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In Tudor England, it was a tradition to tell ghost stories to celebrate Christmas, particularly on Christmas Eve. One of the people about whom ghost stories might have been shared is none other than Anne Boleyn. If the legends are true, Anne Boleyn’s ghost must be the most traveled ghost in Britain, with stories of her spirit wandering across the country in at least 7 different locations. These stories were told after Anne’s death and survived not only through Shakespeare’s lifetime but persist even today. Here today to tell us about some of these ghost stories, including ones that might have been told around the Christmas fireside for Shakespeare’s lifetime is our guest, historian, and author of The Final Year of Anne Boleyn, Natalie Grueninger.
Natalie Grueninger is a Tudor history specialist, author and podcaster, who lives in Australia with her husband and two children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to teaching and promoting Tudor history. Natalie is the host of ‘Talking Tudors’, a podcast for lovers of Tudor history, and the founder of the Women’s History Circle, dedicated to promoting the work of women creatives with a passion for history. Her latest book, ‘The Final Year of Anne Boleyn’, was published by Pen and Sword Books in November 2022.
Connect with Natalie Grueninger
I’ll be asking Natalie Grueninger about:
- Anne is said to haunt Hampton Court Palace, one of the residences where she lived with Henry VIII. Natalie, what are the stories about Anne’s after death behavior at this locations?
- Another residence of Anne and Henry is Windsor Castle. Natalie, what are the stories about Anne at Windsor?
- Many historians consider Blickling Hall in Norfolk to be Anne’s birthplace. Natalie, does Anne’s spirit haunt Blickling Hall as well?
- …and more!
Resources Recommended by Our Guest
Check out all of Natalie’s books, included her latest on Anne Boleyn’s final years.
‘Britain’s Haunted Heritage‘ by John West
Eight Stories: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories‘ by Sarah Perry, Max Porter, and Mark Haddon
The footage above was captured on CCTV by Historical Royal Palaces, and shared on their YouTube channel. The figure shown appears to be a skeleton dressed like Anne Boleyn. Their description: “On three consecutive days in winter 2003, Hampton Court Palace security staff were called to close one particular fire door near the palace’s Clock Court (now in the Baroque Story exhibition). On the first day, CCTV footage showed the doors flying wide open with great force but there was nothing to reveal why. On the second day, the same thing happened but this time a ghostly-looking figure in period dress suddenly appeared on the screen and closed the doors. The doors opened again on the third day but there was no further sign of the ghostly doorkeeper. It wasn’t just security staff who thought they were seeing things. A visitor wrote in the palace’s visitor book on the second day that she too thought she had seen a ghost in that area.“
Hampton Court Palace
Anne is said to haunt Hampton Court Palace, one of the residences where she lived with Henry VIII. Anne’s ghost has been seen at Hampton Court wearing a blue or black dress sometimes (a traditionally famous outfit for Anne Boleyn), and some claim she is headless during these appearances.
Anne had her own apartments at Hampton Court Palace as early as June 1529, when she was Queen in waiting. She was the impetus behind interest in redesigning parts of the palace that belonged to Cardinal Wolsey. Hampton Court Palace is the backdrop for some of the most tragic moments of her life, making it an understandable place for ghost stories to be set.
As early as 1534, Anne is reported as pregnant, and by late April she has a “goodly belly” (as some reports state). By late June of that same year the couple is said to be “merry”, but by July, the King leaves her behind and moves to Hertfordshire. A long scheduled trip is cancelled, while a servant or messenger is sent quickly to meet the King of France. This behavior indicates that Anne most likely gave birth to a still born child at this time, for if she had given birth to a live child the expectation is that the King would have remained at her side to celebrate the child’s birth.
Jane Seymour, almost certainly died in the very same room that witnessed Anne’s tragedy. Jane Seymour is also said to appear in this location. Hampton Court Palace is a gathering place, of sorts, for the ghosts of Henry VIII’s wives, as Catherine Howard is also said to have been seen here in an apparition that is screaming and traveling down the haunted gallery.
In contrast to Hampton Court, Windsor Castle represents some of the happiest moments of Anne Boleyn’s life. It is at Windsor, in a room known as the Garter Throne room, that Anne was named Marquess of Pembroke. She becomes a prominent member of the court, in a ceremony that shows her dressed in a crimson, ermine trimmed robe with a golden cornet. This moment sees Anne established as a high ranking woman of the kingdom, with a good deal of wealth and status.
Her ghost at Windsor castle is said to have been seen standing at the Dean’s Cloister, the area closest to St. George’s Chapel, where Henry VIII and Jane Seymour are buried together. Anne’s ghost has been seen running down a corridor screaming and clutching her severed head. Henry VIII haunts Windsor Castle, too, having been reported walking around in expressions of agony, dragging his leg, and complaining.
Anne Boleyn was born at Blickling Hall and lived here until the age of 4 or 5. Each year on the 19th of May, her specter arrives in a phantom carriage, drawn by a headless coachmen and attended by headless coachmen. Clutching her head, or other stories say her head is resting on her lap, while she travels in the carriage. Consistently, the carriage is said to go up the drive to the Hall, leaving the Queen to roam the grounds until sunrise. There are other accounts of her ghost being seen inside the house, dressed in grey.
Blickling Hall is a famous haunting location for other members of the Boleyn family, including her brother, Thomas, whose ghost is said to have been dragged around the grounds by a similar carriage, also drawn by headless coachmen. Anne’s great grandparents are also buried near Blickling Hall, at a nearby church.
In 1505, on death of Anne’s paternal grandfather, her father inherited castles, including Hever, and moved there with his family, it was convenient for his work at court and diplomatic engagements. Anne and her mother, grandmother, and siblings they stayed there together.
Anne’s ghost appears each Christmas at Hever Castle in Kent, manifest beneath an Oak Tree where her and Henry courted, and also on the bridge at the castle grounds. The Boleyns retreated to Hever in times of crisis, staying there when she had sweating sickness, and for other times when they needed respite.
Tower of London
Of course the Tower of London is where Anne’s ghost appears, as the site of where she was imprisoned.
The most spectacular story of Anne Boleyn’s ghost appearing at the Tower of London comes from a Captain of the Guard who reports that he saw a light flickering one night from the place where Anne Boleyn was buried. As he arrived–via a ladder of all things–at the site of the light, he witnessed a procession of knights and ladies in waiting all dressed in ancient costume. There was one elegant female that he believes, on retrospect, to have resembled Anne Boleyn. This lady and her procession, after pacing a while, finally disappears.
In 1864, another soldier made a sighting of Anne’s ghost. He confronted and challenged the ghost. Then, he plunged his bayonet into the figure, and the bayonet went straight through the spectre. There was another officer who corroborated this man’s story as a witness to the whole event.
1This home is a sprawling manor house, and one of the largest residences in the county. It was heavily damaged by fire in 1760 , which reduced the original size by half. There are persistent rumors of clandestine meetings between Anne and Henry taking place at Rochford Hall, and some even claim there was a secret tunnel system beneath the home as a discreet escape route. However, no real evidence has been uncovered about the tunnels, or indeed clandestine meetings taking place here.
Reports are made of people seeing a headless lady, and that certain areas of the home bring up feelings of extreme cold. Some people have suggested it could be the ghost of Anne Boleyn passing by that is to blame for the cold feeling.
We now that ghost stories were part of the Christmastime celebrations during Shakespeare’s lifetime, but there isn’t any evidence to suggest the ones they told were of Anne Boleyn herself. Natalie and I discuss our opinion that it was likely far too recent history for William Shakespeare and his contemporaries (Anne Boleyn being Elizabeth I’s mother and having only died about 30 years prior to William Shakespeare’s birth. In fact, most of Anne Boleyn’s ghost stories are a result of the Victorian period when Anne was revered, even by Queen Victoria herself, a heroine.
However, the retelling of these tales do represent do represent some of the fun 16th-17th century England would have had for the holiday season, and by retelling ghost stories today, we are recreating Christmas celebrations similar to what Shakespeare would have enjoyed.
Coming Up Next Week: Holiday Ghost Stories
Dr. Francis Young joins us to share holiday ghost stories, including real ghost narratives (witness accounts) that date to within Shakespeare’s lifetime. We’ll talk about the difference between angels and ghosts, share fun Tudor traditions about holiday ghostly tales, and even examine one ghost story that appears in Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night” to find out how that tale ties into Christmas celebrations.
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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!