Hampton Court Palace – once owned by King Henry VIII – is a hive of paranormal activity. RICK HALE reveals the many hauntings of one of London’s most famous royal properties…
The Haunting Of Hampton Court
In December 2003, the security staff of London’s famed Hampton Court, found themselves in an incomprehensible and unnerving situation. For three nights security personnel discovered that a fire door was somehow being opened and then swiftly closed. Their first thought was either a careless employee or even a visitor was opening and closing the secured emergency door. Some even theorized that a strong breeze was blowing the door open. As they watched the CCTV monitors hoping that the culprit would show themselves, what they saw shocked and frightened them to their core.
On the third day, they watched as the door inexplicably flung open and a mysterious figure dressed in a costume came into view and pulled the door shut. Baffled by who this unknown figure was, security guards quickly converged on the door and cameras of the immediate area were diligently watched. Whomever this figure was they couldn’t have gotten too far, surely they must still be in the immediate area. When no one was found in the vicinity of the fire door, rumors began to circulate around the palace that this was no living person in a costume. It could only mean one thing, the figure was a ghost.
Located in the Borough of Richmond Upon Thames, London, Hampton Court Palace has long been believed to be haunted by the ghosts of it’s troubled and violent past. This video purportedly showing one of these ghosts was released upon the internet and quickly went viral. With millions of views it has countless bewildered viewers asking the same question, if the figure in the video is in fact a ghost, then who is it? Perhaps the identity of this ghost can be found in the palace’s blood-soaked past.
Hampton Court Palace History
London’s Hampton Court Palace has played an integral, and some may say scandalous role in the history and destiny of Great Britain. Construction of the palace began in 1514, under the direction of Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York and chief minister of England’s most notorious Monarch, King Henry VIII.
According to historians, Wolsey paid a handsome sum, 200,000 Crowns to build the finest palace in all of European Christendom. Following the completion of the palace, Wolsey only managed to enjoy his residence for a short time. Wolsey fell out of favor with the King when he refused to secure an annulment for Henry. In the ensuing time, Wolsey lost everything. He was charged with treason and lost his title, his fortune and his palace. Wolsey died before facing the executioner’s chopping block.
The Screaming Queen
Like many of the great castles and palaces of the United Kingdom, Hampton Court has a long history of being haunted by the ghosts of it’s tragic past. And most of these ghosts are the wives of Henry VIII. Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, is perhaps Hampton Court’s most vocal spirit in residence. At the tender age of 19 years, Catherine Howard, was accused of committing the grievous sin of adultery and treason. Two accusations, if found guilty, warranted swift judgement, execution by losing one’s head.
In 1541, Catherine was involved in an extramarital affair with Thomas Culpepper, a favoured courtier of the king. When the affair was discovered, Culpepper was beheaded and his head was posted on a spire as a warning to all who would dare betray the king. As for Catherine, the disgraced wife of the king, she was stripped of her title as queen and sentenced to death.
It is believed that as Catherine was being dragged away by the guards to her fate, she broke free and ran down the hall sounding a blood curdling shriek. When she came to the king’s door, Catherine pounded on the door screaming for mercy. Sadly, her screams fell on deaf ears as the king was supposedly involved in deep prayer. Catherine Howard, former queen of the realm, was beheaded in 1542 at the Tower of London. Although she went to her death with the grace and dignity expected of her class, her spirit has not been silenced.
Since that time visitors and staff alike have claimed to hear the unmistakable sounds of a struggle and a woman screaming in the haunted gallery. The unseen tumult is said to come to an end at the door of the King’s chamber with more screaming and pounding on the door. This heart wrenching scene is believed to be the final desperate act of Catherine Howard before she is dragged away to face her final moments of freedom, and her life. It is believed to happen on the day she was sentenced to her final reward.
The Ghost Of Silverstick Stairs
Catherine Howard isn’t the only former wife of Henry VIII’s believed to still call Hampton Court home. Jane Seymour became pregnant and finally gave birth to what the king desired more than anything in 1537, a male heir. Sadly, Jane died a few days following the birth of her son from unseen complications. The king was devastated that the woman he called his perfect queen died so suddenly leaving him to care for an infant.
Since the death of Jane Seymour nearly 500 years ago, her apparition has been seen appearing on the Silverstick Stairs. Those who have witnessed the spirit have reported a sense of profound loss and sadness as she forlornly climbs the stairs clutching a candle. It’s believed that she is going to the room where she gave birth to her son and heir to the throne days before her untimely death.
The Phantom Spinning Wheel
In 1562, Sybil Penn, a servant to four monarchs and nurse to Edward VI died from smallpox while nursing Elizabeth back to health. Three centuries later her tomb was disturbed by workmen renovating the church. Since then the spectral figure of a gray lady believed to be Sybil Penn, has been encountered wandering the lonely corridors of the state apartments and Clock Court. Her spirit is also believed to be associated with the sound of a spinning wheel behind the wall of an apartment. A tenant was so curious by the sound of the spinning wheel had the wall removed. And on the other side of that wall was an old, disused spinning wheel.
Knocks and Bangings
Lastly in 1871, an elderly woman living in a grace and favor apartment complained of odd noises in her living quarters. The woman claimed that she was being kept awake at night by the annoying sounds of knocking and banging in the wall. At first nobody believed her stating it was just an old woman experiencing flights of fancy. Not a single person believed her, that is until a disturbing discovery was made near her apartment.
One afternoon workmen made a grim discovery as they were excavating a cloister in the Fountain Court. Underneath were the skeletons of two men who were more than likely hastily buried. It was believed they ran afoul of Roundhead soldiers during the civil war (1642-1651). When the skeletons were given a proper Christian burial, the noises in the elderly woman’s apartment abruptly stopped and she was finally able to get some rest.
A Ghostly Experiment
The reported hauntings of Hampton Court Palace has captured the attention of paranormal investigators for decades. And in 2000, psychologist Richard Wiseman, conducted an experiment at this famously haunted hotspot. His objective was to determine if ghosts were a true unexplained phenomena. Or, if they were just in the mind of the observer. Wiseman gathered several volunteers and put them in groups comprised of both believers and non-believers of supernatural phenomena.
Before the experiment got underway, the participants were told no stories and we’re directed to just wander the palace recording any strange sounds, feelings or sightings on a questionnaire he provided. And as was to be expected, the participants that identified as believers all had experiences they couldn’t explain. One might argue this was the observer or Hawthorn effect and this could be a viable argument if it wasn’t for the fact the believers had similar experiences in the notoriously haunted areas.
Does this social experiment prove that inexplicable activity occurs at London’s Hampton Court Palace? Some might think it does. Nevertheless, regardless of what you believe, or disbelieve, strange activity is experienced almost daily. In Hampton Court Palace, the history seems to come alive. Or dead, depending on your point of view.