Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Tower of London

The haunted Tower of London must qualify as the mother of haunted castles. There are many London ghosts of famous people in residence plus a plethora of anonymous apparitions.

Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the proper name for the Tower of London, is situated on the north bank of the River Thames in the middle of London, England. It was founded in late 1066. The White Tower, which gave the name to the entire castle, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. Although it was not built to be a prison, the castle had been used as one since 1100.

Tower of London

Photo 1 of Tower of London by Howard Bolton ©

Tower of London Ghosts of Thomas Becket

Thomas A. Becket was the first ghost sighted at the Tower of London. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until he was murdered in 1170. While the Inner Curtain Wall was being built, his ghost appeared, looking unhappy. It was said he struck the wall with his cross and it crumbled into rubble. Henry III was the reigning monarch. His grandfather was instrumental in the untimely demise of the archbishop. Henry III tried to set things right by building a chapel in honor of Thomas A. Becket. Apparently, he did the right thing because the ghost did not appear any more.

Many people had been executed at the Tower of London. Some of them insisted on remaining in the vicinity of where they breathed their last. One such persistent phantom as Anne Boleyn.

Tower of London Haunting of Anne Boleyn

She was the second wife and queen consort of Henry VIII. She was also the mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Such credentials notwithstanding, she was shortlisted for the chopping block on May 19, 1536. The charges laid against her included adultery and treason. Before she went for the final walk, she left behind a poem written in the Tower of London.

Oh Death

Rock me asleep

Bring on my quiet rest

Let pass my very guiltless ghost

Out of my careful breast

Ring out the doleful knell

Let it sound

My death tell

For I must die.”

Tower of London

Photo 2 of Tower of London - Courtesy of Anthony McCartney

Apparently she didn’t quite intend to rest in peace. Her ghost was said to be the most traveled specter with sightings recorded in many places far away from the Tower of London.

In the Tower of London, a number of people had unpleasant meetings with the ghost of Anne Boleyn. In 1817, a sentry met her on a stairway. His heart could not take the shock and he joined her on the other side. In 1864, another soldier came upon her and fainted straightaway. He was court-martialed for falling asleep at his post. During his trial, he described his meeting with the late queen he met lately,

“It was the figure of a woman wearing a queer-looking bonnet, but there wasn’t no head inside the bonnet.”

Fortunately for the soldier, there were many witnesses who came forward to testify on his behalf, having met the same headless phantom on the evening in question. So he was acquitted.

In 1933, Anne Boleyn walked right into a guardsman’s bayonet scaring the living daylights out of him. Her headless ghost was in the habit of strolling around the corridors of the White Tower, going from the Queen’s House to the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula. Inside the chapel, she would walk down the aisle to her grave under the altar. Sometimes, she led a procession of ghostly knights and ladies. At such times, she was seen with her head in the right place. When she was sighted riding a coach to Blickling Hall, she had her head on her lap.

If this apparition seemed rather grisly, it was actually rather tame compared to sightings of the ghost of the Countess of Salisbury.

The Ghost of the Countess of Salisbury

Lady Margaret Pole, the eighth Countess of Salisbury was 70 years old when she was executed in the Tower of London, giving her the dubious distinction of being one of the oldest persons to meet their bloody end on the sharp edge of an executioner’s ax. In her case, it was an extraordinarily bloody end indeed.

On the morning of May 27,1541, she was told to lay her head on the block. Instead of complying, she challenged the executioner to take her head where she stood. The man in the hood on that day was young and inexperienced. Even with two guards holding her down, he missed his mark. The first stroke fell on her shoulder. Blood streaming from her wound, she ran screaming around the scaffold with the inept axeman running after her hacking away any old way he could. It took eleven swings before he could cut her down. It must have been a horrific spectacle, with blood splattered all over the place.

On the night of the anniversary of her execution, the ghost of the Countess was said to have come back to re-enact the gory events of that day. Her ghost would run around the Tower Green, blood spurting from her many wounds, with her phantom executioner forever damned to swing his ineffective ax after her.

Not all the ghosts of the Tower of London make such appalling appearances. Some invoke feelings of pity rather than horror. Two such ghosts were that of the two little princes in the tower.

The Ghosts of the two little Princes

The two little princes were Edward V and his younger brother Richard, the Duke of York. Edward V was the firstborn of Edward IV. When his father died on April 9, 1493, he was the first in line to ascend the throne. Two months later, while waiting in the Tower of London for his coronation, he disappeared together with his brother, Richard. So what happened?

Edward was only thirteen at that time. As a minor, his worldly affairs were entrusted to his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester. This Richard had his own designs on the throne. So, on June 25, 1483, the two little princes were declared illegitimate. Guess who was the next in line? None other than Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was then crowned King Richard III. His reign was short lived but that’s another story.

The two little princes were never seen alive again. In 1674, two skeletons were discovered in the White Tower under the stairs leading to the chapel. They were believed to be the mortal remains of the two little princes. In 1933, a forensic examination was done on the bones but the results were inconclusive.

Perhaps it was this unsatisfactory conclusion to their tale that kept the two little princes still wandering around the Tower of London. Witnesses have reported sighting two ghostly children dressed in white gowns and holding onto each other in terror. Their whimpers of fears evoked feelings of pity rather than horror. When the witnesses reached out to console them, the sorry specters would back away against the wall and fade into the fabric.

Perhaps when you visit the Tower of London, it would be a good idea not to lean against the walls. Who knows which London ghosts might just be ensconced there at the moment?

More stories of ghosts haunting the Tower of London can be found in the second part of Tower of London Haunted.

Photo 1 by Howard Bolton
Photo 2 by Anthony McCartney

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