The Tower of London – the Most Haunted Castle in England

The Tower of London could be called the most haunted place in London as it has seen hundred of executions. Some justified, some not.

Many of the prisoners who entered the Tower only left to go to their execution. Most executions were public events and were well attended. Seems a little morbid now. Traitors could expect to be hung, drawn and quartered – the most inhumane of executions – the prisoner was hung and cut down still alive, their heart and entrails removed and burnt – then their body was divided into four parts and displayed publicly to warn others of what happens when you commit treason.

Yet, when we think of the Tower and executions, the most well-known execution is by beheading…with an axe. This was generally reserved for more important and distinguished prisoners. It was considered a more merciful death.

Public executions took place on Tower Hill, however more important figures like Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard and Jane Grey were executed within the Tower in a more private execution. This was done to avoid public attention and outcries for mercy. 

 

The following people were imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed (or vanished):

George Plantagenet
George Plantagenet
702px-King_Edward_V_from_NPG
Edward V
Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick
Edward Plantagenet
Perkin Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck
1 Hans Eworth (Dutch artist, c.1525-a 1578) An Unknown Lady, called Anne Ayscough or Askew, Mrs Thomas Kyme (1521-1546) National Trust Collections Tatton Park, Cheshire 1560
Anne Askew
Thomas More
Thomas More
Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn
Jane Boleyn
Jane Boleyn
Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard
Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell
Jane Grey
Jane Grey
Margaret Pole
Margaret Pole

George, Duke of Clarence – Arrested for plotting against his brother Edward IV, he was found guilty of treason and executed in secret at Bowyer Tower in 1477. Rumors spread that he had been drown in a butt of malmsey.

Edward V – Son of Edward IV, only 12 years old when he was brought to the Tower for his coronation. His uncle, Duke of Gloucester declared he and his brother illegitimate and crowned himself Richard III. The young princes vanished at the Tower and were never seen alive again. Last seen at the Bloody Tower.

Richard, Duke of York - Brother to Edward V, one of the Princes in the Tower. Vanished from the Tower along with his brother, never to be seen again.

The story of the little princes is still to this day a heartbreaking story that brings tears to ones eyes. They are “among the most poignant ghosts” in the Tower. Their disappearance in 1483 is very suspicious of wrong doing, but by whom? The ghost of the twelve-year-old, King Edward V, and his nine-year old brother, Richard, Duke of York, can been seen in the Bloody Tower, they are still wearing the white night shirts they had on the night they disappeared. They stand silently, hand in hand, before fading back into the stones of the Bloody Tower. – Source

Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick - On 28 November 1499, Edward Plantagenet, earl of Warwick, was executed by beheading on Tower Hill for treason. The son of George, Duke of Clarence, and the nephew of both Edward IV and Richard III.

Perkin Warbeck - On November 23rd, 1499, Perkin Warbeck was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to Tyburn to be hanged. He died, not for his imitation of a Yorkist prince, but because of a plot to overthrow Henry VII. A plot which also cost the life of the last Plantagenet, Edward, Earl of Warwick.

Anne Askew – Persecuted for her religious beliefs under Henry VIII’s rule, Anne was sent to the Tower and tortured on the rack. Women had never been racked before Anne. She refused to give up her faith and was burned at the stake at Cradle Tower as a heretic.

Thomas More – Refused to accept his friend, Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, but the King commuted his sentence to execution by beheading. The execution took place on 6 July 1535. When he came to the scaffold, he is widely quoted as saying (to the officials): “I pray you, I pray you, Mr Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself”; while on the scaffold he declared that he died “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Anne Boleyn - The second wife of King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn was arrested and accused of adultery and incest by a king anxious to remarry and produce an heir. On 19 May 1536 she was beheaded by sword within the walls of the Tower.

The most persistent ghost in the Tower of London is the ghost of Queen Anne Boleyn, and rightly so. Witnesses describe a female figure identified only by her dress. Queen Anne appears near the Queen’s House, close to the site where her execution was carried out. She can be seen leading a ghostly procession of Lords and Ladies down the aisle of the Chapel Royal of St. Peter and Vincula. She floats down the aisle to her final resting place. Queen Anne is buried under the Chapel’s altar. Her headless body has also been seen walking the corridors of the Tower.Source

George Boleyn - the brother of Queen Anne Boleyn who had been executed on the trumped-up charge of incest with his sister.

Jane Boleyn – Wife of George Boleyn, the brother of Queen Anne Boleyn. Her marriage to George Boleyn was an arranged and a very unhappy one. She was instrumental in the arrest of her sister-in-law, Anne and her husband George. Jane provided damning evidence against them to Thomas Cromwell. She later became a Lady of the Privy Chamber to Katherine Howard. Jane Rochford encouraged the young queen in her affair with Thomas Culpeper with whom she helped organize secret meetings. Her part as a go-between was discovered and Jane Rochford was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. She was interrogated and lost her sanity. A new law which allowed the execution of the insane was passed in order to have her condemned to death. She confessed before her death, “God has permitted me to suffer this shameful doom as punishment for having contributed to my husband’s death. I falsely accused him of loving in an incestuous manner, his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn. For this I deserve to die.” She was executed immediately after Katherine Howard.

Katherine Howard – The fifth wife of King Henry VIII and the cousin of Anne Boleyn. Katherine was arrested at Hampton Court for adultery and tried in vain to reach the King. She was dragged screaming back to her apartments. Her lovers were executed and she passed their gruesome, impaled heads on London Bridge on her way to Traitor’s gate, the entry to the Tower of London. Katherine asked William Kingston for a block so that she could practice her execution. Legend has it that her last words were: “I die a queen, but would rather die the wife of Culpeper.”

Katherine Howard escaped from her room in the Tower. “She ran down the hallway screaming for help and mercy. She was caught and returned to her room.” The next day she was beheaded. Her ghost has been seen sill running down the hallway screaming for help.Source

Thomas Cromwell - Cromwell was arrested on 10 June 1540 and imprisoned in the Tower. He was imprisoned for not pleasing the king – to be so blunt. The king deferred the execution until his marriage to Anne of Cleves could be annulled. Hoping for clemency, Cromwell wrote in support of the annulment, in his last personal address to the King. He ended it with the plea “Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy.” Mercy did not come and Cromwell was condemned to death without trial and beheaded on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540, the day of the King’s marriage to Catherine Howard.

Jane Grey - Queen for just nine days, Lady Jane Grey was found guilty of high treason and sent to the Tower. On 12 February 1554 she watched her husband go to his death before she too was beheaded on Tower Green, aged 16.

 Lady Jane watched as her husband was taken to Tower Hill where he was beheaded. She saw his body being carried back to the chapel, after which she was taken to Tower Green where she was beheaded. Lady Jane Grey’s ghost was last seen by two Guardsmen on February 12, 1957, the 403rd anniversary of her execution. She was described as a “white shape forming itself on the battlements”. Her husband, Guildford Dudley, has been seen in Beauchamp Tower weeping.Source

Margaret Pole - The Countess of Salisbury was the last direct descendant of the Plantagenet line – her father was George, Duke of Clarence who was drowned for treason in 1477 and her brother Edward, Earl of Warwick was beheaded in 1499. She was arrested two years before her execution and treated poorly – neglected as a prisoner in the Tower of London. She was not given a trial. She was small, frail and ill. But she was a proud noble. She was dragged to the block, but refused to lay her head on the block. She was forced down and struggled. The inexperienced executioner made a gash in her shoulder rather than her neck. She leapt from the block and was chased by the executioner, with his axe. She was struck eleven times before she died. There were 150 witnesses to her execution. She was the oldest woman executed at 68 years of age.

The most grisly execution and thus haunting is that of the old Countess of Salisbury, the last of the Plantagenets.  Her ghost has been seen reliving this truly gruesome act. Also the shadow of a great axe has been seen falling across the scene of her murder.Source

Other notable executions:

  • John Fisher Bishop of Rochester (1534)
  • Implicated with Anne Boleyn (1536)
    • Mark Smeaton
    • Sir Henry Norris
    • Sir Francis Weston
    • William Brereton
  • Implicated with Catherine Howard (1542)
    • Thomas Culpepper
    • Henry Mannox
    • Francis Dereham
  • Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1546)
  • Thomas, Duke of Norfolk (1546)
  • Thomas Seymour, High Admiral of England (1549)
  • Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector (1552)
  • Guildford Dudley – husband of Lady Jane Grey (1554)

Henry VII and the Princes in the Tower

In 1483 Edward V and Richard, Duke of York disappeared from the Tower of London. They were the sons of the late Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

Edward V was born 2 November 1470 in Westminster Abbey where his mother had taken sanctuary from the Lancastrians who had deposed his father during the Wars of the Roses. His brother, Richard was born 17 August 1473 in Shrewsbury, England when Edward IV ruled over England once again.

Shortly before his sudden death on 9 April 1483, King Edward IV named his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Lord Protector of the realm for the young Edward V, who was only 12 years old.

edward5gloucesterIt was at Ludlow Castle that young Edward was notified of his father’s death and his succession to the throne – he was to travel to London immediately in preparation for his coronation. As he traveled from Ludlow, Richard (Lord Protector) met and escorted him to lodgings in the Tower of London. Edward’s brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York joined him shortly after. Edward’s coronation was to be on 22 June 1483, but before the young king could be crowned his father’s marriage to his mother Elizabeth Woodville was declared invalid – making their children illegitimate and ineligible for the throne. This left an opening for their uncle Richard to take the throne himself.



PrincesThe last time the boys were seen in or around the grounds of the Tower of London was the summer of 1483 – they were never to be seen again.

A decade later, in January 1493, news of a resurrected Duke of York (in Ireland) had reached London. Just six years earlier another boy by the name of Lambert Simnel claimed to be the young Duke of York but turned out to be a pretender. The idea of another pretender must have seemed preposterous and fabricated at the time.

However, when the news of Perkin Warbeck arrived in England, Yorkist supporters jumped at the chance to back anyone who claimed to be Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York.

Henry VII took the threat of Perkin Warbeck seriously. So seriously he dispatched 200 men to Ireland. Their job was to arrest those that may be involved or cause trouble for the throne. He also sent spies to dig up the truth of the new pretender to expose him as a fraud. Any legitimate, surviving son of Edward IV would be considered a threat to Henry’s crown.

Margaret of Burgundy
Margaret of Burgundy

By end of June of the same year (1493) the danger seemed over. Nothing had happened in either Ireland or England. In Flanders, Margaret of Burgundy (aunt to the princes in the Tower) had been unable to raise funds for the army she needed to assist her nephew in taking back the throne of England for the House of York. Margaret was sister to Edward lV and insisted that Warbeck was indeed her nephew and heir to the throne of England. When Margaret continued to throw her support towards Perkin Warbeck Henry VII became angry and declared his son, Henry Tudor (future Henry VIII) as Duke of York in a magnificent ceremony. There could not be two living Dukes of York in England.

1493 was also the year Perkin Warbeck wrote a letter to Isabella of Castile looking for support while trying to convince her that he was indeed Richard. During this time period Henry VII was negotiating the marriage of his son Arthur, Prince of Wales with Katherine of Aragon – daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Resolving the issue of the pretender was of utmost importance to both parties. Ferdinand and Isabella would not want to align their daughter with a usurper.

For the next couple years Warbeck worked on a plan and tried to gain more supporters.

James_IV_King_of_Scotland
James IV of Scotland

At the beginning of 1496, James IV of Scotland had arranged and celebrated the nuptials of Warbeck and his cousin, Lady Katherine Gordon.  Surely James IV believed he was the rightful Duke of York and king of England, why else would he marry his cousin to Warbeck. Soon after the wedding Falkland Palace was used as Warbeck’s base. Together they planned to invade England in hopes of claiming the English throne as Richard IV.



In 1497, after departing Scotland, Warbeck crossed to Ireland. When he arrived he found no allies and was being pursued by the Earl of Kildare. In a country that had supported the House of York, Warbeck was sadly not welcomed, so he sailed to Devon.

“Here only a few thousand people joined him and the people of Exeter and Taunton drove him out. Warbeck fled to Beaulieu Abbey where he hoped to find sanctuary. In August 1497 he was persuaded to give himself up. As a foreigner Warbeck could not be tried for treason so would not have faced the butchery of being hung, drawn and quartered.” 

“Henry allowed Warbeck to remain at court where he could be watched. However, he foolishly tried to run away which seemed to emphasise his treachery. Warbeck was put in the stocks, humiliated and sent to the Tower. Clearly after being generous to the pretender, Henry’s patience had run out. In 1499, Warbeck was charged with trying to escape for a second time, found guilty and hanged on November 23rd 1499″.– The History Learning Site

I can only imagine how Queen Elizabeth reacted to the news. Did she believe that Warbeck was indeed her young brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York?

We don’t know for certain what happened to the princes, or the people involved in their disappearance, but those involved would have certainly been aware of the true status of the boys and react accordingly. This is why I believe Henry VII was not involved. If he knew that Richard was dead, by his hand, or his orders, he would not have sent an army or spies to investigate the pretender.

So what really happened to the boys? Were they both murdered? Did Edward V die from natural causes and his brother Richard escape? Did Elizabeth Woodville send a local boy in place of her youngest son and ship Richard off to safety?

Is the mystery of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ set to be uncovered?

Edward_IV_Plantagenet
Edward IV
Perkins Warbeck
Perkin Warbeck
Elizabeth Woodville
Elizabeth Woodville