located on slightly higher ground just north of the Tower of London moat. Today, a small brick-paved memorial marks the site of the notorious blood-soaked scaffold at Tower Hill.
Tower Hill executions were reserved for the lesser nobility, political prisoners, religious heretics, and traitors. This place is undoubtedly the most infamous of the two execution sites. Moreover, it was open to the public. The beautiful surrounding gardens of today belie the blood-soaked ground and the original purpose of the spot. Beefeater guides love to show these areas to tourists and regale them with gruesome tales of executions.
Executions of Notable Figures in History
These two dismal sites were the places of executions for many notable figures in British History including, Anne Boleyn, Sir Walter Raleigh, Guy Fawkes, George Plantagenet, First Duke of Clarence, the Duke of Northumberland, Cardinal Wolsey, and Lady Jane Grey.
One of the most famous of these prisoners was King Henry the VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. Having failed to give Henry a son, he got tired of Anne and wanted to be free of her to marry his new flame, the lovely Jane Seymour. So, he had his advisors cook up all sorts of foul charges, including an incestuous relationship with her brother, in order to arrest Anne. Of course, she was found guilty.
In the early hours of May 19, 1536, Anne was led to the scaffolding and beheaded. Afterward, Anne Boleyn was ignominiously buried in a communal grave beneath the chancel pavement along with other people executed at the Tower.
The Ghost of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn’s ghost has been seen and recognized numerous times. Her specter is said to haunt not only her place of execution at the Tower Green, but also in several places inside the Tower. One such place is the Queens House facing the Tower Green. However, sources can’t seem to agree about this.
It’s claimed that in 1817, a sentry suffered a heart attack after encountering the apparition of Anne Boleyn on a staircase.
Ghosts of the Tower of London: An Unfortunate Ghostly Encounter
A similar account is even stranger. One evening, in 1864, a sentry standing guard at the Towers’ Queens House noticed the misty white figure of a woman approaching him. She was wearing a Tudor era dress and, over that, a cloak with a hood. However, where her face should have been, there was only an empty dark space.
As sentries are supposed to do, the guard challenged the figure. When it did not respond to his calls and eerily continued moving towards him, the sentry thrust at the figure with his bayonet. What happened next caused him to lose consciousness. The bayonet passed right through the person to his horror, and then a fiery flash moved up his rifle.
Found in this collapsed state, the sentry was court-martialed for falling asleep on his watch. However, he was deemed not guilty when several eyewitnesses told the court that they had also seen the headless woman on Tower Green that night.
One witness, an officer stationed in the Bloody Tower, saw the incident from a window upon hearing the commotion. The officer testified that he saw the sentry thrust his bayonet into the apparition and then saw the figure pass not only through the bayonet, but right through the sentry. His testimony although chilling, saved the sentry from a court martial.
The Ghost of Queen Catherine Howard
The fifth wife of Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, eventually became a prisoner at the Tower of London as well. Conducting an affair behind Henry’s back, she was found out and locked up in her private chambers at Henry’s Hampton Court Palace. Making a desperate attempt to save her life, she escaped her rooms. Racing through what is now known as the Haunted Gallery to the Chapel door, Katherine screamed for Henry to grant her an audience. An immovable Henry ignored her cries and ordered her moved to the Tower of London, where she was subsequently beheaded.
Although not actually haunting the Tower of London, the ghost of Catherine Howard is said to haunt Hampton Court in what’s now called the haunted gallery. Visitors to the palace often hear the screams of a woman.
People claim that the screams are from Catherine’s ghost as she attempts to beg for her life. As visitors enter the gallery, many people claim to feel an eerie presence, icy cold spots, and an unaccountable sadness. Some reports claim that Catherine Howard’s ghost can be seen racing toward the chapel in a white dress with long flowing hair.
An Artist’s Paranormal Experience
As a side note, when the gallery was finally opened to the public by Queen Victoria, an artist was allowed to sketch the period tapestry. Suddenly, he saw a ghostly female hand wearing an intricate ring move in front of the tapestry. Not knowing what else to do, the artist immediately sketched the hand. Later he matched the ring to a portrait of Catherine Howard wearing the exact ring.
The Sad Tale of the Two Princes
In 1483, orphans Edward V, 12, and his younger brother Richard, aged 10, were in line for the English throne. Their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector of the boys, claimed that Edward, the eldest, needed “watching over” until he was old enough to rule. So, he had them placed in the Tower of London. The two princes were often seen playing together in the garden at the Tower and along tower walls.
Not long after, the boys mysteriously vanished from the tower. Rumors circulated that their uncle, who had himself crowned King Richard III, had them murdered.
The story doesn’t end there. In 1674, workers found two small skeletons inside a wooden chest. The assumption was that skeletons belonged to the missing princes. “Restoration King,” Charles II had them reburied in Westminster Abby. In 1933, reexamination of the bones proved that the skeletons were of two boys aged 12 and 10.
Ghostly Sightings of the Princes
Undoubtedly the most tragic of the Tower Ghosts, eyewitnesses commonly report seeing two boys playing on the battlements. Even more chilling are the frequent sound of children giggling in the area where the princes were once held. But, perhaps the most heartbreaking, are stories about apparitions of two young boys wearing nightshirts and holding hands in many rooms of the White Tower. Were the frightened boys holding hands for comfort in the terror in their last moments?
Crown Jewels Spooky Light
Edmund Lenthal Swifte was the trusted Keeper of the Crown Jewels between 1814 and 1852. He lived inside the Tower of London with his family, as did many caretakers. Here’s a startling account of a truly supernatural experience in the Jewel House (now the Martin Tower). That evening, the windows were closed; the curtains were pulled over, and the room was lighted by a couple of candles. His family were seated around a table. Suddenly, something very odd happened. Swifte’s own account of the event.
“It happened on a Saturday night in October, at “about the witching hour.” “My wife looked up and exclaimed, ‘Good God! what is that?’ “I looked up, and saw a cylindrical figure, like a glass tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm. It was hovering between the ceiling and the table: its contents appeared to be a dense fluid, white and pale azure, like… the gathering of a summer cloud, and incessantly rolling and mingling within the cylinder.”
“This lasted for about two minutes. Then it began slowly to move before my sister-in-law; then, following the oblong shape of the table, before my son and myself; passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder. Instantly she crouched down, and with both hands covering her shoulder, she shrieked out, ‘Oh, Christ! it has seized me!’ Then it disappeared.” Even now, while writing, I feel the fresh horror of that moment.”
Was this the ghost of one of the Bloody Tower’s victims searching for their severed head or seeking revenge? Unfortunately, we’ll never know. The event never happened again.
The White Tower White Lady
A wispy figure of a woman in white, appropriately called “The White Lady,” haunts the White Tower. No one is sure who the White Lady is, but an overwhelming smell of a pungent perfume usually announces her presence. Incredibly, the odor is so strong; it has made more than one Tower visitor sick. Also, visitors report being tapped on the shoulder, only to turn around and see nothing but fleeting a wisp of white. Adding to this, some visitors have described a feeling of claustrophobia, and chills running from their neck down their spine.
The Queens House
Lady Arabella Stuart was imprisoned in The Queens House for defying King James I for marrying her great love, William Seymour. Heartbroken, Arabella died there in 1615, having never seen her husband again.
Centuries later, Major General Geoffrey Field was appointed Governor of the Tower in 1994. He relates this story about his wife’s paranormal experience right after moving into The Queens House,
“Soon after we’d arrived, my wife Janice, was making up the bed in the Lennox room when she felt a violent push in her back, which propelled her right out of the room!”
Interestingly, almost every resident of the Queens House has experienced something scary or even life-threatening in that particular room. Several women who’ve slept there have reported being awakened at night with the terrifying feeling of being strangled. However, no ghost apparition accompanies the events.
The Royal Zoo
Not many people know this, but at one time, the Tower was home to many exotic animals and birds. As gifts to various monarchs, these animals were eventually housed in a large secure area called the Royal Menagerie. For some years, a grizzly bear named Martin, even ambled the grounds with courtiers keeping a safe distance. Although gone now, mysterious animal noises have been heard over the years, including cries of monkeys, growls of lions, and neighing of horses, but only one animal has reportedly seen.
In 1816, a Yeomen Warder on night duty saw a ghostly bear near the Martin Tower. Before dying of shock, he claimed the phantom bear charged him. Much like the incident involving the ghost of Anne Boleyn, the guard attempted to bayonet the bear, which kept coming at him; the sword went through the animal. This was too much for the guard, who promptly fainted and was carried to his quarters. He died of shock two days later.
It’s not surprising that countless ghost sightings have occurred over the centuries with the ancient and bloody history of the Tower of London. Restless spirits roam near the sites of bloody scaffolds, the prisoner’s cells, to White Tower, The Queen’s House, and the Martin Tower. If you are ever in London, the Tower of London is a must-visit place, especially if you want to see a ghost.