No historic monument in Britain is more visited than the Tower of London. Millions of tourists flock there to see the Crown Jewels, the Yeomen, or « Beefeaters », in their unique renaissance uniforms, and the famous ravens who, as legend would have it, have witnessed so many historical events throughout the centuries.Before becoming a museum, the Tower was a royal residence, at a time when the sovereign felt the legitimate need to seek refuge behind its formidable ramparts.
It was also a prison and a place of execution, in the days when a death sentence was only too common as the outcome of a trial. The walls here have seen so many long hours of pain and torture and violent death… It is therefore not surprising that the Tower is inhabited by ghosts…A certain Captain Mark Blyth arrived one morning to take up his new post as a warder. That evening, he went to the mess to meet his new colleagues and was immediately attentive as the conversation turned to the Tower’s phantoms.
All the officers agreed that the most terrifying among them was no doubt the Countess of Salisbury, whose execution was a memorably horrific and sordid affair. Certain long-serving sergeants confirmed they had heard her blood-curdling screams on several occasions. Not to mention Guy Fawkes, who had been tortured in the council chamber next to the mess and whose moaning and agonised screams could be heard rather too frequently…
In order to further enlighten their new colleague, the officers then recounted the adventures of a man called Charles High. A few years earlier, this soldier had been found unconscious one morning when he was supposed to be guarding the Queen’s House. Muttering incoherently, he had been arrested and presented to a court of officers. Charles High began to defend himself, explaining that he had been selected for duty that night…
At one point, he saw behind him a shadowy figure, a woman, coming out of the Queen’s House and heading towards him. She was wearing a gray dress with a train, but her head, with a strange headress draped with pearls, appeared to have no face… Charles High ordered the figure to stop, several times, but it continued to advance. He seized his rifle with both hands, and lunged at the body, barely a yard ahead of him now. The bayonet met only thin air… until suddenly a flame appeared at its tip and surged all the way along the weapon. Charles High dropped his rifle and fainted. Far from making fun of him, the judges merely fell silent.
Three other officers had already told of an encounter with the same apparition, the same gray dress, and the same faceless head near the Bloody Tower. The figure always appeared beneath the window of the bedroom where Anne Boleyn had spent her last night. Instinctively, everyone turned to the wall where hung a portrait of the tragic Queen…
Captain Blyth was galvanised by the stories he had heard. He now dreamed of meeting the ghost of one of the illustrious characters whose stories he had known since childhood. One night, as he was walking by the Green Tower, he saw that St Peter’s Chapel was lit up by a sort of flickering glimmer… He didn’t have a key to the Chapel and so he climbed up a wooden ladder and peered in through a window. He could see an array of candles burning on the altar.
Men and women were parading slowly and religiously. The Captain was struck by their clothes : they wore robes with long trains and wide sleeves, their hair covered their ears and fell over ther backs, they had bouffant pants and wide velvet berets, and the doublets were unmistakably from Tudor times. Blyth could only see the figures from behind, and could not see their faces, but he was convinced he was in the presence of ghosts, who were attending a funeral.
The procession was stately and funereal and everyone wore mourning clothes apart from the woman at the front. She was finely dressed in gray damask edged with rare fur and her black and white headress was studded with enormous pearls. She walked gracefully, like a queen. Blyth was fascinated and watched as she approached the altar then turned to adjust her train with an elegant gesture. He was stunned as he saw the triangular face, the long nose, the stubborn mouth and the strained eyes of the woman he recognised as the Queen of England, Anne Boleyn.
Mary and Anne Boleyn were the daugthers of the wealthy Thomas Boleyn. They were sent to the court of King Henry and Mary soon became the king’s mistress. But when he saw her sister, he was smitten. One look was enough for him to understand that no other woman would do. He was married to the less-than-attractive Catherine of Aragon, but he wanted Anne and nobody else. For Anne Boleyn, there was no question of being involved in adultery or a relation out of wedlock, and so she made it clear that the king had to marry her. In order to divorce his first wife, Catherine, Henry had to instigate the schism that irremediably divided his country between catholics and protestants, giving rise to an historic wave of brutality and violence. But he cared little, as he could finally marry the woman of his dreams.
The king, at all costs, wanted an heir in order to consolidate the Tudor dynasty, but the child Anne bore him turned out to be a girl, the future queen, Elisabeth. The flame of passion weakened ; the king had exhausted so much energy in loving Anne that this failure hurt him deeply. But then a second chance arose… Anne was pregnant again. She gave birth to a boy, but it was a still birth, and ended any further hopes of maternity, and what remained of the king’s affections. He already had his eye on a candidate to replace her, Jane Seymour. There was only one formality to deal with before marrying her and having some fine sons : he had to get rid of Anne. And so she was locked up in the Queen’s House, then tried for treason, conspiracy, using magic to bewitch the king and finally, adultery with her own brother… She was found guilty and sentenced to be beheaded. She demanded that a sword be used.
On the morning of May 19th 1536, Anne Boleyn stepped out of the Queen’s House quite gaily. She was wearing a gray dress edged with fur and a pearl-studded headress. The guards led her to the lawn in front of the Green Tower where courtiers and aristocrats were gathered. The executioner stepped forward and Anne didn’t even see the flashing sword. Her head was cut off in a single blow and the executioner held it up for the crowd to see. The queen’s body was hastily buried in an unmarked grave in the St Peter Chapel. Henry VIII was so keen to remarry that he paid scant attention to his wife’s burial.
Everyone seemed to accept this, apart from the queen herself, who would protest against her indecent funeral from beyond the grave. And so she would appear at night with her funeral guests and perform the proper rituals as befit her rank, accompanied in her final hours by noble lords and ladies who had also left their graves for the occasion.