Ghost Sightings at the Tower of London

The Tower of London

With a lengthy and violent history, the Tower of London has inevitably acquired a longstanding reputation for the supernatural.

If there is one place that’s likely to be haunted, it’s the Tower of London. With its blood-drenched history of murdered kings and headless queens, languishing prisoners and brutal tortures, it seems somewhat inevitable that this historic fortress would acquire a reputation for being one of the most haunted places in the world. Now a major tourist attraction, the Tower is over nine hundred years old, with its most ancient parts dating back to the reign of William the Conqueror, and ever since those days it has provided the setting for some of the most pivotal events in England’s past.

The Tower’s supernatural side has mainly been experienced by the sentries and their families who have lived and worked there down the ages. Countless reports have been filed detailing strange and inexplicable phenomena. Disembodied footsteps ascend and descend the winding staircases, while shadowy figures flit across gloomy chambers and down long narrow corridors. Foul smells emanate from unidentifiable sources. People are followed by unseen yet sinister presences. Sudden knocks and raps burst forth on ancient doors, while ghostly voices mutter and whisper from behind age-old walls. Anguished screams are said to still ring out from the vault beneath the White Tower, the oldest part of the fortress. It was within this vault where the dreaded torture chamber once stood, and where so many poor unfortunates suffered on the rack and other fiendish contraptions.

Between the 14th and 18th centuries, scores of Tower prisoners were publicly executed on nearby Tower Hill, their remains brought back to the fortress for burial within the Tower chapel, St Peter ad Vincula. One night during the Second World War, a young soldier was witness to an unnerving vision seemingly redolent of those bygone times. He was guarding the Main Gate when he suddenly noticed an oddly dressed group of figures slowly emerge out of the darkness. They were approaching from where the old scaffold once stood, and he could see that they were carrying what looked like a hurdle. When he commanded them to halt they ignored him, and as they drew near, the soldier could see that the figures were wearing medieval clothing and that on the hurdle was a decapitated body. Before the soldier could recover his senses, the whole ghastly procession had faded into the night.

Secrets of the Bloody Tower

The Bloody Tower

Edward V and his brother, Richard of York, apparently haunt the Bloody Tower, where they mysteriously disappeared in 1483.

The minor towers which punctuate the walls of the fortress all have their own grisly little histories. In 1471 Henry VI was stabbed to death in the Wakefield Tower, while only a few years later, the Bowyer Tower provided the doleful backdrop for the Duke of Clarence’s untimely demise, where he was supposedly drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine. However it’s arguably the Bloody Tower that has the blackest history of them all. Built in the 13th century, this tower was originally called the Garden Tower, but owing to its dark past, eventually acquired the more ominous appellation of Bloody Tower. The erstwhile prison for many of England’s most illustrious names, including Archbishop Cranmer, detained here in 1553. Bishops Ridley and Latimer were held here also, and the celebrated Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh spent many years incarcerated within its gloomy confines. In 1585 the 8th Earl of Northumberland committed suicide in the Bloody Tower. Sir Thomas Overbury painfully succumbed to slow poison there, and the notorious Judge Jeffreys drank himself to death whilst locked up within its walls.

Naturally the Bloody Tower is a hotspot for hauntings. Raleigh’s ghost has allegedly been seen about his old confines, as well as in the Byward Tower, while in August 1970 a tourist noticed a mysterious young woman, who she described as having long hair and wearing a black velvet dress and gold pendant. Yet it’s the mysterious fate of the uncrowned Edward V and his younger brother, Richard of York, the so-called “Princes in the Tower”, that has given rise to the Bloody Tower’s most famous ghost story. When their father Edward IV died in 1483, the two boys were sent to the Tower on the orders of their uncle Richard of Gloucester. Housed in an upper chamber of the Bloody Tower, they were frequently witnessed playing in the grounds, then occasionally glimpsed at the windows of their prison, until around July of 1483, they were never seen alive again.

Nobody knows exactly what became of the Princes in the Tower, although it’s generally believed they were murdered in their beds, most likely smothered or stabbed. Richard of Gloucester is the prime suspect. After the disappearance of his nephews, he was subsequently crowned King Richard III, although his guilt is still not conclusive. In 1674 a couple of skeletons were discovered under a staircase in the White Tower and upon examination, it was agreed that they were the earthly remains of Edward and his brother. Ever since the late 15th century there have been reports of their ghosts. One particular account dating from the First World War tells how the daughter of a yeoman warder, whose family lived in the Bloody Tower, encountered two boys in old-fashioned clothing sitting on her bed. They had gone when the girl returned with her parents, although an icy chill pervaded the room.

Odd Occurrences in the Martin Tower

The Martin Tower

Several strange happenings have been reported in and around the Martin Tower, including a bizarre cylindrical apparition and a phantom bear.

Another tower with a reputation for weird phenomena is the Martin Tower. Standing at the north east corner of the inner wall, the Martin Tower held a number of famous prisoners, including the Gunpowder plotter Ambrose Rookwood, and Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, who was also imprisoned on suspicion of being involved with the conspiracy to blow up Parliament and the King. The earl’s ghost supposedly haunts an area known as Northumberland’s Walk, and was sighted by several sentries in the late 1800s.

In 1817 the Martin Tower was home to the Keeper of the Crown Jewels, Edmund Lenthal Swifte. One October night, Swifte and his family were enjoying supper when Swifte’s wife suddenly gasped “Good God, what is that?” According to Swifte’s own account in an 1860 edition of ‘Notes and Queries’, a bizarre manifestation, resembling a glass cylinder filled with a swirling white and pale blue liquid, had suddenly materialized above the table. The strange apparition circled around the table before making for Swifte’s wife, who screamed: “Oh, Christ! it has seized me.” Swifte took up his chair and swung it at the apparition which promptly vanished.

The Martin Tower was also the location of another odd occurrence in the January of 1816. A sentry on guard at the tower was suddenly confronted by a huge black apparation which lumbered out from a door way. He told Edmund Lenthal Swifte that it resembled a giant bear, and that he had lunged at the ‘grizzly’ phantom with his bayonet, only to have the weapon pass straight through it and embed itself in the oaken door behind. According to Swifte, the sentry had been unconscious when he was discovered, and was in a fearful state afterwards. He expired from shock some days later.

Headless Ladies

A number of stately ladies lost their heads on Tower Green, including Queens Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of King Henry VIII respectively. Lady Jane Grey was still a teenager when she was beheaded on 12 February 1554. The so-called ‘Nine Days Queen’ had been executed on the orders of Mary I for high treason. Her young body was consequently interred in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, although her ghost was allegedly witnessed by a guard in 1957, slowly materializing on the battlements of the Salt Tower soon after midnight. He deduced it was the young queen’s spirit as the date he saw the apparition was 12 February.

The Royal Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

Many of those beheaded on Tower Hill were subsequently buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, including the bodies of Anne Boleyn and Lady Jane Grey.

‘Spectre Stricken’ was the pseudonym for the English cleric and spiritualist William Stainton Moses, and it is in his Ghostly Visitors (1882), where the earliest account of a very dramatic, and somewhat fanciful, haunting in the Tower’s chapel originates. One dark night a captain noticed an eerie light emanating from an upper window and ordered a sentry to investigate. The man got a ladder, positioned it against the chapel’s wall, and climbed up. Arriving at the window he peered in, immediately taken aback by the astonishing vision which greeted him. A group of men and women in Tudor garb slowly perambulated within the chapel, and at the head of the procession was a woman who resembled Anne Boleyn. The awestruck sentry watched in amazement before the vision vanished when the whole chapel was suddenly plunged into darkness.

Anne Boleyn’s ghost must qualify as one of the most well-travelled spectres in England, numbering Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, Blickling Hall and Hever Castle, among its many haunts. But it would appear to be the Tower where her spirit has made the most appearances. In 1817, a sentry at the White Tower died from a heart attack after encountering Anne’s ghost on a staircase. The long-dead Tudor Queen was supposedly seen in 1933 as well, when a guard was menaced by a headless woman in Tudor dress. Due to the spot having a spooky reputation, this guard was merely reprimanded.

One of the eeriest of Anne’s appearances occurred on a night in 1864. A young sentry noticed a strange mist near the Queen’s House – the building where the ill-fated consort spent her last days on Earth. As he watched, a mysterious female figure, clad in old fashioned Tudor dress, slowly emerged from the mist. The sentry called out a challenge and the form turned to face him. He recoiled in horror, plunging his bayonet into the figure before passing out. Later he stated that the figure had no head, and that his weapon went straight through it. The sentry was accused before a court-martial, witnessed by a young Field Marshal Lord Grenfell, of being drunk and disorderly, however his story was corroborated by soldiers who observed the strange proceedings from a window in the Bloody Tower.

The Queen's House

The spectre of Anne Boleyn reputedly appeared before a sentry outside the Queen’s House, which is said to be haunted by the ghost of Lady Arbella Stuart.

Finally the Queen’s House itself also has its fair share of supernatural happenings. Besides Anne Boleyn, many other famous historical personalities have been held here over the centuries, including Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess. The house was built in the early 1500s for Henry VIII but later became the official residence of the Tower Governor. In 1978, a guest at the house reported hearing eerie religious chanting around midnight. She enquired about it the next day and was told that no one was playing music at that hour. It is the Lennox Room however, which gives the building its sinister reputation. This room was once the prison of Lady Arbella Stuart, cousin of King James I. She was held here until her death in 1615, where it’s said that she died insane. Apparently this room is noticeably colder than the others in the house and in 1994, the then Governor’s wife was suddenly thrown from it by a violent unseen force. Women are warned not to spend the night in here alone for those that do have often awoken with an intense feeling of being strangled. Some have speculated that the room’s malevolent presence is none other than the ghost of Lady Arbella herself.


Photo Credits:

“Tower of London” by Samspade79
Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“London Tower” by Dirk Ingo Franke
Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“London Tower” by Dirk Ingo Franke
Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“Chapel Royal of St. Peter ad Vincula” by Samuel Taylor Geer
Licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“London tower green” by Dirk Ingo Franke
Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

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