Dating from 1078, the Tower looks more like a grim fortress than a 'house': countless people suffered torture, execution, or lingering death through imprisonment, within its walls. But over the centuries it has also been home to many people, as a fortress, working military base and royal palace. However, it seems that these residents often have to share their lives with unquiet ghosts from the darkest periods of the Tower's history.
As the site of many executions, the central space of Tower Green is associated with paranormal activity. Anne Boleyn, queen of England and second wife of King Henry VIII, was beheaded there on May 19 1536. Her ghost is said to appear near the Queen's House, formerly the home of the Lord Lieutenant of the Tower, where she was imprisoned before her execution; in Victorian times a sentry there was found unconscious at his post after he had charged at her ghost with his bayonet.
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, suffered a horrific execution within the Tower on May 27 1541, and her screaming ghost is said to re-enact it on Tower Green every year on the anniversary; the shadow of an axe is also seen falling across the site of her death. On 12 February 1957, the anniversary of the execution of Lady Jane Grey in the Tower over four hundred years before, sentries saw her ghost materialise on the battlements overlooking Tower Green.
Many prisoners executed within the Tower were buried beneath the floor of its Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, which forms the background to the present memorial. Anne Boleyn has been seen leading a ghostly procession of lords and ladies, possibly the executed, down the chapel aisle on the anniversary of her execution.
Suffering and untimely death in the Tower were not confined to the execution site; the more important the victim, the more likely it was that death would come unexpectedly and in secret. The Wakefield Tower is haunted by the ghost of King Henry VI, who was hacked to death there on 21 May 1471, reputedly by Richard Duke of Gloucester who would become King Richard III. He is seen every year on the anniversary of the murder, pacing around the tower in the hour before midnight, which was the time when he was attacked as he knelt in prayer. When the clock strikes midnight, he disappears.
Perhaps the most pitiful ghosts are those of the Princes in the Tower. These were the sons of Edward IV, twelve-year-old Edward and ten-year-old Richard, who were sent to the Tower shortly after the sudden death of Edward IV in April 1483, after which young Edward should have become the next King of England. The boys never left the Tower, and after June 1483 they were not seen alive again; it was assumed that they were killed and buried within the Tower on the orders of their uncle, Richard Duke of Gloucester, to let him succeed to the throne as Richard III.
In 1674, two small skeletons were discovered under a staircase in the White Tower, the central and oldest part of the Tower of London; they had been buried in a chest. It was assumed that these were the remains of the two Princes, and they were buried with full royal honours in Westminster Abbey. The ghosts of two small boys in white nightgowns, holding hands and looking distressed, have been seen in the Bloody Tower since the fifteenth century. If anyone tries to comfort them, they fade out of sight. It was the grim association with the Princes that gave the Bloody Tower its name.
Today, visitors to the Tower are vividly reminded of its dead by a memorial sculpture on Tower Green. Around its circular edge, a poem by designer Brian Catling reads: "May they rest in peace, while we walk the generations around their strife and courage, under these restless skies." The experiences of many visitors and residents over the centuries suggest that the spirits of the Tower victims have often proved every bit as restless as those overhanging skies.