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Royal Ghost Stories: The Tower of London

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Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of The Tower of London is steeped in history and has occupied a major part in royal life since it was constructed by William the Conqueror almost 1,000 years ago. The Tower has been the backdrop to royal life, beheadings, scandals and political turmoil for centuries, but did you know about the ghosts? Read on to learn about the haunting experiences reported by guards and guests alike.

One of the most famous deaths to take place at the tower was that of Queen Anne Boleyn. The second wife of King Henry VIII, and mother to the future Queen Elizabeth I, had failed to produce a male heir and was later accused of adultery by her husband and sentenced to death. She was beheaded on Tower Green on May 19, 1536.

There are several memorable accounts that the ghost of Anne Boleyn has been spotted at the Tower of London several times almost 500 years after her death.

A poignant example was in 1864 when Captain J. D. Dundas was living in the Tower of London. One day he noticed a Yeoman Warder acting strangely whilst he was standing in the courtyard where Anne Boleyn had been beheaded. He appeared to challenge something, which Dundas recalled “looked like a whitish, female figure sliding towards the soldier”. The guard charged through the form with his bayonet, then fainted. He was only saved from a prison sentence because Dundas was a witness.

Another interesting account is that a figment of Queen Elizabeth I’s cousin, Arbella Stuart, can still be seen in the Queen’s House where she starved whilst imprisoned for marrying without consent.

Other reported ghost sightings include the small bodies of the ‘princes in the Tower’. The young royals were the sons of King Edward IV and it is speculated that their uncle, King Richard III (then the Duke of Gloucester and Lord Protector) had his nephews killed so he could become the king.

Their bodies have never been officially identified, but during the reign of King Charles II the skeletons of two children were found in a box under a staircase in the Tower and, with the belief that it was the princes, were interred at Westminster Abbey on the orders of the king. They remain there to this day.

Over the years, guests and guards alike have claimed to have seen two young boys, dressed in medieval style clothing, playing on the green outside the White Tower. Others believe they have captured photographs of the young ghosts whilst looking around the exhibits.

Most peculiar of all, however, is a tale from the Yeoman Warders who guard the Tower. As early as the year 1210, wild animals were kept at the Tower of London, often referred to as the menagerie. There are records of elephants, leopards, lions and even a polar bear, who used to go fishing in the River Thames, living within the Tower’s walls.

The story goes that in 1816 that the ghost of a huge black bear was spotted near the Martin Tower by a Yeoman Warder on night duty. The guard was terrified and struck the figure on the head with his bayonet, only to find the weapon went straight through and into the door of the tower. It is said the guard died of shock a few hours later.

The bear has since been nicknamed ‘Old Martin’ and his skin and skull were found at the Natural History Museum in London but were since returned to the Tower to be exhibited.

Whether you believe in ghosts and stories of paranormal activity or not, the tales of these haunting encounters do make for fascinating reading.