Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Ghosts at the Tower of London

The Tower of London was begun in 1066 by William the Conqueror to keep his newly conquered capital in subjugation, later serving as the bulwark of London against foreign invaders, a royal palace and as a prison.

One of the most famous of the ghosts at the Tower is that of Anne Boleyn, second queen to King Henry VIII and the first of his wives that he sent to the executioner’s block. Beheaded in 1536 on charges of adultery, which was treason in a queen, Anne was almost certainly innocent. But King Henry wanted her out of the way so that he could marry another woman who he thought had more chance of giving him a son and heir. Anne died with dignity.

Her ghost has returned frequently ever since. She walks with stately step around the small church within the walls of the Tower where she lies buried. One of the most celebrated sightings came in 1864 when a detachment of the 60th Rifle Regiment formed the guard at the Tower. One sentry was found slumped unconscious outside the King’s House, where Anne had been lodged. His officer hauled him off to stand courtmartial for sleeping on duty.

One the day of the trial, the soldier claimed to have fainted after seeing a woman approach him. When he challenged her she made no reply, nor stopped advancing. Presenting his bayonet, the man saw her walk straight through his rifle. At which point he fainted and remembered nothing more until his officer shook him awake. The man was acquitted when two other soldiers came forward to back up his story of the night time spectre. Another guard saw the ghost in 1933, but this soldier did not waste time challenging the apparition. He fled to the guardroom, arriving in a sweat.

Another victim of execution to return in spectral form is Lady Jane Grey. When Protestant King Edward VI died in 1553 there was a succession problem. The obvious heir was his eldest sister Mary, but the Protestants did not want her as she was a Catholic. Next came another sister, Elizabeth, but the Catholics did not want her as she was a Protestant. Third in line was a cousin, Lady Jane Grey, whom nobody wanted very much as monarch, but to whom nobody would much object.

Lady Jane’s father in law, the Duke of Northumberland, hatched a scheme to put her on the throne. However, Princess Mary moved too quickly for him and secured the throne for herself. Northumberland and Lady Jane both went to the block, Lady Jane being only 17 years old. The sad phantom of this lady has been seen on Tower Green.

The Tower is home to other ghosts, including Sir Walter Raleigh, the Princes in the Tower and an assortment of unidentified grey ladies, dark men and others. The final word should go to an officer of the Welsh Guards, one of whose men reported seeing a ghost in 1957. “Speaking for the regiment, our attitude is this: All right, so you say you saw a ghost. This is the Tower of London. Let’s leave it at that.”

This is an extract from the Ghosthunter's Guide to England by Rupert Matthews

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