The Ghosts and Hauntings of Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court Palace

Three of Henry VIII’s six wives are said to haunt Hampton Court Palace, along with many other ghosts.

With a wealth of supernatural phenomena, Hampton Court Palace is generally regarded as one of the most haunted buildings in Europe. Reports of strange and unexplained occurrences at this enormous Tudor palace date back centuries, and some of the phantoms have even been captured on film.

Standing on the north bank of the River Thames in the county of Surrey, Hampton Court Palace was built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1515 as a luxurious residence as well as a means to show off his prosperity. The cardinal later fell out of favour with the reigning monarch, Henry VIII, and relinquished his magnificent palace to the king in order to appease him. Henry subsequently made Hampton Court his official London residence, although Wolsey’s ghost is said to still haunt his old home. The long-dead cardinal was apparently spotted in 1966, standing under an archway.

After the death of Henry VIII, Hampton Court remained popular with successive monarchs, and also Oliver Cromwell, who used the palace as a weekend retreat during his reign as Lord Protector. In the late 17th century, William III embarked on an extensive redevelopment project at the palace, employing the renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed Fountain Court on the building’s south front.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who built Hampton Court in 1515, is one of the palace’s famous ghosts.

The ‘Lady in Grey’ is one of the many famous phantoms said to haunt Hampton Court, and she has been sighted by a wide variety of witnesses. A family by the name of Ponsonby, who had rooms at the palace in the mid-1800s, slowly became aware of odd noises emanating from behind their walls. They could hear what sounded like a spinning-wheel, accompanied by the voice of an elderly woman muttering to herself. The sounds grew more continuous, and after an investigation, a sealed chamber was uncovered. When the family opened up the chamber they found, amongst other paraphernalia, an old 16th century spinning-wheel. Soon after these discoveries, a number of sentries at the palace started to report witnessing an elderly woman in a long grey robe and hood.

So who exactly is this mysterious Grey Lady? Well she is generally believed to be the spirit of Dame Sybil Penn. In life she had been the foster-mother of Edward VI, and had been granted rooms at Hampton Court where she lived until her death from smallpox in 1562. She was buried at nearby St Mary’s Church. One notable witness who bumped into Dame Sybil’s ghost was Princess Frederica of Hanover, who lived at the palace in the late 19th century, and her description of the spectre matches those given by the sentries. Much more recently, a schoolgirl snapped a photo of her cousin while they visited the palace earlier this year. The photo showed a tall grey figure, thought by some to be the ghost of none other than Dame Sybil Penn.

Lady Hildyard, a resident at Hampton Court in the mid-1800s, complained that she was troubled by two invisible spirits. However the hauntings ceased when workmen unearthed a couple of bodies under the cloister at Fountain Court. Lady Hildyard believed they were the remains of Cavaliers killed during the Civil War. Another bizarre incident befell a policeman at the palace in February 1907. He was standing guard at the main gates when he caught sight of a small party of men and women in evening dress slowly ambling towards him. They were coming along Ditton Walk, and as they drew near, he could hear the sounds of the ladies silks rustling in the gentle night breeze. However when the policeman went to admit them, he came over very faint as the whole group suddenly dissolved into thin air.

Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour died at the palace in 1537, soon after giving birth to the future Edward VI.

Anne Boleyn was the ill-starred second wife of Henry VIII. After she was unable to provide the king with his much sought-after male heir, he had her beheaded at the Tower of London on a number of trumped up charges. Her ghost was sighted by several servants in the late 1800s. She was described as wearing a blue dress and doleful expression (although her head appeared intact!) Besides Hampton Court, Anne’s ghost is said to still visit a number of locations, including her childhood home of Hever Castle, and also the Tower.

Unlike Anne Boleyn, Henry’s third wife Jane Seymour was actually able to provide the tempestuous monarch with a legitimate male heir, with the future Edward VI being born at the palace in 1537. Unfortunately Jane passed away from postnatal complications, and her ghost is said to haunt the place of her untimely demise. A woman in a long white dress who carries a lighted candle, has occasionally been witnessed gliding along Silver Stick Gallery and around Clock Court. She is thought by some to be the spirit of the long-dead queen.

Catherine Howard was Anne Boleyn’s first cousin and still a teenager when she married Henry VIII in 1540. Blessed with beautiful looks but little in the way of brains, Queen Catherine soon tired of the aging corpulent king, instead preferring the company of Thomas Culpeper, an attractive young courtier much closer to her age. It wasn’t long however before gossips started to spread malicious rumours about the two of them, and when it was discovered that Catherine had already had pre-marital relations with a man called Francis Dereham, her fate was sealed.

Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard was executed in 1542, and it’s said her ghost still walks Hampton Court’s ‘Haunted Gallery’.

As soon as Henry caught wind of his fifth wife’s alleged infidelity he had her confined at quarters in Hampton Court; Culpeper and Dereham were executed. Legend relates how Catherine once managed to break free from her confines and, aware that the king was at the palace’s chapel, ran down an adjoining gallery to beseech him. He however ignored her frantic entreaties and she was soon dragged back by guards, shrieking for her life. She was subsequently taken to the Tower and on 13 February 1542, her head was divorced from her body.

The area where Catherine made her desperate bid for mercy is now known as the Haunted Gallery. In the 19th century it was closed up for many years although residents at the palace in those days would report all manner of weird phenomena emanating from that part of the building. Two women, a Mrs Cavendish Boyle and a Lady Eastlake, both reported being suddenly awoken in the dead of night by an ear-splitting scream. A Miss Goodrich-Freer, who was a member of the Society for Psychical Research, describes coming face to face with a female apparition which visited her in the small hours of the morning when she was sleeping within the vicinity of the Haunted Gallery. Also when the gallery was finally opened up, an artist noticed a ghostly disembodied hand which manifested on a tapestry he was sketching. The hand was feminine in appearance and wore a large bejewelled ring. The artist made a sketch of it and later discovered that Catherine Howard had worn a ring similar to what he had witnessed on the hand.

In 2003 a security camera at the palace recorded some very odd footage which, when publicised a couple of months later, caused an international sensation. The film shows a pair of fire doors flinging open and a tall and sinister figure, clad in a long flowing robe, emerging from them. It is difficult to tell the gender of the figure as it’s only there momentarily before stepping back behind the doors. The figure has been nicknamed Skeletor, after the villain in the He-Man cartoons, and the jury’s still out as to whether the footage is an elaborate hoax or genuine evidence of paranormal activity.


Image Credits:

“West Entrance to Hampton Court Palace” by Richard Rogerson
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

“Portrait of Thomas Wolsey” by an unknown artist
Public Domain Image – via Wikimedia Commons –

“Jane Seymour, Queen of England” by Hans Holbein the Younger
Public Domain Image – via Wikimedia Commons –,_Queen_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg

“Portrait of a Lady, perhaps Katherine Howard” by Hans Holbein the Younger
Public Domain Image – via Wikimedia Commons –,_perhaps_Katherine_Howard_%28Royal_Collection%29.JPG

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