There are two ghosts that are well known to haunt Hampton Court. They were both English Queens and wives of Henry VIII. One is Jane Seymour who died shortly after giving birth to Prince Edward, and the other is the shrieking ghost of Catherine Howard executed for adultery. However there is another who finds no peace, and her only downfall was loyalty to the royal family.
Jane Seymour died in the palace soon after her infant son, Edward VI had been christened. Her specter, clothed in white has been seen to come out of the door of the queen's apartments. These were the rooms occupied by Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, her mistress who she supplanted. Jane is said to wander about with a lighted taper in her hand on the Silverstick Stairs which once led up to a room where she gave birth to her son and died. She is seen on the anniversary of these events that occurred in October 1537.
The haunted gallery earned its reputation based on an episode that took place with Queen Catherine Howard. She had been confined to her rooms after Henry was told of her misconduct by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He planned to ride off to Oatlands Palace in Surrey, never to set eyes on her again. Fearing that once he left she would never be able to persuade him to spare her, she escaped from her chamber and ran shrieking down the gallery trying to reach the King who was hearing mass in the chapel. Just before reaching the doors she was seized by guards, and forcibly removed back to her room. Henry who heard her screams continued in his devotions apparently unmoved by her pleas. She was then exiled to Syon Abbey a disused convent, while her crimes were investigated.
Two of Catherine's former lovers, Dereham and Culpeper, were tortured and confessed to having had sex with her. They were tried and condemned to death for treason. Dereham was hung, drawn and quartered, while Culpeper was beheaded. The heads of both men were displayed on pikes on London Bridge.
Catherine did not face trial but was condemned by an Act of Attainder which Henry himself signed. She shared the fate of her cousin Anne Boleyn, and she was beheaded at 9 AM on February 13, 1542 at the Tower of London. Even though Catherine's exact year of birth is not known it is believed she was 19 years of age or younger when she died.
Catherine's was not the only execution that day. Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford, sister-in-law of Anne Boleyn was also beheaded. Jane Boleyn had been a member of Henry's first wife, Katherine of Aragon's household. She had a hand in the rumors that her husband George Boleyn had an incestuous affair with his sister Anne. This was one of the pretexts that led to their execution. She was a lady-in-waiting to Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and ultimately to Catherine Howard.
She was held with Catherine Howard and accused of facilitating Catherine's sexual indiscretions. In the intervening months while being incessantly questioned (she could not be tortured since she was an aristocrat) she went insane. Insanity should have saved her from execution, but King Henry wanted to punish her anyway and made up a law that allowed him to send her to the block despite her mental state. She was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula at the Tower of London alongside Catherine Howard, close to the bodies of Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn
Catherine Howard's ghost is seen in the gallery dressed in white coming towards the door of the royal pew. She then hurries back with a look of despair and uttering unearthly shrieks until she passes through the door at the end of the gallery.
Another Hampton Court ghost is that of Dame Sybil Penne AKA The Grey Lady. She had served four Tudor kings and she was Edward VI's dry nurse. She went on to serve Elizabeth I as Lady of the Queen's Bedchamber. She devotedly attended the queen when she contracted smallpox. Elizabeth recovered but Sybil caught the disease herself and died in 1562. She was buried at the church of St Mary’s in the village of Hampton near the palace.
In 1829, the church was pulled down in order to rebuild it after it was hit by lightning during a storm. In the process her tomb was desecrated. Immediately afterward strange noises as of a woman working at a spinning wheel and mutterings were heard through the wall of one of the rooms in the southwest wing of the palace. Search being made by the Board of Works, an ancient and unknown chamber was discovered in which an antique spinning wheel and some other things were found. Since then the specter of Sybil Penn is said to have appeared to a sentry and the whirring of a spinning wheel has again been hard. She appears in the corridors of the State Apartments and Clock Court at the palace.
In the 1880s there were frequent accounts of seeing a tall, gaunt grey form around the haunted room and gallery, exactly corresponding with the appearance of the effigy on the tomb, and of the low whirring of an unseen spinning-wheel, a sepulchral voice and a stealthy tread. There was also another, surprisingly well-authenticated sighting in 1905.
In October 2003, the palace CCTV captured the image of a ghostly figure, apparently flinging open a fire door. The door had opened by itself on three consecutive days and the apparition was seen only on the second day. Security staff remain baffled…
In November 1871, two male skeletons in shallow graves were unearthed under a cloister in Fountain Court at Hampton Palace during a routine excavation.
Their discovery bought huge relief to one palace resident: an elderly woman living in a nearby apartment. She had complained of constant banging and knocking on her walls, but no one had believed her. All disturbances ceased when the remains were properly interred.
It has been suggested that the anonymous men were victims of Roundhead villainy during the Civil Wars (1642-51). They may have been hastily buried in unmarked graves, which were concealed during Wren’s building of the baroque palace in 1689.
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