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, 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)