Recent events to do with the British Royal Family suggest that being a royal is largely a matter of putting on extravagant weddings, introducing new babies to the media, posing for photographs for glossy magazines, or sometimes throwing lavish banquets for state visitors. Life doesn’t generally sound that difficult. But the history books show us in vivid detail that the lives of royals were once fraught with a lot more peril and hardship than they are today. The British Isles are full of stories of royal ghosts from yesteryear, whose purpose it seems is to remind us of darker times in the past.
Those of us who are keen to have the living daylights frightened out of ourselves have a delightful range of places to go in the hope of meeting a ghost. What’s particularly useful for people making a flying visit to the UK is that they don’t even have to leave London to go to some of the nation’s most haunted spots.
One such place is the famous Tower of London, renowned nowadays for its collection of royal jewels, but once notorious as the preferred setting for noble executions. Perhaps the best-known and most feared of the ghosts is that of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII who was beheaded in 1536. Her woeful demise, and her youth at the time of her death – not yet 35 – contribute to the legend of her restless soul. Visitors and guards at the Tower have reported seeing her roaming the area of her execution, holding her decapitated head in her hands.
To work as a night warden at the Tower of London certainly takes guts, because Anne Boleyn isn’t the only spirit said to wander the corridors and courtyards. Perhaps even more sinister are the reports of the ghosts of the ‘Two Princes’, Edward V and his brother Prince Richard, who were murdered in 1483 or 1484 in mysterious circumstances. Aged only 12 and 10 respectively, the boys were probably killed by their uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in order to clear his path to the throne. To this day, it is said that the princes can sometimes be seen playing games in the courtyards of the Tower – reason enough for the faint-hearted amongst us to leave the fortress at closing time!
Also in modern-day Central London, the palace of Kensington is not only home to Kate and Wills and family – and Prince Harry and soon-to-be Princess Meghan – but also to a veritable company of spectres. One such is the ghost of Princess Sophia, a daughter of King George III, who died at the palace in 1848 as a reclusive spinster. Rumour has it that the sound of her spinning-wheel can still be heard, always seeming to come from a room next door. As with most haunted places, Princess Sophia is far from alone. In fact, the palace has eerie resonances from the fates of several royals who died gruesomely there. One such was Queen Mary (1662–1694), who contracted, and died of smallpox at Kensington, only ten days after moving in for the first time!
Slightly further out of London – though still reachable in a short time – are the ghoul-frequented royal palaces of Hampton Court and Windsor Castle. Unsurprisingly, it’s Henry VIII’s bloody legacy that seems to have caused the presences of several spectres in Hampton Court. The ghost of his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, who was beheaded like Anne Boleyn, has been sighted walking in the corridors and causing visitors to feel a cold, numb, or faint feeling. Aged only 19 at the time of her death, she was reported to have chased after Henry at the palace in a desperate plea for mercy, until being caught by guards and dragged away screaming. The sense of paranormal activity is heightened by the fact that the palace’s original owner and designer, Cardinal Wolsey, was prosecuted and probably harassed to death by – who else? – Henry VIII.
Windsor Castle is still used by the royal family as a residence and is said to be the present Queen’s favourite place. This suggests that she isn’t much perturbed by wandering ghouls. The ghost of her forebear, Queen Elizabeth I, is rumoured to stalk the castle library at night, her shoes making a creepy tapping noise. Indeed, none less than King George VI himself claimed to have seen her on the eve of the Second World War.
Of course, there are rich pickings for ghoul-hunters outside of the capital city and its environs: for example, Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where the ghostly death-cries of King Edward II are occasionally reported, since it was there that he was brutally murdered by his wife and her lover. Glamis Castle in Scotland, home to the Earls of Strathmore, counts among its many ghosts the historical king Macbeth, made world-famous by William Shakespeare’s eponymous play.
The more daring among us might wish to travel to such places in order to meet royals and aristocrats of times past, albeit some of them headless. It surely adds sheen to one’s credentials if one can book a visit using one’s very own noble title: with ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ written on the credit card. Staff are more likely to give you the best treatment, and perhaps the ghosts will, too… A noble title is yours to be purchased for little effort and at little cost: just visit royaltitles.net to find how!