The Ghosts of the Tower of London
About the Tower of London
The Tower of London has been a major landmark on the skyline of the city of London since the eleventh century. The construction of the Tower of London begun in 1078 by William the Conqueror as a symbol of his power and as a tool to subdue any of his conquered people who might be tempted to rebel against him.
Successive English monarchs continued adding to the Tower of London and it became a luxurious royal palace, the home of the Crown Jewels and the Royal Mint and housed a menagerie of exotic wild animals owned by the King. But it is as a prison for traitors and enemies of the crown that the Tower of London is most remembered for, and few who entered by Traitors Gate were fortunate enough to return to the freedom of the world outside.
More frequently their last glimpse of the sun and the world they were leaving behind came as they were waiting on the scaffold for the axe to fall. So perhaps it is not surprising that the Tower of London’s long and bloody history has lead it to become known as one of the most haunted buildings in Great Britain.
When Did the Hauntings Start?
The first reported sighting of a ghost in the Tower of London was during the time of Henry III when some workmen were constructing the Inner Curtain Wall. The very angry ghost of St. Thomas Beckett, the murdered Archbishop of Canterbury, suddenly appeared and smote the new wall with his cross and reduced it to a heap of rubble. King Henry III was very concerned by this apparition, as St. Thomas had been murdered by followers of his grandfather King Henry II. After pondering on how best to appease the angry ghost, he decided to build a chapel to St. Thomas a Beckett within the walls of the Tower of London, and luckily the archbishop’s angry ghost has never been seen again.
Ghosts of Tower Green
Tower Green was where the privileged few were executed, away from the jeering crowds of Londoners who gathered there to watch the executions of traitors and criminals. Many of those who were executed on Tower Green were women, including several queens. Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey all met their deaths on the scaffold on Tower Green, and their tragic ghosts are said to regularly return to the spot where they met their end.
Anne Boleyn’s ghost is spotted wandering headless through the passages of the Tower of London, and in 1864 a guard is said to have challenged her headless apparition, but fainted away when his bayonet went straight through her. Anne Boleyn has also been seen leading a procession of Lords and Ladies down the aisle of the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula towards her final resting place under the altar.
Lady Jane Grey’s ghost was seen in 1957 on the anniversary of her death by two of the guards who described her as a white shape that formed on the battlements. The wraith of her young husband, Guilford Dudley has also been sighted crying in the Beauchamp Tower.
The 72 year old Countess of Salisbury was executed on Tower Green in 1541, but reputedly refused to lay her head on the block and was hacked to death by the executioner. Her ghost is supposed to return to Tower Green on the anniversary of her death and re-enact her grisly end, being chased around the scaffold by an axe-wielding executioner for eternity.
Ghosts of the White Tower
The massive bulk of the White Tower is one of the oldest parts of the Tower of London, and prisoners were once tortured in its basement. The ancient passageways of the White Tower are supposedly haunted by the apparition of a White Lady, who was once spotted waving at a group of children in the building opposite.
Also in the White Tower, guards at the entrance to St John’s Chapel have complained about being suddenly engulfed in the stench of cheap perfume that comes out of nowhere and is so strong that it made them gag and feel sick. In the gallery, where Henry VIII’s armour stands, guards have reported that a terrible crushing sensation suddenly overcomes them and does not lift until they manage to stumble out of the room.
One night a guard who was patrolling the White Tower felt as though a heavy cloak had been thrown over him, and he then felt as though it was being pulled from behind him by a phantom assailant and tightened around his neck. The guard managed to fight free of his invisible bonds and when he managed to escape back to the guardroom his colleagues could see that he had marks on his neck that fitted his ghostly tale of terror.
Ghosts of the Bloody Tower
The Bloody Tower is home to the phantoms of the poor little Princes in the Tower. On the death of their father, King Edward IV, they were sent to the Tower to await the coronation of the eldest boy as King Edward V. However, during their stay at the Tower of London, their uncle, Richard III, seized the crown of England and the two boys mysteriously disappeared.
Many rumours circulated about the ultimate fate of the princes and in 1674 two skeletons were discovered in the White Tower, which were believed to be those of the two murdered children. Tradition has it that, in the rooms where they lived in the Bloody Tower, the ghosts of two young boys in white nightgowns are seen crying and holding onto each other in fright. Several witnesses of these sad apparitions have tried to comfort the children, but were overcome with fright when the children backed up against the wall and slowly disappeared into its stones.
Other Tower of London Ghosts
The weak, ineffectual monarch Henry VI was murdered in the Wakefield Tower towards midnight on the night of May 21st, 1471, supposedly as he knelt at his prayers. It is believed that the knife that killed him was wielded by the then Duke of Gloucester who went on to be crowned as King Richard III. Every year on the anniversary of his death, Henry VI’s ghost is said to appear just before midnight and wander mournfully around the Wakefield Tower, only disappearing when the last chimes of the clock ringing out midnight have faded away.
The elegant phantom of Sir Walter Raleigh has been sighted several times by guards on duty in the Byward Tower, wandering around the rooms where he was incarcerated for several years in the early seventeenth century.
In 1817 the keeper of the Crown Jewels was having dinner with his family in their rooms in the Martin Tower. His wife suddenly cried out and he turned to see a strange object resembling a glass tube containing what appeared to be an effervescing blue liquid floating in the air beyond the dining table.
This strange cylindrical object then started floating around the room and came to hover behind his wife. She cried out that it was trying to grab her, so he threw a chair at the object, but the chair went straight through it without causing any damage. The spooky object then faded into the background and disappeared.
Ghost from the Royal Menagerie!
The Tower of London used to be the home of the Royal Menagerie, where the English monarchs kept lions, leopards, monkeys, bears and at one time even an elephant. So it is only fitting that there is also a story of a ghostly animal in the Tower of London. On one January night in 1815 one of the guards saw a bear coming out of a doorway from the Jewel Room. He thrust his bayonet at the huge animal and was astonished when the bayonet went straight through the phantom without hitting solid flesh or causing any damage. The guard was found later in a state of unconsciousness and was said to have died of fright less than two months later.
So do you dare to explore the Tower of London, wander around Tower Green where so many met their deaths from an executioner’s axe, or read the sad graffiti carved by the prisoners who knew that they were condemned to die? On a late autumn afternoon, when the sun is already going down, a chill breeze is blowing off the river and the mist is beginning to drift above the grass, the Tower of London is a very atmospheric and sinister place to be. You can readily believe that the ghosts of those who lost their lives so many years ago, still walk its passageways and battlements in the dark, dead of the night. Do you dare?
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