The Spectres in the Tower

by frankbeswick

There are some well-reported supernatural incidents that have occurred in the Tower of London.

London is an ancient city with a rich history, not all of which has been very pleasant, and since the time of William the Conqueror the Tower of London has been the royal fortress at its very heart. Beginning as just the White Tower in William's time, it was enlarged over the centuries, but has been the scene of much cruelty and bloodshed. So it is not surprising that there have been some strange incidents in which staff have experienced visual and sometimes quasi-physical phenomena.

The image above shows a yeoman warder, commonly known as a beefeater. It is courtesy of OpenClip-Art Vectors

The Feel of the Tower.

Traitors' Gate still exists, but it has not been opened except for routine maintenance for many a  year. But there was a time when the Tower, which was and still is a royal fortress guarded by  a garrison, was used to contain important prisoners, such as St Thomas More, Sir Walter Raleigh and Guy Fawkes,inmates generally awaiting execution. Prisoners would be taken by boat to Traitors' Gate, thence to be led to their cells. Many would be executed. As the Tower still contains the crown jewels and the royal armouries, the gate, has to be manned for twenty four hours a day, but guarding it at night is not popular. You don't see anything, but there is  a feel to the gateway and little whisperings that make it feel spooky. 

Having visited the Tower as a teenager, I must admit that like most tourists I witnessed or experienced nothing unusual, but there are locations which have a bad reputation. No-one can accuse dogs of being complicit in a plot to pretend that ghosts exist, but dogs, including guide dogs, refuse to enter the Salt Tower; and the yeomen warders [Beefeaters] do  not enter there at night, especially not since one of them felt himself being nearly throttled by an unseen force, causing him to flee for his life. The room did contain Henry the Eighth's armour, which has since been moved to the White Tower, and it is not known whether there have been further incidents.  Dogs are known to be sensitive to the paranormal, so we need to take their reticence seriously. 

Surprisingly enough there were very few beheadings within the Tower, which were held on Tower Green. These were elite people, such as Henry the Eighth's executed queens, Anne Boleyn and Katharine Howard, both executed for adultery, and Blessed Margaret Pole, the Catholic countess of Salsibury executed as part of Henry's extermination of his  Plantagenet rivals.The elderly Margaret did not die quietly and was chased round the block by the executioner, being finally killed with blows to the back of the head. It is said that screams have been reported from the execution site, and  at times an axe shaped shadow has been seen.  Whether these accounts report genuine experiences rather than imagination cannot be determined.Most other executees were despatched at nearby Tyburn in full  public view.

But during the London Blitz a  soldier on guard in the Tower precincts reported a strange procession. A group of four men in Tudor costume steadily approached him bearing a bier on which was a cloth-covered body. The soldier could but watch as the  spectral procession passed him and faded. Some people believe that some ghosts are three dimensional replays of emotionally intense incidents in the past, memories stored in stone, which can be replayed as holograms in certain conditions, often times of high intensity and energy, which would have been present during the Blitz. Did the disturbance evoke a stored memory trace? Ghosts of this kind do not interact with people, but are merely observed.   


Traitors' Gate

Traitors Gte
Traitors Gte
Claudio Divizia

Some Strange Incidents

"The Saxons from the Conqueror were flying

At his bidding it arose 

A panoply of stone

A sentinel unliving and undying " The Yeomen of the Guard" Sir William Gilbert. 

Panoply of stone describes this edifice well. A bulwark that represents the enduring strength of the British monarchy, it has its superstitions. One is the presence of the ravens, a group of well-treated birds whose presence is supposed to guarantee the continuation of the British monarchy, for if they depart it will be a sign that the monarchy will come to an end. 

But there have been some discoveries under its stones.  The chapel of St Peter ad Vincula [St Peter in Chains] was  reputed to have been the burial site of many high ranking souls executed at the Tower, so Queen Victoria had it excavated,  her team finding two hundred bodies, including one of a woman of delicate proportions. The queen had them reburied with dignity, but some time later, in 1876, an officer spotted a light in the chapel. On asking a sentry what it was the soldier said that he did not know, but had seen it before. Of course, if you spend any time on night time duty in the Tower you can be excused for not inquiring too closely into strange lights! The officer had a ladder brought and ascended to the chapel window, to observe a scene in which a procession of people in rich costume proceeded up the aisle behind a beautiful woman, only to fade into darkness soon afterwards! Only two beautiful young women were executed there, Anne Boleyn and Katharine Howard, Henry's queens. So which of the two was the woman in the procession?

There was in 1864 an incident on the walls. A soldier was court-martialled for sleeping on duty, but in his defence he said that he had fainted. On seeing a woman's figure gliding towards him along the walls he shouted the challenge with no response. In desperation he stabbed  with his bayonet, only for it to pass straight through her. Other soldiers suppported his story, having had similar experiences, and an officer who had seen the incident from a distance confirmed the soldier's tale. The man was acquitted.  In the 1960s there was a similar incident when a soldier spotted a dark-cloaked figure walking towards him along the battlements. He fled to seek support, but a young man who had grown up with Dracula films can be excused for being terrified.

A sadder incident occurred in the early 1800s when a soldier spotted the shadow of  a large bear approaching, only for his bayonet to pass through it. The Tower had been the location of a zoo for some years. Three days later the man died of shock. 

The Tower

Tower of London
Tower of London
World Wiki

The Good Do Not Haunt

"From the dungeon to the block

From the scaffold to the grave

The journey many gallant hearts have taken" The Yeomen of the Guard, Sir William Gilbert

The victims of the Tower have varied between some guilty men, such as Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the king, and whose screams  were said to have been heard in his cell for months after his execution at Tyburn, to Saints Thomas More and Cardinal John Fisher, martyred for their Catholic faith. Catholic cardinals wear red as a sign that they are willing to shed their blood for the faith, but Fisher was the only one called to make good on this commitment.They and Margaret Pole were the best known martyrs of the Tower. Their ghosts are not seen, as we presume that they are with God. There have been very few sightings of children, and while some claim that the "princes in the  Tower" have been seen, these sightings are rare, for they were too young for serious guilt. 

There were other brave souls. Several were Catholic martyrs.Blessed Thomas Abel, chaplain to Henry's wronged queen Catharine of Aragon was one. Saint Richard Whiting, abbot of Glastonbury, who was arrested in Henry's time on dubious charges and was later returned to Glastonbury, where he was hanged on Glastonbury Tor with two of his faithful monks, was another. St Henry Walpole also trod the same red path. Jesuit priests John Gerard and William Wright were also held for a while. Non-religious heroes include Sir William Wallace, the Scottish patriot betrayed by some fellow Scots and cruelly executed by Edward the Third. Sir Roger Casement, the Irish patriot involved in rebelling against Britain in World War 1, was also held pending execution. None of these have been seen  

There was one peculiar incident in 1817 when Edward Swift, keeper of the crown jewels, was dining with his family in his rooms in the Tower, which go with the job, when an apparition occurred. A short column of light which appeared to be a cylinder containing fluid that swirled round floated through the room and touched his wife as she dined. The woman was terrified, so Swift threw a chair, which passed through it. The apparition then disappeared,leaving the woman scared, but unscathed. No one can offer any explanation for this phenomenon. The sceptics, following their usual strategy of doubting the credibility of anyone but themselves,  will of course brush it off as a lie or trick of the light, but why would Swift, a man who enjoyed a prestigious position under the crown,lie? Something inexplicable and frightening happened.

The Tower is at the centre of England's history.But being central does not make it a good or happy place, for much evil has occurred within its walls. Do lost souls wander its ancient precincts? Who knows, but Sir William Gilbert's comment on the Tower is apt,

"The screw may twist and the rack may turn

Men may bleed and men may burn." Yeomen of the Guard.

With this sombre observation, I conclude.   

Sources:British Folklore, Myths and Legends, by Marc Alexander [available on Amazon UK, but not currently


British Folklore, Myths and Legends

Sutton Companion to British Folklore, Myths & Legends

Britain's rich and varied folklore, legends and beliefs provide a unique insight into the island's turbulent history. Every invader, refugee or settler has helped contribute som...

View on Amazon

Updated: 12/18/2017, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 03/01/2020

Good question, Derdriu. The report said shadow, but the distinction between shade and shadow might be significant. A shadow is produced by a solid object blocking light, while a shade could be a space dark for another reason, e.g. a dark entity. I don't think that a real bear cast the shadow, as there were no bears in the Tower at the time [how could anyone miss seeing a bear?] Bears have been extinct in Britain for centuries.

I have not heard of a great turnover of keepers of the crown jewels

DerdriuMarriner on 03/01/2020

frankbeswick, Thank you for the photos, practicalities and products.
Please excuse the difference between this side of the pond's English and yours. Is it that it was a shade or the shadow of a real bear here: "A sadder incident occurred in the early 1800s when a soldier spotted the shadow of a large bear approaching, only for his bayonet to pass through it. The Tower had been the location of a zoo for some years. Three days later the man died of shock."
Would there happen to be a big turnover in the position of keeper of the jewels since the job comes with Tower lodgings (and scary experiences, such as the Swift encounter)?

frankbeswick on 12/17/2017

Completely right! There are some very strange and disturbing happenings, not all of which people like to speak. It is important to study the full range of experiences that humans undergo and construct a world-view by careful consideration of all of them. This endeavour involves seeking out the strange and out of the ordinary rather than merely staying within a comfortable "safe space" , for the quest for truth is not a comfortable process. Once you have stepped out of the comfort zone of conformism to the conventiona,l you have begun to tread a challenging path to who knows where.

It is vital for us to realize that our knowledge is still limited and that like Newton we stand on the edge of an unknown ocean of mystery.

blackspanielgallery on 12/16/2017

The spirit world is not something we know much about.

frankbeswick on 12/15/2017

Mere disagreement about a belief is not scepticism, for scepticism is a state of mind that rejects any unconventional belief. Scepticism is a way of having a closed mind. I have said before that we must tread the narrow way between the Scylla of scepticism and the Charybdis of credulity. Only on this narrow path is the truth to be found.

Stone has been tentatively linked with some spectral penomena, but these are the non-interactive ones, like the pall bearers in the Blitz; but there are interactive phenomena like the attack on the yeoman warder, which cannot be written off as a memory trace.

A phenomenological approach, as advocated by Professor Ninian Smart, works by gathering all phenomena and investigating them with an open mind, having suspended judgment as a vital precondition of open-minded thinking. We must beware of being imprisoned by the Enlightenment world-view, that was based on a belief that all being is material. This view was never well-researched and can be safely abandoned as a working assumption for paranormal investigators.

Veronica on 12/15/2017

I take issue with your comment,.....
" The sceptics, following their usual strategy of doubting the credibility of anyone but themselves, will of course brush it off as a lie or trick of the light,"

Being sceptical about ghosts does not mean that we only believe our own credibility at all. Furthermore, a chair would go through a piece of light and Swift would have no need to lie about it.

The Tower of London is made of stone and most so called ghosts may be linked to the natural stone.

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