The Tower of London is the oldest fortress, palace and prison of its type anywhere in Europe. It is no surprise that it is one of the most haunted Castles in Britain. Hundreds of ghost sightings have been reported over the years.
With a long history of executions, murder and torture, ranging from hanging, beheading, to being hung, drawn and quartered, it is the perfect recipe for a haunted history.
The first structure on the site was a motte-and-bailey castle, which was started not long after William the Conqueror became king in 1066; the castle was built on the old Roman walls, which once formed the corner of Londinium. The first stone building on the site was the White Tower, which was commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1078 and completed in 1097. It was a bastion of Norman power, towering 90 feet over the capital city.
There have been literally hundreds of executions on Tower Hill, from claimants to the throne, political activists and petty criminals. Many of the towers once held prison cells, and the White Tower once held torture chambers within its crypt. Tower Green outside the White Tower was reserved for Royal executions, while Tower Hill served as the public execution place for all the other traitors.
The first documented sighting of a ghost at the tower was that of Thomas A. Becket. It was reported that during the construction of an inner curtain wall, he appeared and showed his anger at the construction by reducing the wall to a pile of rubble by striking it with his cross.
Lady Jane Grey, the 9-day queen, ghost is also said to appear on the anniversary of her death on the 12th February 1554. On this day in 1957 at 3 a.m., a guard was disturbed by something striking the top of his guardhouse. When he stepped outside to investigate, he saw a headless white figure on top of the Tower. Only later after talking to some of the other guards did he realise the significance of what he saw and who it was.
One of the most enduring ghosts is that of Queen Anne Boleyn, one of the wives of Henry VIII, who was beheaded on the grounds of adultery and treason in the Tower in 1536. Queen Anne is buried under the chapel's altar, with her ghost being spotted on many occasions.
She haunts the vicinity of the White Tower, the King's House, Tower Green, and the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Her body has been seen to walk the corridors of the Tower, sometimes carrying her head. She is only recognisable by the dress she wore at her execution.
In 1864 a sentry is said to have challenged a headless figure thought to be Ann Boleyn, his bayonet passed straight through her, and he fainted in shock. He was saved from court martial for being asleep at his post, on the word of other guards, who said they had witnessed a similar occurrence.
In another account a Captain of the Guard is said to have seen a bright light coming from within the locked, empty Chapel Royal in the White Tower. He climbed up a ladder to look down into the chapel, and witnessed a procession of people in ancient dress, with an elegant woman walking in front of them. He recognised the figure as Ann Boleyn from portraits that he had seen.
One of the most gruesome ghost stories connected with the Tower of London is the bungled execution of Lady Salisbury in 1541. At 70 she was given the death penalty following her alleged involvement in criminal activities (although it is now widely believed that she was probably innocent).
After being sent struggling to the scaffold to be beheaded, she refused to place her neck on the block as all others did. She ran from the block in hysterics with her executioner chasing behind her. She was pursued by the axe man until she was hacked to death after finally being felled with a number of heavy blows from behind. The whole bloody scene is said to be re-enacted by spirits on Tower Green. Also the shadow of a great axe has been seen falling across the scene of her murder.
Although not an apparition, the haunting in the Salt Tower is for some, very real and very frightening. Said to be one of the most haunted areas in the tower's complex, dogs will not enter this area at all, and Yeoman Warders will not enter after dark. This was after a Warder told how he was almost throttled by a strong but unseen force. As recently as 1995, an American tourist was taking photographs of the Tower. She took a picture of Traitor's Gate. On having the film developed, you can clearly see what appears to be a hand wearing a 16th century Yeoman's uniform.
The Bloody Tower was the scene for the infamous disappearance of the two princes; Edward V (aged 12) and Richard Duke of York (aged 10), who are thought to have been murdered in 1483 on the probable command of the Duke of Gloucestershire, who was to be crowned Richard the III.
According to one story, guards in the late 15th century, who were passing the stairs in the Bloody Tower, spotted the shadows of two small figures gliding down the stairs. These figures were identified as the ghosts of the two princes. In 1674 workmen found a chest that contained the skeletons of two young children, they were thought to be the remains of the princess, and were given a royal burial not long afterwards.
Sir Walter Raleigh's ghost makes an appearance now and again, and has been seen as recently as 1983 by a Yeoman Guard on duty in the Byward Tower. The same ghost was also seen a year and a half later by a different guard in the same area. Sir Walter is said to wander the tower as he did when he was imprisoned. He was not as restricted in movements as some of the other prisoners during his incarceration.
Other ghostly traditions include the screams of Guy Fawkes echoing through the tower, as they did when he was tortured before being hung drawn and quartered, the ghost of Lord Northumberland who was executed in 1553, and various other apparitions and ghosts from the Tower's bloody history.