Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Dead Don't Rest In The Tower of London

In the year 1066, William The Conqueror had the Tower of London built to keep away the hostile Londoners who wanted him dead. It served its purpose well, protecting the upper ranks of the privileged from harm until 1381 when Simon of Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was dragged out of the Tower and murdered on the castle grounds by peasants. This was the first of hundreds, perhaps even thousands of deaths within the walls of the infamous Tower of London. With so much pain, anguish, torture and with so many gruesome deaths, it's no wonder this is one of the most haunted places in the world.

Inside these walls, hundreds, perhaps thousands of
guilty and innocent people have died.
On May 2, 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested on orders of her husband King Henry VIII and accused of adultery and incest. She was probably innocent, but her failure to produce a boy child as successor for the king and her strong, outspoken opinions on policy matters made her expendable. On May 19th, she was beheaded on the grounds of the Tower. She is buried in the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the castle, but her spirit is not at rest.  Shortly after Anne's death came the first reported sighting when an unconscious chambermaid was found on a path near the execution spot. Upon being revitalized, she began babbling almost incoherently about seeing the Queen floating on the path ahead of her. The chambermaid was later sent home for the day, but she didn't return to work the next day and was never heard from again. Since then, there have been innumerable sightings of Anne Boleyn, sometimes walking the grounds, sometimes floating a few inches above the paths in the tower complex, but always near the spot of her execution. Even more unnerving, she is often reported to be seen on her walks holding in her arms her own decapitated head. On two separate occasions, witnesses reported the eyes in her head moving back and forth as if she was looking for something and when those eyes saw them, they stared with a fierceness that could only come from a being supremely upset about a terrible injustice. Perhaps the queen actually was innocent of such scandalous charges as those lodged against her and has yet to forgive her husband and those complicit in her death. Whatever the reason, one of the witnesses was reportedly found dead the very next morning with a look of utter fright on their face. A second witness claimed "the eyes saw me!" Over and over she kept repeating "the eyes saw me!" She died three days later from what was thought to be an exploded heart brought on by fright. Since then, it has been said if you happen to see a female apparition in the tower walking with her detached head held in her arms, quickly turn your own head and run away. Whatever you do, do not stand around giving the head's eyes time to lock upon you for it is surely a sign of your own imminent death.

The Queen's House within the Tower of London
where Arbelia's restless spirit roams
In 1610, Arbelia Stuart, aged 35, married 22-year-old William Seymour, the nephew of Lady Jane Grey. Unfortunately for them, they did not have the permission of King James 1 and due to court politics, the marriage was considered a threat to King James. The king arrested William and sent him to the tower. Arbelia was put under house arrest in the town of Lambeth. Arbelia plotted to free William so they could escape together and flee to France. Secret messages were sent back and forth despite the great danger by friends and servants who were loyal to the couple. At the appointed time in the dark of night, Arbelia slipped away from her guard and made it to the rendezvous point, but William's escape had been delayed. When he did not arrive on schedule, Arbelia, fearing for her life, boarded the escape boat and sailed away. William made good his escape from the tower, but arriving after Arbelia had already sailed away, he managed to board another boat and made his way safely to freedom in France. Arbelia was not so lucky. Her boat was intercepted by English authorities and she was returned and sentenced to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. She wrote numerous letters to the king begging forgiveness and to be pardoned, but he would not relent. She also wrote letters to William in France, but having discovered Arbelia did not have the money or
power she had led him to believe when they were secretly courting and now having a good time with French ladies closer to his own age, he never answered any of her entreaties. As the weeks and months turned to years, Arbelia became despondent. She took to her bed in The Queen's House in the tower complex and refused to leave it. Some reports indicate she eventually starved herself to death; other reports say the king grew so frustrated with her he ordered her murder. Either way, Arbelia was pronounced dead on September 25, 1615. After William heard of her death, he wrote to the king requesting a pardon and vowing eternal allegiance to him. The pardon was granted, William returned to England and was married to a beautiful young lady within 6 months. Is it any wonder poor Arbelia's spirit is still seen wandering the halls of The Queen's House sobbing and wailing?

Another mysterious manifestation is simply known as "The Lady in White." Still unidentified, she is said to have stood in a window of the White Tower, the oldest and most foreboding structure, waving to children playing on the other side of the moat which used to surround the tower complex. She supposedly always wore an abundance of cheap perfume. For several hundred years, a ghostly apparition of a woman dressed in a flowing white dress has been reported sadly looking out of the same window and walking up and down the steps within the White Tower. The apparition is always accompanied by the strong sweet scent of a cheap perfume that is so cloying it gags everyone who encounters it.

When Edward the IV died in April, 1483, his 12-year-old son was supposed to succeed him as Edward the V. However, before the coronation could take place, both he and his younger brother Richard were declared illegitimate by the Parliament and their uncle, the Duke of Gloucester, took the throne as King Richard III. King Richard had both boys sent to the Tower of London where they were often seen running around the grounds playing and chasing each other through the halls of the buildings. Three months later, they mysteriously disappeared and were never seen again. It was later determined that Richard had ordered them killed and buried within the tower complex. In 1647, 191-years later, two small skeletons were discovered buried together beneath a staircase in the White Tower. It was assumed they were the bodies of the young princes. Visitors and guards report seeing their spirits, sometimes holding hands while whimpering and
cowering against the stone walls of various rooms within the White Tower, sometimes running, playing and laughing on the grounds throughout the complex. More often, only the happy sound of two young boys playing are heard or the unsettling sound of two children crying in fear. You will be compelled to run to the sound of the crying, wanting with all of your heart to help them, to comfort them, but when you get to where the sound is coming from, two little boys holding on to each other in a corner of the cold stone room will look at you as they and their cries slowly fade away.

In 1541, at the age of 72, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, became the undeserving target for Henry VIII's vengeance. Margaret's son, Cardinal Pole, wrote a series of letters soundly denouncing the king's claim as head of the Church of England. The king couldn't get to Cardinal Pole as he was safely ensconced in France, so he did the next best thing, he had his mother arrested and sent to the Tower of London for execution. At the time of her scheduled execution by beheading, the feisty old lady was led onto the sturdy wooden platform and told by the Royal Executioner to kneel. She refused to do so, saying "So should traitors do and I am none." The executioner said very well and swung his huge ax at her neck, but Margaret ducked and began running around the platform. The horrified spectators stood watching as the ax-man continued to chase the aged lady around the platform, down the stairs and across the grounds, swinging his ax and cutting her to pieces even as she continued to run away screaming in terror and pain. Finally able to strike a blow which brought Margaret crashing to the ground, the executioner proceeded to hack her to death in a most bloody and gruesome manner. This horrible incident has been repeated by their spirits on numerous occasions which have been seen by a large number of witnesses, each time on May 27th, the anniversary of the death by hacking. It seems poor Margaret's screaming phantom is being chased for all eternity by her ghostly executioner.

These are just a few of the many ghosts, spirits and apparitions encountered within the walls of the Tower complex. Over 900 years old, drab gray in color with a sense of sadness and foreboding all around, the site of uncounted deaths in the most horrible of manners, the Tower of London has well earned its reputation as the most haunted place in England.