The fortress has a long and grisly history, with many believing that the spirits of those who suffered there still linger on at the famous landmark.
When the Tower was a place of incarceration and torment, prisoners would be conveyed by boat down the River Thames, entering the fortress via the ominous Traitors’ Gate. This was a water gate entrance leading into the fortress; a prisoner would then be escorted to a chamber within one of the many towers which comprise the Tower of London.
Murdered at the Tower
Henry VI was murdered in the chapel of the Wakefield Tower on 21st May 1471. The last of the Lancastrian kings was stabbed to death at midnight while at prayer. No conclusion has been reached as to the identity of Henry’s murderer, although it is suspected that he was killed on the order of Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Henry’s ghost is said to appear within the chapel towards midnight on the anniversary of his death. He is said to wander the chambers of the Wakefield Tower before slowly fading back into its walls on the final stroke of midnight.
One of the most tragic events in the Tower of London’s history is the mysterious disappearance of the two princes, Edward V and his younger brother Richard. The two boys were brought to the Tower in the summer of 1483 on the order of their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
They were confined in the Garden Tower, a building which subsequently came to be known as the Bloody Tower, after both boys suspiciously vanished.
No one knows what became of them although it is commonly suspected that they were murdered – most likely by smothering – on the order of their uncle, who was crowned Richard III on 6th July 1483. In 1674 two skeletons were discovered under a staircase in the White Tower.
It is generally supposed that these were the remains of the unfortunate princes and they were given a royal burial. Their sad spirits have been frequently witnessed in and about the Bloody Tower.
Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, was executed at the Tower on 19th May 1536 on a trumped up treason charge. She was rumoured to have committed a range of offences, including witchcraft and incest, although these were most likely fabrications dreamt up by Henry in order to get rid of Anne as she had failed to provide him with a male heir.
Anne was beheaded on Tower Green and buried in the building’s St Peter ad Vincula Chapel. Apparently she was interred with her head tucked under her arm.
Her apparition has been witnessed on several occasions. One particularly unnerving account dates from 1864 and relates how an employee at the Tower happened upon a strange mist from which materialized the figure of a woman.
As this woman slowly turned to face him, the worker was shocked to see only blackness where a face should have been. Anne’s ghost has also been encountered in the White Tower, apparently carrying her severed head under her arm.
Ghosts of other women beheaded in the Tudor era are also said to haunt the Tower. These include the spectres of Henry VIII’s fifth consort, Catherine Howard, who was executed for adultery in 1542; the Countess of Salisbury, whose frenzied apparition is said to race around Tower Green, re-enacting the horrific nature of her botched execution; and Lady Jane Grey, the so-called Nine Days’ Queen who was beheaded on the order of her successor Mary Tudor in 1554.
The Tower Bear
A sentry on duty at the Tower back in 1816 encountered one of the most bizarre apparitions recorded at the castle. The ghost of a great bear lumbered out from the Martin Tower towards the panic-stricken guard who responded by thrusting his bayonet at the beast.
However he was even more surprised when the bayonet passed right through this ‘grizzly’ phantom, sticking in a nearby door while the bear suddenly disappeared. The unfortunate guard later expired from shock.
In 1940 during the Blitz, another guard underwent a somewhat unearthly encounter. A mysterious group of soldiers emerged from a strange mist which had materialized at one of the Tower’s gates.
The guard noticed that these soldiers were wearing uniform which dated from the 14th century, and they appeared to be carrying the corpse of someone recently beheaded. The stunned guard watched them slowly proceed towards the Tower’s chapel. They then vanished into thin air.
The celebrated Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was held at the Tower on several occasions before being beheaded on the order of James I in 1618. Although he was executed at the Palace of Westminster, his spirit has been sighted within the confines of his old prison. As recently as 1983, Sir Walter’s ghost has been witnessed in the Byward Tower.
Sir Walter enjoyed reasonably modest quarters and was granted certain liberties during his confinement. However, the same could not be said of another famous prisoner, Guy ‘Guido’ Fawkes, protagonist of the failed Gunpowder plot of 1605.
Having been inadvertently betrayed by one of his fellow conspirators, the hapless Guy Fawkes was discovered in the cellars under Parliament, guarding numerous barrels of gunpowder. He was soon brought to the Tower and thrown into the notorious ‘Little Ease’, a cell so small a prisoner couldn’t even stand up or lie down.
In order to ascertain the identities of his co-conspirators, Fawkes was subjected to all manner of terrible tortures, including being stretched on the rack. It is said that the agonized screaming of the unfortunate plotter can still be occasionally heard resounding around the vaults of the White Tower.
By Ben Harry Wright – Bibliography: Diehl, Daniel; Donnelly, Mark P. (2006) Tales from the Tower of London, The History Press Ltd., Jones, Richard (2007) Haunted Britain and Ireland, New Holland Publishers Ltd.