The Tower of London is one of the oldest structures in a very old city and countless people claim to have seen or heard ghosts within its medieval walls. Explanations can be made for some of the incidents but others are so vivid (and often corroborated) that they cause a chill to run up the spine.
Probably the most evocative story involves the two young princes, 12-year-old Edward and 10-year-old Richard, who were said to have been murdered in 1483 on Richard of Gloucester’s orders. Richard was their uncle, and on the disappearance of his nephews, he officially became Richard III.
History has, perhaps unfairly, always laid the blame at Richard’s door, but it is just as likely that his nemesis and successor, Henry VII, had the princes killed in order to ensure he could reign freely, unencumbered by any pesky claimants to the throne. This also meant he could further besmirch the late Richard’s reputation and therefore ennoble his own.
Whatever the case, the outcome was the same: the boys mysteriously vanished, and the site of their suspected deaths became known as the Bloody Tower. Although it is widely believed that it was the princes’ skeletons that were discovered under a staircase in the White Tower in 1674, there is no proof that they belonged to Edward and Richard.
Those who say they’ve seen the princes describe two whimpering boys dressed in white nightgowns, clutching each other in horror at their impending fate. More recently, blogger Darren Mann said he’d received a story from a Coldstream Guard who had served at the Tower in 1990. One night he and a colleague heard what sounded like two youngsters giggling outside the Bloody Tower. Intriguingly, the laughter was interspersed with a bouncing sound which sounded heavier than a ball.
Another sighting revolves around the divisive figure of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, whose execution he ordered in May 1536. Many historians believe the charges of adultery against Anne were invented by Henry’s Machiavellian chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. Anne was unable to produce Henry with a son to secure his dynasty, and she paid a high price by being beheaded on Tower Hill.
Anne was buried under the altar in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, right next to the site of her execution. She spent the days before her death in the timbered building known as the Queen’s House – and this is one of the spots her ghost is said to appear. There are four noteworthy accounts on record of those who have had a brush with Anne’s ghost.
The first occurred in 1817 when a sentry had a fatal heart attack on encountering Anne in the White Tower; he lived just long enough to report what he’d seen. (A variation on this story has it that the sentry saw a bear).
Then, in 1864, a sentry charged at a headless apparition dressed in white in the Queen’s House; his bayonet went straight through the figure and the sentry fainted. He was court-martialled by his commanding officer for dereliction of duty but was reprieved when two colleagues stepped forward on his behalf. There are two versions of what they said: one reports them as having witnessed the incident; the second stipulates that they’d both seen the headless figure previously that night, and that the sentry wasn’t fabricating the story. The sentry was found not guilty.
The third incident was in 1880 when the chapel in which Anne is buried lit up from the inside, prompting an officer of the guard to ask the sentry on duty why he hadn’t investigated it. The sentry declined, so the officer used a ladder in order to find out what was going on. What he saw was startling: the church was packed with people in Tudor dress; at their head was a woman whose face resembled the portraits of Anne Boleyn. Then, everybody vanished, and the lights were extinguished.
Finally, in 1933, there was a report of the headless Anne once again walking into a guard’s extended bayonet. He was so unnerved that he fled his post in terror.
Not all reported ghost sightings at the Tower are of famous victims. In the 1980s, for instance, a ‘beefeater’ was working night shift in the Byward Tower when he saw two ‘beefeaters’ dressed in the uniform of an earlier era. They were puffing on pipes and talking intently but when they noticed their alarmed onlooker, they vanished into thin air.
The stories of ghost sightings at the Tower are endless, and in the case of some of them, it’s difficult to believe that they are exaggerations or the imaginings of a sleep-deprived mind.