Video Credit: Mercy Alicea Rivera
“When the merry wag doth hush his voice and cover… Then shall ye know, that ghosts do walk within this ancient Tower, fact or fantasy, truth or tale, as shadows shorten and the skies grow pale, can ye with certainty stand claim, that voices called… But no man came?”
– Shelagh Abbott, Ghosts of the Tower of London –_____________________________________
In my last article “Behind the Black and Beautiful Eyes: Why is Anne Boleyn Fascinating?”, I talked of Anne’s popularity, of how extensively she was portrayed, whether through fiction, biographies, television, film, or theatre. In this article I want to focus on the many reported “ghostly sightings” of Anne that have been around from at least the eighteenth century. There are recorded sightings at Blickling Hall, where many believe Anne Boleyn was born; Hever Castle, her family home; and the Tower of London, where she spent her last tragic days. There are also other places where Anne Boleyn has reportedly been seen: Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace — and even locations where the buildings Anne would visited no longer stand.
Blickling Hall is the quintessential stately home where Anne Boleyn was most likely born at the beginning of the 16th century. Sadly, the estate was rebuilt in the 1620’s with a further remodeling in the 1760’s. Still, there are many tales of Anne’s ghost being seen – and also apparitions of her father, Thomas Boleyn, and her brother, George Boleyn. One tale, most probably established in the late 18th century, tells of a spectre seen on many occasions of her father seated in a coach drawn by headless horses and driven by a headless coachmen. The coach races along the country lanes to the door of the hall, followed by a blue light. Another tale speaks of screaming devils and a headless male corpse said to be that of George Boleyn, which is itself sometimes also seen be dragged across hedges and ditches by four headless horses.
According to some Victorian versions of the story, it is Anne Boleyn who instead occupies the coach. She is reportedly dressed in white, bathed in a red glow. She sits in the coach decapitated, with her bleeding head on her lap. Some versions say that as soon as the spectral visions reaches the door of the hall, it vanishes. Others assert that Anne alights and walks through every room of the house. Over generations of storytelling, the tradition grew to claim that every year this spectral appears on the anniversary of her execution, May 19th.
By the mid 1800’s, superstitious country folk claimed that Thomas Boleyn was condemned to drive his coach and horses once a year for a thousand years from his death in 1539 over the twelve (or forty in some versions) bridges that lie between Wroxham and Blickling, including those at Belaugh, Coltishall, Hautbois, Aylsham and Burgh, as punishment for having connived at his daughter’s fall. He was said to carry his head, its tangled hair matted with blood, under his arm, flames shooting from his mouth whilst performing this annual ritual. This is extremely odd, because Thomas Boleyn died in his bed at Hever. In 1985, asked whether he believed in this apparition, an old local man replied that it was ‘a load of old squit’.
Anne’s ghost is said to have been seen in the drawing room, walking the corridors dressed in grey, reading a book in the long gallery. Around 1979, an apparition was seen by a steward, but vanished almost immediately. Left behind was a book of Hans Holbein’s paintings open to the portrait thought to be Anne Boleyn.
In 1985, Steve Ingram, a former administrator at Blickling Hall, was asleep one night in a flat there when he was awakened by the sound of ‘light female footsteps’ advancing along the corridor and into his bedroom. At first he thought it was his wife, but he then realised she was asleep beside him. Mr. Ingram then turned on the light expecting to see someone at the end of his bed, but no one was there. It could almost be dismissed as a dream, but his colleagues pointed out the date of the previous day, May 19th.
A former custodian of Blickling, Dennis Mead, told author Joan Forman that during World War II a butler named Hancock had seen a woman wearing a long grey gown with a white lace collar and white mobcap walking across the lawn to the lake. Hancock reportedly went and asked her if she was looking for someone, to which she mysteriously replied “that for which I search has long since gone”. Hancock glanced up at the house for a moment. When he turned back the woman had disappeared. The clothing the ghost wore, however, was of a later date then Anne’s time.
In the 1920’s, it was erroneously believed that Anne Boleyn was born at Rochford Hall. Her ghost was said to appear in a large room called ‘Anne Boleyn’s Nursery’, but the building dates from Henry VIII’s reign, making that impossible. Mary Boleyn, Anne’s elder sister, lived at Rochford Hall with her second husband William Stafford. Since she died there in 1543, perhaps it is her ghost instead that people claimed to have seen.
At the turn of the year Anne is said to travel in a phantom coach in the area where Runwell Hall, a house belonging to the Dean and Chapter of St Paul’s Cathedral, once stood.
In the late 19th century, a tale was shared that told that Anne was seen drifting along a corridor, looking sad and wearing a blue gown. It is said the queen wore the gown in the painting, only no such portrait survived or is even recorded.
In 1945, Lady Baden-Powell, who lived in a grace and favour apartment just off the Great Hall (now the buttery room, and also part of the Tudor Kitchens), recorded in her diary that a visitor, a ‘Mrs Hunt’, sensed the presence of ‘Queen Anne Boleyn.’ She further reported that Anne Boleyn ‘used my little turret room at the end of my bedroom as her secret praying room’. Beyond this, Mrs. Hunt ‘sees the Queen, who is beautiful, in the room’. How Mrs Hunt was able to identify Anne we do not know. We do know, however, that the apartments built for Anne at Hampton Court were not at this end of the Great Hall.
Unsurprisingly, there is story that Anne Boleyn’s ghost has also been reported at her family home of Hever Castle. On Christmas Eve, Anne’s ghost has reportedly been seen crossing a bridge over the River Eden on her way to Hever Castle.
At Windsor Anne’s ghost has apparently appeared looking through a window in the Dean’s Cloister. Another sighting is of Anne’s ghost walking along the eastern parapet.
It is said that Anne Boleyn’s ghost walks on the anniversary of her death at Salle Church in Norfolk. Here some of her Boleyn ancestors, including her grandparents, are buried.
River Thames, London
A ghostly vision of a barge manned by shadowy grey oarsmen has been seen taking Anne Boleyn to the Tower. Evidently, she was glimpsed passing the Water Tower of Lambeth Palace. In real history, however, she was not conveyed so far upriver.
Lambeth Palace, London
There are sad and eerie tales that Anne Boleyn’s voice – moaning, crying and pleading for her life — echoes in the dark and ancient undercroft of Lambeth Palace. These tales are likely based on the untrue but often repeated assertion that Anne appeared before Archbishop Cranmer’s ecclesiastical court in the undercroft on the 17th May 1536, the day her marriage was dissolved. They may also be based on the myth that Anne was tried at Lambeth, and after being condemned, was taken down the steps of the Water Tower to the barge that would convey her back to the Tower.
Durham House, London
Anne Boleyn’s ghost is said to have appeared in a basement that is all that remains of the once episcopal palace. Anne lived at Durham House before her marriage to King Henry VIII.
Naturally it comes as no surprise that there are several tales of Anne Boleyn’s spirit appearing at the ancient fortress of the Tower of London, the place where she both stayed before her Coronation and later her imprisonment.
The figure of a headless woman in a Tudor gown has been seen several times near the Queen’s House, formerly the Lieutenant’s Lodging. Anne was once thought to have been confined there before her execution. Since Anne never actually stayed there, is it possible for her to be the ‘Grey Lady’ in Tudor dress whose ghost haunts the building- but can only be seen females?
The room next to the one where Anne is supposed to have spent her last days is unaccountably spooked far worse than the other rooms in the house. Even today, the room has an evil reputation because of its chill, forbidding atmosphere, and strange perfumed odour. Also, people have awoken in the room with a dreadful feeling of being suffocated. Consequently, no child is permitted to sleep there.
One night in 1864, while standing on duty, a guardsmen of the Sixties Rifles saw a white figure emerge from the dimness of a doorway of the Queen’s House. As the ghost moved towards him, he challenged it. As the apparition emerged from the shadows, he saw to his horror that it was headless. The guardsman raised his bayonet, only for the figure to wall straight through it and himself. At that, the guardsman fainted with terror. He was found by his angry commanding officer. As a result of the evening’s unusual events, the guardsman was court-marshaled for drunkenness and dereliction of his duty. Fortunately, two other people revealed that they too saw the figure at that spot. In addition, two other guardsmen swore that they had watched from a window of the Bloody Tower as it approached the sentry and had heard his scream of terror as he collapsed. With this evidence, the court acquitted him.
Later in the 19th century, a yeoman warder testified under oath to seeing a bluish form drifting across the area towards the Queen’s House. Yet another soldier saw a woman in white coming out of the house soon after midnight. He could hear her heels tapping on the ground. The soldier watched her walk towards Tower Green, but when she moved into a moonlit area, he was shocked to see that she had no head. Fleeing from his post, this soldier also escaped punishment after explaining what he witnessed.
Similarly in 1933, yet another soldier witnessed the distinct white form of a headless woman near the Bloody Tower. He claimed that she rose out of the ground and then floated towards him. Terrified, he thrust his bayonet at the ghost, only to see it vanish. As there are at least five different people to see this apparition at different times, perhaps we should give some substance to these accounts. The connection with the Queen’s House again preludes any connection with Anne. Obviously, there are many other people who suffered unfortunate fates at the Tower.
In 1972, a nine-year-old girl from the North of England visiting London for the first time with her parents was standing by the scaffold site in the Tower, listening to a guide reciting the names of all the people who had been executed by the axe there. The girl, who had no prior knowledge of Anne Boleyn, said to her mother that Anne had not been executed by the axe but by the sword, and afterwards described in detail the Queen’s last moments, even asserting that the executioner had removed his shoes so as to come up behind her unawares and behead her.
In the late 19th century, an officer, peering through the windows of St. Peter ad Vincula after seeing an unauthorised light inside at night, claimed to observe the elegant figure of Anne Boleyn at the head of a line of knights and ladies in Tudor clothes processing up the aisle towards the altar. He watched astounded for a few moments until the procession and the light vanished.
Other appearances are reported in the dark corner of the upper room in the Martin Tower. Although Anne Boleyn but was never held prisoner there, it is thought that her brother George Boleyn likely was. Also, a young soldier in 1967 saw an eerie light in one of the upper windows of the White Tower. The next day, a warder told him he had probably seen the ghost of Anne Boleyn. Although she is said to haunt the White Tower and the Bloody Tower, Anne was never held in either building.
I make no comments as to the veracity of these reported sightings. I have simply written this article for those interested in the supernatural.
Abbott, Shelagh, Ghosts of the Tower of London
Jones, Richard, Haunted Castles of Britain and Ireland
Weir, Alison, The Lady in the Tower: Fall of Anne Boleyn