Archive for Ghosts
Nestled on the inner grounds of the Tower of London is a darling little stretch of grass called the Tower Green. Today it may strike you as a cozy place to get a fresh air break during your tour of the Tower, but in the Tudor period it played host to a handful of beheadings.
Most of the poor souls who were beheaded at that time met their fate on Tower Hill, just northwest of the Tower of London and a place that today is…well, the Tower Hill tube station. But a few very special prisoners were given the gift of a private execution on the secluded spot within the Tower walls. “Private” was a relative concept, as there could have been a hundred or so people present. The seven “priviledged” victims of a private Tower Green beheading were:
- William, Lord Hastings in 1483 (two years before the Tudor dynasty began)
- Anne Boleyn in 1536
- Margaret, Countess of Salisbury in 1541
- Katherine Howard in 1542
- Jane, Viscountess Rochford (Anne Boleyn’s brother’s wife, and royal busybody who arranged for Kitty Howard to get a bit on the side) in 1542
- Lady Jane Grey in 1554
- Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex (a former Liz I fave who became too big for his britches) in 1601
Today a plaque marks the spot where the Famous Seven lost their heads, the only grisly reminder in an otherwise sweet and seemingly-peaceful spot.
In life she was sassy, smart, and bold — not much has changed! Anne Boleyn has proven to be as tenacious and sensational without a head as she was with one attached.
Her spirit has been seen wafting across the river’s bridge on the grounds of Hever Castle, her childhood home. On a more energetic note, she sometimes leads ghostly processions in and around the Tower of London, where she was executed. Who doesn’t love a parade? Perhaps not the Tower guard in 1864 who ran through her spirit with his bayonet and prompted received a shock so strong it temporarily knocked him out.
Bringing the drama, as usual, ghostly Anne appears on her death anniversary at Blickling Hall, in a coach pulled by headless horses steered by a headless horseman. The coach reportedly leaves her off at the front door of the building (chivalry is not dead, even when the horseman is), her dripping head tucked under her arm, and she then wanders the hallways all bloody night long. Get this girl some Ambien!
Henry had all the power while he was alive, but in death his many ex-wives trump him in the haunting department. The ghosts of those ladies get around now more than the king did in his day, it seems.
But last year, a 54-year-old grandmother snapped a pic that makes you wonder. She’d been staying in a 14th-century manor house and taking a nighttime tour of the place with a few other people. The picture she got makes you think they had more company than they’d realized.
Tudor cousin Mary lay her head down for the last time at Fotheringhay Castle, where it took two whacks to get her out of Elizabeth’s way permanently. The ax first hit the back of her neck, and she mumbled, “Sweet Jesus.” I think I would have used more colorful language than that. The second time the ax came down, it severed all but just a bit of gristle. This did kill her, although her lips moved for 15 minutes afterward. (I’m a Sagittarius, with the same birthday as Mary, and it is indeed hard to shut us up!)
Fotheringhay Castle is now just a bit of rock, as my husband and I found out the day we decided to drive out that way and check out Mary’s execution spot. That was kind of disappointing. Her son James had ordered it be razed to the ground after the horror that happened there. But the castle’s oak staircase, which Mary is believed to have descended on her way to her execution, was used to build the nearby Talbot Hotel (so were other stones from the castle). Guests at the hotel report a chill on the stairs, moving furniture, and being pressed on by an clammy but invisible weight while in their beds.
But that’s not all! Mary’s restless spirit reportedly shows up in just about every abode she ever set foot in, from Stirling Castle to Bolton Castle to Manor Lodge to Craignethan Castle (the only location where she is actually headless). This royal multitasker fits into our present world quite well, don’t you think?
Elizabeth I was a very busy lady back in the day! Dodging suitors, offing Catholics, and bringing down the Spanish Armada can really take it out of a girl, so you’d think she’d want to rest in peace these hundreds of years since her death.
Nothin’ doing. She’s reportedly still among us. Several of her old haunts are now her current…well, haunts. When the Bubonic plague raced through London in 1563, Elizabeth and her court made for Windsor Castle. Visitors from London were not welcome; in fact, Liz called for a quickie gallows set-up at Windsor and executed them. Nice. Anyway, she’s the visitor these days (often in the Royal Library section or at the window in the Dean’s Cloister), always decked out in a black lace shawl and gown.
When young Elizabeth got word that she was the new queen of England, she’d been staying at her childhood home, Hatfield House. She doesn’t seem to have gotten word that she’s dead because she’s been seen hanging around Hatfield.
As queen, her favorite home was Richmond Palace and it was also there where she breathed her last. Much of the palace is gone today, but busy Liz has been spotted in the surviving gateway. Who says you can’t go home?
Lady Jane Grey’s story is a sad and complicated one. I detailed it here if you would like a recap (and if you’re wondering how this chickadee became queen to begin with, voilà). This poor teenager showed up for centuries as a white shimmering figure around the Tower of London’s battlements and also around Tower Green, where she was executed.
It wasn’t bad enough to have been beheaded, but poor Jane had a stressful last few minutes of her life as well. She was blindfolded and then worriedly asked the executioner, “Will you take it off before I lay me down?” His answer was no, so she attempted to lay her head down.
Not that she could see where the block was, being blindfolded and all. The crowd was still as she waved her arms around in the air, feeling for the block and in a panic asking, “What shall I do? Where is it??” A kind bystander guided her hands to it and that was the last Jane knew of this life. (This is a popular 17th century painting of the scene by Paul Delaroche.)
Jane would reportedly appear at the Tower on the anniversary of her death (these ghosts have twisted ways of celebrating anniversaries). The last time she showed up, she was spotted by two Tower guards on February 12, 1957, the 403rd anniversary of her execution. What has she been doing since then? Vacationing? Catching up on “Grey’s Anatomy”? No one really knows.