Losing one’s head at the Tower of London!

Bruna Zanelli

‘All houses wherein men have lived and died are haunted houses ...’,

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.


Since it’s beginnings around 1089, the Tower of London has stood witness to killings and torture of the innocent, as well as the guilty.

While the nobility met death by the axe on Tower Green, those less important would die a most horrific death: hung, cut down while still alive then drawn, before being quartered, their innards burnt before their dying eyes.

But even the lucky ones of ‘blue blood’ frequently died in agony. The executioners were often less than skilled and it is stomach churning to imagine the butchery that took place on that May morning in 1541, when Richard 111’s neice, Margaret Pole, the Countess of Salisbury, met her insidious fate. The dignified old lady had committed no crime other than being born somewhat close to the throne for the tolerance of Henry V111.

At Tower Green, she proclaimed her innocence loudly, telling the axeman ‘Take my head as best you can’, while refusing to kneel and place her head on the executioner’s block. The ensuing bloodbath resulted in her bloodcurdling screams which some say are heard to this day.

No surprise then that many tortured souls linger around the Tower of London.

Another innocent was the Lady Jane Grey who died beneath the axe because her ambitious father-in-law, John Dudley, Earl of Northumberland, claimed she should be Queen ( thus fulfilling his dream of a son becoming King). Young Jane was arrested for treason and, together with her young husband, was beheaded by order of the then Queen Mary.

Gentle Jane’s spirit scared the wits out of a young Welsh guardsman who was on duty the night she quietly drifted from the Salt Tower.

We have all heard about the tragic young Princes in the Tower who died so mysteriously following their father, King Edward 1V’s death in 1483. Over the years, the Princes have been seen at the Bloody Tower, where their bodies were discovered. If only they would tell us how they died!

Anne Boleyn, Henry’s Queen, arrived at the Tower through Traitors Gate to await her fate. The King, wishing to rid himself of the headstrong Anne and marry Jane Seymour, invented charges of adultery against her, charges for which Anne died.

Sightings of the lovely Boleyn have been reported at Tower Green, where she died, by the requested sword from France, in the White Tower and in St. Peter-ad-Vincula, where her remains are buried. Anne sometimes appears headless, only recognisable by her regal clothes.

The list of victims is endless and it would be unthinkable to omit he who is considered ‘The Last Elizabethan’.

Falsely imprisoned, proclaimed a traitor, the charismatic Sir Walter Ralegh spent 18 years at the Tower of London, before being beheaded on October 27, 1618. Many have since seen the tall, proud Ralegh on the narrow walk-way beside the Bloody Tower where he had been imprisoned, staring out across the gently flowing River Thames.

But there are also the-not-so famous who loiter at the Tower, including the Lady in White who, in 1864, ignored the officer who challenged her by calmly walking through his bayonet and himself!

The Tower is the most haunted location in London and is well worth a visit. Built as a garrisoned fort, today it guards the Queen’s Crown Jewels, which are on show to the public.

The Ceremony of the Keys is performed nightly but once those great locks are secured, the guards returned to their quarters, not many venture forth again until morning.

Well, would you?

© All Stories and Content Copyright of Bruna Zanelli - all rights Reserved. Redistribution without prior consent is punishable by law.