For over 900 years, England’s Tower of London struck mortal terror into the hearts of prisoners and enemies of the state. The infamous fortress dates back to 1078 and was first used as a prison in 1100. It boasts well over —including 93 beheadings and 11 by firing squad in the 20th century.
So it comes as no surprise that a multitude of ghosts reportedly haunt the blood-soaked grounds, searching for justice … or their missing heads. Here are eight of the most notorious ghosts of the Tower of London.
1. King Henry VI (d. 1471)
Like many of the grisly deaths at the Tower, Henry VI met his end as a result of a real-life game of thrones. As the only child of Henry V, he stood to inherit the English and French thrones. Yet Henry’s life was plagued by royal skirmishes. In 1471, as the Wars of the Roses raged throughout England, Henry VI was imprisoned by the House of York at the Tower of London.
Though initial reports claimed that Henry died brokenhearted of illness in the Tower on May 21, 1471, the likely truth is far more sinister. Soon after Richard of York’s son, Edward, seized control of the throne after the Battle of Tewkesbury, the newly minted ruler allegedly called for Henry VI’s assassination—Henry was stabbed to death as he knelt in prayer in the Wakefield Tower. Every anniversary of his death, his ghost is said to appear pacing around the exact spot where he met his grisly end. At the last stroke of midnight, he disappears.
2. The Two Little Princes (d. 1483
When Richard III seized the crown in 1483, his two nephews, Edward V, and his brother Richard, the Duke of York, were imprisoned at the tower. By the end of the year, they had completely disappeared from public view. While their exact fate is unknown, it’s widely believed that the two young boys were murdered so as to extinguish any hope of either royal laying claim to the throne. In 1674, the skeletons of two children were discovered buried in the Tower’s stairs.
King Charles II ordered a royal burial of the remains at Westminster Abbey. Today, the specters of the two little princes have been seen in what is known as the Bloody Tower, dressed in their white night shirts. They have also been spotted playing on the battlements, and more contemporary visitors to the tower report hearing the laughter of children throughout the halls and on the grounds.
3. Queen Anne Boleyn (d. 1536)
The second wife of Henry VIII, Queen Anne Boleyn is perhaps the most famous ghost of the Tower of London. Accused of adultery and incest (with her brother, George), Queen Anne was beheaded at the tower in 1536. Shortly before her execution she told the crowd not to blame her husband, who (as we know now) had invented these charges so that he could remarry in his futile search for a male heir.
Anne is usually seen near the site of her execution, which is now the Queen’s House, a house Henry built for Anne, and near the altar in the chapel where her body lies. One guard tells a story of seeing a hooded figure approach him in the rooms of the Tower. Despite orders to stop, the figure advanced, leading the guard to run it through with his bayonet. At that point, the guard realized the figure was missing its head.
4. Margaret de la Pole (d. 1541)
In what must be one of the most gruesome botched executions in recorded history, poor Margaret de la Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was imprisoned in the Tower as an enemy of the state after her son, a Cardinal, denounced Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England. Unfortunately for Margaret, her son was in France, so Henry took out his rage on his mother.
When she made it to the scaffold, she refused to kneel, saying, “So should traitors do and I am none.” As she was of noble birth, there were about 150 witnesses present. When the executioner raised his axe, she ran. The legend goes that he pursued her, hacking at her around the scaffold until she was dead.
The ghostly screams of Margaret are frequently heard at the site of scaffold, and some visitors have even claimed to witness a re-enactment of the bloody event. Lucky them.
5. Henry VIII’s armor (d. 1547)
In the White Tower, the oldest of all the Tower’s structures, visitors report a horrifying crushing sensation as they enter the gallery where Henry VIII’s armor is stored. The minute they leave the building, the feeling disappears.
Guards have also reported being physically accosted by some unseen force. One was covered and strangled by a heavy cloak, only to find once he freed himself, that he was alone. Another stopped to rest his feet and remove his shoes when a voice behind him whispered, “There’s only you and I here.” Whether the spirit in the White Tower is Henry VIII himself, or some other malevolent being, we wouldn’t recommend a trip to the White Tower alone.
6. Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guilford Dudley (d. 1554)
The day Lady Jane Grey’s relatives convinced her she was the rightful heir to the throne of England was the day she signed her death warrant. As the great-granddaughter of Henry VII, a group of men tried to put Jane forward as the rightful Queen. But Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary I, had other ideas. When she married Philip of Spain and was crowned Queen, she sentenced Lady Jane and her husband Guilford Dudley to death.
Lady Jane was only about 16 years old at the time of her execution; numerous male members of her family were also beheaded at the Tower— including her husband. After his execution, Guilford Dudley’s remains were carted past the room where she was held. Undoubtedly she witnessed this and knew she was about to meet the same fate. At the scaffold, she was blinded and had trouble locating the chopping block, asking, “What shall I do? Where is it?”
At the Beauchamp Tower, Dudley’s ghost is said to sit, weeping into the night. People claim he is responsible for the word “Jane” that was etched into the walls and is still visible today. As for Jane, she was spotted in 1957, a lonely figure walking amongst the battlements.
7. Lady Arbella Stuart (d. 1615)
When Lady Arbella Stuart, the second cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, secretly married William Seymour, the nephew of Lady Jane Grey, she made King James I very angry. Perceiving a threat to his rule, he put both Lady Arbella and William Seymour in the Tower. The two attempted an escape, but Arbella’s ship was intercepted and she was returned to the Tower. Seymour, for his part, escaped to Flanders. He would never see his wife again. Desperate, she refused to eat, and died at the Tower in 1615.
Like Queen Anne Boleyn, Lady Arbella is said to haunt the Queen’s House. The Governor of the Tower, who lived in those rooms from 1994 to 2006, reported a disturbing event in which his wife was pushed so violently by some unseen force that it propelled her out of the room and into the hallway. Others have reported sightings of her heartbroken ghost on the grounds on the Tower, weeping.
8. The Royal Menagerie
Perhaps the most bizarre phantom at the Tower of London is that of a bear that once lived in the Royal Menagerie. In 1210, King John established a menagerie of animals at the Tower that were used in fights for spectators’ amusement. This awful practice was incredibly popular with the people, and over the years it transitioned into kind of a zoo, where visitors could see strange beasts from all over the world—including a polar bear.
While the Duke of Wellington eventually moved the animals to the London Zoo in 1832, some believe that the troubled spirits of beasts from years past still haunt the Tower. Visitors have reported the cries of animals, including lions and monkeys, and one guard at the Tower claimed a spectral bear charged at him, only to disappear as soon as he stabbed at the creature with his bayonet.