The Tower of London’s long and gruesome past has inevitably given rise to many stories of creepy encounters with the spirits of famous figures from England’s history. Most of these historical characters met violent and traumatic ends, either by murder or execution, behind the grim walls of the mighty medieval fortress.
The earliest reported ghost sighting at the Tower dates from the 13th century. It tells of how the spirit of Thomas Becket, a former Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered at Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, suddenly materialized and reduced the inner curtain wall to rubble. The then reigning monarch, Henry III, concluded that Thomas’s ghost must have been unhappy with the design and swiftly dedicated a chapel at the Tower to him.
Several of the many towers which comprise the Tower of London complex are said to harbour spirits of their own. In 1471, the weak and ineffectual Henry VI was imprisoned in the Wakefield Tower. He was apparently stabbed to death whilst at prayer and it is said that when the midnight hour is at hand, Henry’s ghost slowly emerges from the walls of the chapel at the Wakefield Tower and wanders around before gradually fading into thin air.
When Edward IV died in 1483, his 12 year old son ascended as Edward V. However before Edward was crowned, he and his younger brother Richard were taken to the Tower on the orders of their uncle, who subsequently was crowned Richard III. Exactly what became of the two boys remains a mystery to this day, although they were most likely murdered in a tower which subsequently came to be known as the Bloody Tower. The sad spirits of the two little princes have supposedly been seen by a variety of witnesses.
Four women were beheaded on Tower Green during the reign of Henry VIII. These included two of the tempestuous monarch’s six wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Sightings of Anne Boleyn have been recorded since at least the 19th century. One account tells of how an officer at the Tower noticed an eerie light emanating from an upper window of the chapel in which Anne’s body is interred. When he went to investigate he saw an astonishing sight inside the chapel: A procession of people in Tudor dress headed by none other than the long dead queen herself!
Lady Jane Grey, the so-called ‘Nine Days Queen’, was beheaded on Tower Green on the order of Mary I (nicknamed ‘Bloody Mary’ for her ruthless treatment of Protestants). Lady Jane’s execution was on February 12, 1554 and an apparition, thought to be the young queen’s ghost, was supposedly sighted on February 12, 1957, the 403rd anniversary of her death. Lady Jane’s ill-fated husband Guildford Dudley was beheaded at Tower Hill on the same day as his wife. Guildford Dudley’s ghost is said to haunt his former cell in the Beauchamp Tower, where he was held prior to his execution.
In the 16th century the Tower acquired a grim reputation as a place of torture and incarceration. It was the long-term home for many famous state prisoners, including the Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, whose ghost has allegedly been sighted in the vicinity of both the Bloody Tower and the Byward Tower.
Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes was taken to the Tower in 1605 after he was discovered in the cellars of the House of Lords with several barrels of gunpowder. The hapless Fawkes was held in a tiny cell known as ‘Little Ease’ and tortured on the rack. Some say that ghostly screams can still occasionally be heard resounding around the dungeons of the White Tower where Fawkes was interrogated.
In the early 1800s, the Keeper of the Crown Jewels and his family were attacked by a weird cylindrical entity in their lodgings at the Martin Tower. Also a sentry subsequently died of shock when confronted by what he described as an apparition resembling a phantom bear. Even to this day, guards on duty at the Tower of London late at night frequently experience odd occurrences and strange phenomena for which they cannot provide any rational explanation.
Ben Wright is an independent scholar and researcher.
Source: Ben Wright