Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Fallen From Grace: The Ghosts of the Tower


During it's long and eventful 900 years, The Tower of London has developed a reputation as being one of the most haunted places in Britain. It has been the scene of beheadings, murders, torture and hangings, as well as being a prison to the noble class.

Thomas A. Becket is the first reported sighting of a ghost at the Tower of London. During the construction on the Inner Curtain Wall, Thomas appeared apparently unhappy about the construction, and it is said he reduced the wall to rubble with a strike of his cross. Henry III’s grandfather was responsible for the death of Thomas Becket, so Henry III wasted no time building a chapel in the Tower of London, naming it for the archbishop. This must have pleased Thomas’ spirit because there were no further interruptions during the construction of the wall.


The Tower of London is reputedly haunted by other famous entities. Anne Boleyn, beheaded in 1536 for treason against Henry VIII, allegedly haunts the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, where she is buried, and has been said to be walking around the White Tower carrying her head under her arm. Other ghosts include Henry VI, Lady Jane Grey, Margaret Pole, and the Princes in the Tower (Prince Edward and Richard).

The Wakefield Tower is haunted by that most tragic of English monarchs, Henry VI, whose weak and ineffectual reign ended here with his murder “in the hour before midnight” on 21st May 1471, as he knelt at prayer. Tradition asserts that the knife with which he was “stikk’d full of deadly holes” was wielded by the Duke of Gloucester (later the infamous Richard III). On the anniversary of his murder, Henry’s mournful wraith is said to appear as the clock ticks towards midnight, and pace fitfully around the interior of the Wakefield Tower until, upon the last stroke of midnight, he fades slowly into the stone and rests peacefully for another year.

A memorial on Tower Green reminds all of those unfortunate souls who have been executed here over the centuries. Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey are both said to return to the vicinity, whilst the ghost of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury and last of the Plantagenets, returns here in a dramatic and alarming fashion. At the age of seventy-two she became an unwitting and undeserving target for Henry VIII’s petty vengeance. Her son, Cardinal Pole had vilified the King’s claim as head of the Church in England. But he was safely ensconced in France and so Henry had his mother brought to the block on 27th May 1541. When told by the executioner to kneel, the spirited old lady refused. “So should traitors do and I am none” she sneered. The executioner raised his axe, took a swing at her and then chased the screaming Countess around the scaffold where he, literally, hacked her to death. The shameful spectacle has been repeated several times on the anniversary of her death, as her screaming phantom continues to be chased throughout eternity by a ghostly executioner.

The Bloody Tower, the very name of which conjures up all manner of gruesome images, is home to the most poignant shades that drift through this dreadful fortress. When Edward 1V died suddenly in April 1483, his twelve year old son was destined to succeed him as Edward V. However, before his coronation could take place, both he and his younger brother, Richard, had been declared illegitimate by Parliament and it was their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester who ascended the throne as Richard III. The boys, meanwhile, had been sent to the Tower of London, ostensibly in preparation for Edward’s Coronation, and were often seen playing happily around the grounds. But then, around June 1483, they mysteriously vanished, and were never seen alive again. It was always assumed, that they had been murdered on Richard’s instructions and their bodies buried, somewhere within the grounds of The Tower. When two skeletons were uncovered beneath a staircase of the White Tower in 1674, they were presumed to be the remains of the two little princes and afforded Royal burial in Westminster Abbey. The whimpering wraiths of the two children, dressed in white nightgowns, and clutching each other in terror have frequently been seen in the dimly lit rooms of their imprisonment.

Sir Walter Raleigh lived quite comfortable compared to others who were imprisoned within the walls of the Bloody Tower. His "rooms" are still furnished as they were in the 16th century, and can be seen when visiting the Tower today. He was executed by James I, and has been seen looking exactly as he does in his portrait hanging in the Bloody Tower.

At one time the Tower of London was home to the Royal Menagerie. Lions, leopards, bears, birds, monkeys and an elephant, that was a gift from the King of France, were kept on exhibit. It was here that a sentry encountered a huge phantom bear, before dying of shock two days after the frightful incident in which he speared the creature with his bayonet, only for the blade to pass right through.

Mr Edmond Lenthal Swift was the Keeper of the Crown Jewels, at the Tower Of London from 1814 to 1842. Mr Swift also encountered a terrifying apparition. It was during the October of 1817 when Edmond settled for an evening meal with his wife, their young son, and sister-in-law in the sitting room of the Jewel House. The room was dimly lit by flickering candles, the adults enjoying a glass of wine to relax, when suddenly Mrs Swift yelped, “Good God, what is that?” It was then that the weird spectre came into view...a figure of sorts, but tubular and the thickness of a man’s arm. The weird spook was hovering ominously above the table, its substance and colour seemingly akin to a thick cloud as it swirled.

The witnesses froze in horror as the thing moved slowly around the table, passing before Edmond and his son, before stopping near the right shoulder of Mrs Swift, when she suddenly screamed, “Oh Christ! It has seized me!”

Mr Swift’s reaction was to immediately approach the form and strike it, but his blow seemed to merely hit the wall. The phantom then eerily floated towards the end of the table before vanishing in the area of the nearby window.

Edmond sprinted upstairs to speak to the nurse who was present, and other people from the tower also rushed to Edmond’s aid, whereupon the shaken Mrs Swift retold the encounter.

Something unseen and terrifying resides is in the Salt Tower. This is one of the most haunted areas of the Tower of London complex. This is a very old section, dogs will not enter this ancient building, and ever since one of the Yeoman Warders was nearly throttled by an unknown force, they will not go in the area after nightfall.


In 1864, a soldier whose post was to guard the Queen’s House at the Tower of London, saw a apparition so real, that after ignoring the soldiers three challenges, he charged with all his might at the intruder with his bayonet, only to go straight through the figure.

He was found unconscious at his post and was court-martialled for neglecting his duty. Luckily there were two witnesses who corroborated his story. The soldier was eventually acquitted.

While imprisoned, Henry VIII's ex-queen Catherine Howard escaped from her room in the Tower. "She ran down the hallway screaming for help and mercy. She was caught and returned to her room." The next day she was beheaded. Her ghost has been seen still running down the hallway screaming for help.

Other strange sightings at the Tower of London have been "Phantom funeral carriages" and “A lovely veiled lady that, upon closer look proves to have a black void where her face should be."

Sources:
haunted-britain.com
londonist.com
guide-to-castles-of-europe.com
mysteriousbritain.co.uk
castles.me.uk
Ghosts of the Tower of London
The Tower of London: Past and Present
Tower of London: England's Ghostly Castle (Castles, Palaces & Tombs)
The White Tower
hrp.org.uk
Allen Brown, Reginald; Curnow, P (1984), "Tower of London, Greater London: Department of the Environment Official Handbook, Her Majesty's Stationary Office"


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The Enduring Ghost of Anne Boleyn

The ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn is quite a unique phenomenon in the world of the paranormal. Unlike most ghost who haunt a certain locality, Queen Anne Boleyn's ghost is said to haunt a number of different locations through out the UK. Her spirit seems to have left a permanent imprint on the fabric of her surroundings, which is perhaps down to the impact she made in life and her traumatic death as to why her ghost still persists more than 500 years after her execution.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of King Henry VIII, with their marriage changing the course of English History. King Henry was already married to Catherine of Aragon and could not obtain a divorce from the Roman Catholic Church. In order to obtain his divorce he therefore created a reformed version of the Church, putting himself at the head - a direct challenge of authority to the Pope.

Having obtained his divorce and married Anne, the King's most important desire was for Anne to conceive a male heir. His previous queen had only given him a female heir, Princess Mary. On 7th September 1533 Anne Boleyn gave birth to a girl, Elizabeth (who was later to become Queen Elizabeth I). After her birth, the relationship between the King and Anne Boleyn deteriorated, and he began to court a new queen in Jane Seymour.

However, Anne became pregnant again, and there was a brief reconciliation, but the child was stillborn. Henry determined to get rid of Anne Boleyn and came up with a charge of treason, arresting and confining her to the Tower of London. Her execution had been scheduled for 18 May 1536 but actually took place the following day as there had been a delay while a skilled executioner was brought in from France.

Queen Anne Boleyn is one of the most enduring ghosts at the Tower of London. Queen Anne is buried under the chapel's altar, with her ghost being spotted there on many occasions. Anne Boleyn has also often been seen standing at the window in the Dean's Cloister at Windsor Castle.

Anne Boleyn's ghost also appears in the grounds of Blickling Hall dressed all in white, seated in a ghostly carriage that is drawn by headless horses, spurred on by a headless coachman. Anne too is headless, holding her severed head securely in her lap. On arrival at Blickling Hall the coach and driver vanish leaving the headless Anne to glide alone into Blickling Hall where she roams the corridors and rooms until daybreak.

The magnificent Blickling Hall was built during the reign of King James I, by the Holbert Family, on the ruins of the old Boleyn family property. Blickling Hall in Norfolk has recently topped a National Trust poll as the Trust's Most Haunted Building. Blickling Hall was in the possession of the Boleyn family between 1499 and 1507. There is a statue and portrait of Anne Boleyn in the Hall, the statue is inscribed "Anna Bolena born here 1507".

Her brother, Lord Rochford, also appears on the same night, he too is headless although he doesn't enjoy the comfort of a carriage, for he is dragged across the surrounding countryside by four headless horses.

Sir Thomas Boleyn, who stated his belief of Anne's guilt at her trial has not found peace in death. Every year, for a thousand years to do as penance, tradition says he is obliged to drive his spectral coach and horses over twelve bridges that lie between Wroxham and Blickling.

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Random House Reader's Circle)

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