Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published May 23rd 2014
From Heirs to Bears
While The Tower of London is now a popular tourist destination, once upon a time, such a trip was a one way ticket with little hope of survival. Those who weren't given a death sentence often died due to the harsh conditions. With a notoriety for such horror and gruesome endings, it is hardly surprising that The Tower of London is a place of unrest, and thought to be one of the most haunted locations in the capital. Here is a list of some of the most infamous ghosts who faced the chop.
By far the most royal beheading at the tower was Anne Bolelyn. Born in 1501 to Lady Elizabeth Howard and the 1st Earl of Wiltshire, Thomas Boleyn, she was educated in France as a maid of honour. She later returned to England in 1522 to marry her cousin, James Butler, but plans fell through. Instead she became maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon, and caught the eye of her husband, King Henry VIII.
Since Catherine was unable to produce a male heir, Henry wanted a divorce, which led to the dissolution of the monasteries and Catholic faith. Five days after the annulment, he married Anne Boleyn, but her downfall was almost as fast coming. She gave birth to a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, which was followed by three miscarriages. Rumours of Anne's alleged adultery and treason spreading, she was sentenced to death in the tower in 1536.
Thomas Beckett did not want the job of Archbishop, but it was practically forced upon him by Henry II. The two were good friends, and Henry thought having Beckett would abide by all his wishes over rights to the church. He was wrong. Beckett said that the king should not have authority over the church, and it caused a bitter dispute. Henry's men misheard or misinterpret an exasperated comment he made that was something along the lines of 'Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?' Thinking they were abiding by the king's wishes, they murdered Beckett in church, a place of sanctuary.
Although Thomas Beckett was not executed at the tower, his ghost is said to be one of the first seen there, destroying the inner curtain wall while it was under construction. To appease his ghost, a chapel was built in the tower, and not further incidents occurred.
Born in 1536, Lady Jane Grey was the cousin of the sickly Edward VI. Knowing he was going to die, the young king looked for a successor. He wanted to crown to remain in Catholic hands, so dismissed his protestant half sister, Elizabeth. Neither did he want his half sister, Mary to rule. Instead, he chose Jane. Unfortunately, this 'gift' he gave her turned out to be a death sentence. Mary was furious at the decision, and within nine days, Jane was deposed, and sent to the tower, accused to treason, and beheaded.
The great great granddaughter of Henry VII, Arabella Stuart was once a contender for the throne after Elizabeth I, although she had no desire for the position. Arabella married William Seymour, who was the nephew of Lady Jane Grey. This act was seen as a threat by James I, and she was put under house arrest. William was sent to the tower. She planned an escape for her husband, after which they would flee to France. But William missed the rendezvous, she was captured, sent to the tower, and remained there until her death in 1615. William escaped.
5. Old Martin
Even the ghost of a bear has once reportedly been seen at the tower. There was only one sighting, does not hold much credence, but if you want to believe, there are two possible candidates. The first is a polar bear give to Henry III in 1251 by the King of Norway. It was put on a long chain so that it could fish in the Thames. Another possibility is a brown grizzly bear that the Hudson Bay Company gave to George III in 1811. Called 'Old Martin' it was kept in the tower for many years, until being moved to London Zoo, where it died in 1838.