Title: Memento Mori Oracle Podcast - Episode 19: Tower
In this episode of the Memento Mori Oracle Podcast, we delve into the spectral world of the Tower of London. Join us as we explore the chilling and sometimes poignant stories behind some of its most famous ghosts. From tragic royals to wronged innocents, these tales are sure to captivate and maybe even send a shiver down your spine.
- "She knelt down, and in a particularly heartbreaking moment, she had trouble finding the block and was heard saying, "What shall I do? Where is it?" A sympathetic onlooker guided her to it and helped her lay her head. The executioner then asked for her forgiveness, and with a single stroke, her life was ended."
Links and Resources Mentioned:
- Memento Mori Oracle Deck: Explore the mysteries of the deck and own a piece of this enchanting experience. Buy Here
- Claire Goodchild's Books: Dive deeper into the world of mysticism and folklore. Available on Amazon
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The Tower of London is an imposing structure that has stood as a symbol of British power for almost a thousand years. Built in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest, it has played a pivotal role in shaping British history.
Over the centuries, it has served as a royal palace, a menagerie, a prison and a place of execution. Its walls have witnessed the rise and fall of kings and queens.
For many, the Tower was the last thing they saw before meeting their end. The place is said to be haunted by the ghosts of those who died within its walls.
The Tower of London is the prime example of what is known as a "residual haunting location." A residual haunting is an energetic imprint on the environment left behind from an event. These hauntings are moments that happened in the past but are played out in the present, much like a scene in a movie. The actions happen in the same order every time.
Today, we will cover five residual hauntings at the Tower of London.
THE TWO PRINCES
Our first story is one of the most mysterious attached to the Tower: the disappearance of two young princes.
In 1483, Edward the 5th, aged 12, and his brother Richard, aged 9, were living in the Tower of London after the death of their father, King Edward the 4th. The younger Edward was in line to take the throne, and preparation for his coronation was meant to be handled by their uncle Richard, the Duke of Gloucester.
Little did the boys know, but their uncle had set his sights on the throne for himself and hatched a devious plan.
Though once loyal to his brother, the Duke was known for his cunning and sadistic cruelty. Before the age of 31, he had been involved in the plot that killed King Henry and his son, imprisoned his mother-in-law in the Tower of London, and made countless widows on the battlefield. Removing two children that stood in his way would've felt like nothing.
Upon his arrival at the Tower after the death of his brother the King, the Duke immediately removed young Edward's advisors, many of whom the boy had known since birth, and installed his own agents in their place to emotionally isolate the child.
Edward was banished to a secluded tower area, and his younger brother soon joined him. Richard then declared his two nephews illegitimate and said anyone who remained loyal to them was guilty of treason and would be executed without trial.
On July 6th, 1483, Richard the Duke crowned himself King Richard the 3rd.
What happened to the two boys after their removal is unknown. The last sighting of the pair was June 16th, 1483, and documented in the Great Chronicle. It said: "The children of King Edward were seen shooting arrows and playing in the garden."
It is speculated that either the new King murdered the boys himself or had someone do it on his behalf. Of course, over the years, other suspects have been brought up, but most historians agree that Richard is the only one capable and had a motive strong enough to do it.
About two centuries later, in 1674, a wooden chest was found underneath a set of stairs during construction work. Inside lay the skeletons of two children.
Four years later, the bones were taken to Westminster Abbey and interred with an inscription describing them as the remains of the lost princes.
In 1933, experts Dr. Lawrence Tanner and Professor W. Wright exhumed and examined the skeletons.
The men concluded that the bones belonged to two boys aged roughly 12 and 9. The jaw bone of the older skeleton showed evidence of osteomyelitis, a dental disease Edward was purported to have suffered from.
Many people believe that Richard faced his karma for what he had supposedly done to the boys. His power over England, as well as his life, was swiftly taken from him by Henry Tudor and his troops just two years after he crowned himself in August 1485.
He was buried nearby in Leicester without ceremony, so his legacy would always be that of a disgraced king, not the influential and sadistic strategist he was.
Since their murders in the 15th century, many who have lived in and visited the castle have claimed to have seen their ghosts. Accounts from the late 1400s state that spectres of the two boys dressed in nightgowns have been seen sitting, crying and clinging to one another. In 1990, two castle guards claimed to hear Phantom giggling and talking, which they were sure came from the ghosts of two boys, forever playing behind the stone walls of the great Tower of London.
Our next spirit is undoubtedly the most well-known, and this woman's ghostly visage is seen all around the grounds of the Tower of London.
On May 19th, 1536, on Tower Green, Anne Boleyn knelt blindfolded on the scaffold, awaiting her horrible fate. The executioner, who was brought in from France, removed his shoes so she would not know when he was approaching and, with one swift motion, beheaded her with his sword.
Anne Boleyn was a pivotal figure in English history and is best remembered for her role in the English Reformation.
Anne was part of a noble family, born around 1501 to Sir Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard. Her father was a respected diplomat and courtier — an influential advisor or friend to royalty.
His career included several significant diplomatic missions; he often negotiated with foreign powers, which was crucial in the Tudor period. As a lady of noble birth, Elizabeth's primary roles were wife, mother, and noblewoman involved in court life.
Growing up, Anne was a curious child adept at learning. Her early education, first in the Netherlands and then in France, gave her a sophistication rarely seen in Tudor England.
After returning to England in 1522, Anne quickly gained a prominent position at the court of Henry VIII as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon.
At the time, Anne's sister Mary was Henry's mistress, but when Henry met Anne, he wanted her to take the role as well. However, she refused and insisted on marriage. This bold move initiated a long political and religious drama that would significantly impact English history.
During the 16th century, divorce was uncommon, especially among the royalty. However, Henry's strong desire to marry Anne and secure a male heir led to his split with the Roman Catholic Church, resulting in the establishment of the Protestant Church of England. This period in history is known as the Reformation.
When Anne married Henry in 1533, followed by her coronation as queen consort, she became one of the most powerful women in England.
But the happiness of her coronation was short-lived. The birth of her daughter, Elizabeth, in September 1533, who later became the famous Queen Elizabeth I, did nothing to improve her position, as the inability to produce a male heir created tension in their marriage.
Anne's downfall was as swift as her rise.
By 1536, amid a complex web of lies, she was arrested and charged with adultery, incest, and treason.
Modern historians widely regard these charges as fabricated, a political move by Henry and his advisors to remove Anne and clear the way for Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour.
Anne's trial, heavily biased and lacking credible evidence, resulted in her conviction.
On the morning of her execution, Anne awoke early in the Tower of London, where she had been imprisoned.
Historical accounts suggest she spent her last hours in prayer and received the sacrament in the presence of Sir William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower.
As the time of Anne's execution drew near, she was led to the specially built scaffold on Tower Green.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Anne displayed remarkable composure and dignity.
When she addressed the crowd, she maintained her innocence but refrained from criticizing the King directly.
Her speech was a poignant mix of composure and emotion.
She asked the crowd to pray for her and wished for the King's happiness and a prosperous reign.
Anne then removed her headdress and tucked her hair under a cap to prepare for her execution.
Her courage and grace struck those in attendance during these final moments.
After her execution, her body and head were then taken and buried in an unmarked grave in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, within the Tower of London. Naturally, this area of the Tower is where her ghost is seen quite a bit.
There have been reports of her leading a ghostly procession down the chapel aisle. In some accounts, witnesses describe seeing her kneeling at the altar, an area which is not accessible to the public at night.
The most famous sighting at the Tower is of Anne's headless body wandering near Tower Green, where she was executed. This apparition is often described as clad in a Tudor-era dress, moving silently and creating an eerie atmosphere.
During his early years as the Duke of York, King George V had an unforgettable encounter that he claimed to be with none other than the ghost of Anne Boleyn. The sighting left the future King visibly shaken.
Even in modern times, there are regular reports from Tower guards and tourists who claim to have seen or felt the presence of Anne Boleyn. These accounts often describe a sudden drop in temperature, a feeling of being watched, or the appearance of a lady in a Tudor dress who vanishes upon being approached.
These sightings and experiences contribute to the lore surrounding Anne Boleyn, making her one of the most frequently reported ghosts in the UK. Her tragic story seems to have left an imprint not just in history books but also in the locations that played a role in her life and death.
Another woman, unceremoniously killed by King Henry VIII and whose ghost is still seen acting out the tragic scene of her death, was the Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole.
Margaret Pole was born in 1473 and was the daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, and Isabel Neville. Her noble lineage made her a prominent figure in the English court. However, during the reign of Henry VIII, tensions arose between her family and the King, which marked Margaret as a potential threat during his volatile reign.
In 1539, amid the tumultuous political climate, she was arrested and confined in the Tower of London, accused of treason—like Anne, Margaret's crimes are believed to have been fabricated.
Margaret's execution on May 27th, 1541, was a gruesome affair, remembered as one of the most horrific executions at the Tower.
The elderly Countess, refusing to accept her fate as a traitor, did not cooperate with the executioner and attempted to flee.
It's said that she was chased around the scaffold, with the executioner striking her numerous times before she finally died. This harrowing scene is central to the ghost stories that surround her.
Witnesses have reported seeing a ghostly figure in Tudor-era clothing, re-enacting her final moments, as if the Countess is eternally reliving her brutal death.
LADY JANE GREY
Another figure whose life was cut short by the merciless politics of England and who is said to haunt the Tower is the "Nine Days Queen," Lady Jane Grey.
Born in October 1537, Lady Jane Grey was the daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon, the niece of King Henry VIII.
From a young age, Jane was recognized for her intelligence. Her education was thorough, rare for a girl of her time, and she became proficient in various languages and well-versed in theology.
Jane's life took a dramatic turn when King Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII, lay on his deathbed.
To prevent the Catholic Mary Tudor from ascending to the throne and reversing the Protestant Reformation, Edward and his council named Jane, a Protestant and Edward's cousin, his successor.
This decision was influenced heavily by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, who saw in Jane a means to maintain his own power.
She was a reluctant monarch, and her crowning in July 1553 caused inner turmoil and panic. She was well aware of her role as a pawn and the risk to her life associated with this decision.
As she predicted, Jane's claim was quickly challenged by Mary Tudor, who garnered significant public and political support.
Mary Tudor's forces swiftly deposed Jane, who had been queen for just nine days. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower of London, initially spared from execution. However, the political climate remained volatile, and Jane's presence was increasingly seen as a threat to Mary's rule, so her execution was eventually ordered.
Lady Jane Grey's execution was on February 12th, 1554. The events of that day unfolded sombrely, marking the end of a promising young life.
Lady Jane Grey awoke early that morning in the Tower. Though she was just sixteen, she faced her execution with a composure that was beyond her years despite the grim reality that awaited her.
Jane reportedly spent her last hour in prayer and reflection and is said to have expressed her devotion to the Protestant faith and the church of England.
Then, dressed in black to symbolize mourning, Jane made her way to the location of the scaffold.
Upon reaching the platform, Jane was allowed to address the crowd. Her speech was deliberate and pious; she declared that she deserved death for accepting the crown but maintained she had never sought it herself.
She asked for mercy for her soul and forgave those who had condemned her.
She knelt down, and in a particularly heartbreaking moment, she had trouble finding the block and was heard saying, "What shall I do? Where is it?" A sympathetic onlooker guided her to it and helped her lay her head. The executioner then asked for her forgiveness, and with a single stroke, her life was ended.
The execution of Lady Jane Grey was met with a mix of horror and sadness. A stark reminder of the brutal nature of Tudor power politics.
Like Anne Boleyn, her body was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula within the Tower grounds.
The most common sightings of Jane's ghost occur near Tower Green. Witnesses often describe seeing a young, solemn woman around the anniversary of her execution, February 12th.
There have also been sightings of Jane's ghost in the Queen's House, located within the Tower complex. This building is significant as it is where Jane was likely held prisoner before her execution.
Witnesses frequently report a sense of heaviness in areas where her ghost is seen, as if her heartbreak still lingers in the atmosphere.
Our final story is one of the most unusual from the Tower of London, and it is the tale of the spectral bear.
This apparition dates back to a time when the Tower housed the Royal Menagerie, a collection of exotic animals kept as symbols of royal power and prestige.
Although the origins of the Menagerie can be traced back to the medieval period, it was under Henry III in the 13th century that the collection began to expand.
One of the earliest recorded animals was a polar bear, gifted by the King of Norway in 1252.
This bear was allowed to fish in the River Thames, which shows how unique and unconventional the Menagerie's beginnings were.
Over the centuries, the collection of animals at the Tower grew both in size and diversity.
Exotic animals, such as lions, elephants, and even kangaroos, were housed within its walls. These creatures were more than mere curiosities; they symbolized royal power and prestige.
By the 17th century, the Menagerie had evolved into a popular public attraction. Visitors could witness these exotic animals firsthand for a small fee.
Despite its popularity, the Menagerie's history is also marked by inadequate living conditions for the animals and a lack of understanding of their needs.
The enclosures were often cramped and unsuitable for large, wild animals.
Incidents of animals attacking keepers or visitors were not uncommon, highlighting the inherent dangers and the lack of proper facilities or knowledge in wild animal care.
By the 1830s, concerns over animal welfare and public safety led to the closure of the Menagerie.
The animals were eventually transferred to the newly established London Zoo in Regent's Park, which was better equipped to care for them.
The closure of the Royal Menagerie marked the end of an era and the beginning of a more enlightened approach to animal care and public zoological displays.
The ghost story goes that a sentry on night duty at the Tower, near the Martin Tower, was confronted by the apparition of a massive bear.
Terrified, the guard struck at the ghostly figure with his bayonet, but it passed through the apparition, leaving the guard in a state of shock.
Tragically, the guard died of fright a few days later…
And that brings us to the end of today's episode.
Through these tales, the Tower of London reveals itself as a continuous archive of human narratives.
These stories remind us that history is shaped not only by the events and dates but also by the deeply personal and human experiences intertwined within them.
This has been the Memento Mori Oracle podcast. I'm your host, Claire Goodchild.
Tune in next time when we delve into the enthralling history of cemeteries. Those peaceful havens and their rich tapestry of traditions, art, and symbolism.