From headless apparitions of Anne Boleyn to the distraught spectres of the two murdered princes, tales tell of many Tower of London ghosts.
Of course, since being founded in 1067, the Tower has seen more than its fair share of ghastly happenings and grisly deaths.
Even so, it’s the depth and breadth of creepy stories which alarms most visitors. From repugnant smells, ice-cold rooms, mischievous poltergeists and death-heralding bears, stories of inexplicable Tower of London ghosts abound.
Although I can’t personally claim to have seen any ghosts lurking around the Tower of London, here’re a selection of the creepiest stories.
The Ghosts of the Murdered Princes, and the Headless Spectre of Anne Boleyn
Many famous figures have met an untimely death in the Tower of London.
In 1483, the two young princes were infamously murdered in the Tower, with their murder remaining unsolved to this day.
The shadowy figures of two lost little boys – holding hands – are a relatively common sight in the White Tower, as they drift between rooms and melt into the walls.
Many other tales of Tower of London ghosts involve Anne Boleyn. Anne was, of course, imprisoned in the Tower and beheaded in 1536.
The ghost of Anne has been spotted in many different parts of the Tower of London: both roaming the inside of the buildings, and outside upon the Tower Green.
It’s said that her headless torso paces through the Tower at night, and is most frequently spotted in the Chapel of St Peter, where she was buried following her execution.
In 1864, it’s recorded that a soldier guarding the Tower saw the terrifying, headless figure of Anne, panicked, and tried to stab it with his bayonet. The dagger, of course, went straight through her ghostly figure.
The soldier fainted from fright, and was about to be court-martialled for being asleep on duty.
However, many other guards came forward and claimed they’d also seen the ghost of Anne whilst on night duty. As a result, the soldier was let off.
An Unhappy Haunt: The Ghosts of Anne and Her Retinue in St Peter’s Chapel
There’s another famous story of Anne Boleyn’s ghost in the Tower.
As I mentioned above, Anne’s decapitated body was originally buried beneath the floor of St Peter’s Chapel. In 1876, Queen Victoria ordered that the bodies in the chapel should be exhumed, and buried more appropriately.
A short while later, one of the captains of the guard was patrolling the Tower at night and saw a strange flickering light in the chapel.
He climbed to one of the windows and pressed his face against the glass. He was amazed by what he saw.
Inside the chapel, he saw a procession of lords, ladies and knights in armour. At the centre of the festivity was a small, delicately dressed woman. Later, he identified her as being Anne Boleyn.
He remained at the window, transfixed by this strange and otherworldly scene.
After a few minutes, the lights in the chapel faded – and the procession of ghosts disappeared into thin air.
The captain of the guard was left gazing through the window of a dark and empty old church.
The Mysterious White Woman in the Castle Keep
The White Tower is effectively the ‘keep’ at the heart of the Tower of London.
Here’s a truly terrifying fact for you. Almost every castle keep in England seems to be haunted by one common ghost – a spectre of a woman, either dressed in white or black robes.
As you might expect, the White Woman of the Tower of London is spookier than most.
Often, visitors only glimpse a figure in white in the corner of their eyes. Then, quite suddenly, they smell the terrible, pungent smell of an old, overpowering perfume.
Some visitors then describe the feeling of the world closing in around them; and chills run from their neck down their spine.
In recent years, tourists to the tower have even reported the sensation that something is tapping them on the shoulder.
When they turn around, there’s nothing there – just a wisp of white which disappears into the periphery of their vision.
“Oh Christ! It has seized me!”: A Terrifying Apparition
Here’s a very strange story indeed. Edmund Lenthal Swifte was the Keeper of the Crown Jewels between 1814 and 1852. He lived inside the Tower of London with his family.
He recorded a truly spooky experience. In his own words, it happened on a Saturday night in October, at “about the witching hour”.
He was in the Jewel House (now the Martin Tower) – the “doleful prison” of Anne Boleyn. The windows were closed; the curtains were pulled over, and the room was lighted by a couple of candles. His family were seated within.
Suddenly, something very odd happened. Let’s hear it, in exactly his own words.
“[My wife looked up] and exclaimed, ‘Good God ! what is that?’
“I looked up, and saw a cylindrical figure, like a glass tube, seemingly about the thickness of my arm. [It was] hovering between the ceiling and the table: its contents appeared to be a dense fluid, white and pale azure, like… the gathering of a summer cloud, and incessantly rolling and mingling within the cylinder.
“This lasted about two minutes. [Then] it began slowly to move before my sister-in-law; then, following the oblong shape of the table, before my son and myself; passing behind my wife, it paused for a moment over her right shoulder.
“Instantly she crouched down, and with both hands covering her shoulder, she shrieked out, ‘Oh, Christ! it has seized me!’
“Even now, while writing, I feel the fresh horror of that moment.”
A Deathly Vision of a Devilish Bear
Just days after that strange event, E.L. Swifte wrote of something inexplicable which happened, again in the Martin Tower.
To help give a bit of context to this story, we know that all types of exotic animals were imprisoned in the Tower of London during Tudor times. It was a bit like a modern zoo.
Some of these animals still haunt the place. There are many stories describing the roars of long-lost lions, which echo around the Tower at night.
Some have also described the phantom shapes of horses, which gallop along the cobbles at night – their eyes a terrifying, blazing red.
However, this animal-from-the-underworld was something more ominous altogether.
I’ll again quote from E.L. Swifte, writing in the 1800s.
“[One of the] sentries at the [Martin Tower] was… alarmed by a figure like a huge bear [emerging] from underneath the door.
“He thrust at it with his bayonet, which stuck in the door.
“He dropped in a fit, and was carried senseless to the guard-room…
“Of all this, I avouch nothing more than that I saw the poor man in the guard-house prostrated with terror….
“And that in two or three days the ‘fatal result,’… was that he died.”
This chilling tale has been told and re-told over the years, and many now say that the bear was no less than the devil in ghostly disguise, pulling the hapless to the underworld with him.
The Malevolent Spirit of Henry VIII’s Armour
Have your wits about you when you visit the Tower, because one of its most popular exhibits – the old armour of Hing Henry VIII – is said to be possessed by a particularly malevolent ghost.
To explain, over the years, many guards have reported horrible sensations when patrolling the Tower of London at night.
Different men and women have described the feelings of dread or of chills running through their spine when entering a particular chamber.
However, some guards have told of truly harrowing experiences.
Some describe walking into a room and feeling like they’re being crushed alive.
Some say that it feels like an demon has jumped from the ceiling, has wrapped its arms tight around their chest, and is trying to suffocate them.
Others say that it feels like an invisible monster is trying to strangle them. They’ve felt the tight grip of hands around their neck, and have stumbled, gasping for oxygen, into another room.
There’s even a tale which tells of a guard being assaulted by a ghost wielding a visible cloak. Again, the guard struggled as he felt the cloak wrap right around his neck.
He managed to escape the room – but although his assailant was invisible, the remaining bright red marks on his neck were real.
All these stories of suffocation and strangling have one thing in common: they occurred in the room storing Henry VIII’s armour.
Wherever the armour was moved in the Tower of London, these terrifying experiences would occur in the same room.
Nowadays, the armour is on plain display in the Tower. I’d advise you to be very careful when you pay it a visit – it appears to be home to a one of the most vicious Tower of London ghosts.
If you’re like to read more grisly tales of the Tower of London, you might be interested to read about the murder mystery of the two young princes in the Tower.
Alternatively, I’ve written an overview of the history of the Tower – its legends and its foundation.