Hampton Court Palace is famed for being the home of Henry VIII and five out of his six (unfortunate) wives. Outside of England, however, it is not well known that the Palace was in fact built for a commoner, Thomas Wolsey. Thomas Wolsey was born of relatively humble origins, but graced with the fire of ambition. He followed a career in the church, and a career it was…not a divine calling. His thirst for power pushed him higher and higher through the church’s rank and ultimately into politics, from Archbishop of York to his final position of Lord Chancellor of England. Over his stellar career, he perhaps saved more money than he did souls, for he was able to commission a truly palatial home on a choice piece of property right along the Thames in London.
Power in King Henry VIII’s court was a fickle thing, however. When Wolsey couldn’t obtain the much desired annulment for the king from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, he fell from favor. Desperate to keep his power, and nervous about falling into disfavor with the mercurial monarch, he offered his lavish estate as a gift to Henry. Henry in turn graciously accepted the property and promptly and contrarily followed through on plans to have Wolsey arrested under charges of treason. Lucky Wolsey beat the executioner by dying of natural causes before he could be imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Henry lost no time ensconcing first Anne Boleyn and then a succession of his later wives in the palace. But few, if any, of his wives could boast a truly happy married life with him. Their wraiths show varying degrees of sadness and despair in their appearances. Poor Anne has been seen gliding, pensive and forlorn, through the cold corridors that must have once seemed like those of a fairytale castle to her, before the walls of her hopes and dreams came tumbling down. She wears the same royal blue gown she donned for the official portrait that Henry had commissioned, and which still hangs in the residence. Her apparition was so persistent for a time that the palace lost staff over her sightings.
His third wife Jane, successor of Anne, is also seen quietly treading the hallways of the building. Said to be quiet and docile in life, her specter follows suit, demurely dressed in a simple white gown, holding a candle which gleams ethereally, she glides silently through the silver stick gallery to descend the staircase. Perhaps she is searching for her baby boy, Prince Edward, who she reluctantly left behind when she died from complications a week after his birth.
Another revenant who has ties to King Henry’s only son (legitimate son, that is) is Sybil Penn, Prince Edward’s nursemaid. Mrs. Penn was renowned for her fine needlework and spinning skills and often made the young prince’s clothes herself. But Prince Edward was a sickly child and grew into a sickly young man and Mrs. Penn ended up outliving him. For her loyalty and loving care of the prince, she was granted a pension and an apartment at Hampton Court Palace by his half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I. Her spirit seemed to be content to rest quietly, until her grave was relocated from its original location at St. Mary’s before the church was scheduled to be demolished. It was then, in the 1820’s that reports of her ghost started to be heard. People occupying her former rooms at the palace would wake to find an old lady staring them in the face. A woman’s voice would be heard murmuring, accompanied by the sound of the spinning wheel, the device at which Mrs. Penn was so adept. Her apparition was even spotted by Princess Frederica of Hanover, who described the familiar visage of a tall, elderly woman wearing a gray cloak or a hooded dress.
Perhaps the most famous of the palace’s ghosts is the beautiful, tragic, not very intelligent, Catherine Howard. She was only nineteen when she married the elderly Henry VIII. She should have had a good idea of what cruelty her husband was capable of, since she was cousin to his second wife, the headless Anne Boleyn. But teens will be teens and the lovely young queen soon tired of her obese, elderly husband and went looking for some younger love interest to occupy her time. Palace intrigues being what they were, her indiscretions were discovered and recited to the jealous king and she was promptly incarcerated in her own rooms at the palace. The realization of what fate awaited her prompted Henry’s unfaithful consort to desperate measures. She waited until it was time for Henry to be at his chapel, just down the hall from her rooms, and she broke free of her guards to run to the church in order to beg her husband for mercy. She made it to the chapel door where she screamed and pounded upon the panels, begging Henry to let her in and hear her. Sadly for her, he turned a deaf ear to her pleas and she was dragged by her guards back to her rooms, and her eventual execution. Her spirit has been both seen and heard repeating her final desperate flight: eyes wild, hair streaming behind her, crying and screaming for her husband’s forgiveness. It is, perhaps, the most haunting of the Hampton’s haunts.
Many other apparitions have been reported over the years, including a palace guard on night duty who witnessed a procession of men and women dressed in Tudor period clothing, walking along the grounds in the pre-dawn darkness. Two cavaliers were persistently sighted out near the Fountain Court, until excavations during a renovation revealed the forgotten skeletons of two Civil War era soldiers…after which, the cavaliers were sighted no more. Even Thomas Wolsey has been spotted walking through a gateway during an outdoor historical performance, though the witness thought he was seeing a reenactor, until the figure dissipated before his eyes.
Many other apparitions have been sighted in this historical, royal palace, which leaves me to wonder…who was it that palace security guards caught on their surveillance tapes in 2003? The guards had been puzzled by emergency exit doors in a restricted area of the palace seemingly opening on their own during the night, triggering their alarms. The guards watched the tapes of three incidents, occurring over three nights. Two of the incidents showed the doors mysteriously opening and shutting, and nothing else. The third occurrence, however, showed the doors open and a tall, robed figure step out slightly into the courtyard, reach for the doors and close them again. Hampton Court Palace, to give them much deserved credit, released the surveillance footage to the public, to make of it what they would. It’s really one of the most haunting pieces of paranormal video I’ve seen…I can’t say for certain that it’s real, since I am no expert. There are plenty of people who claim it’s a hoax, but the official website for Hampton Court Palace references the video and related ghostly sighting: http://www.hrp.org.uk/learninganddiscovery/Discoverthehistoricroyalpalaces/ghoststorieshomepage/skeletorghost.aspx. The video gives me the willies every time I watch it. Feel free to follow this link http://www.angelsghosts.com/hampton_ghost_video.html to watch it and make up your own mind. Remember, this was filmed in 2003 by closed circuit television and was released by the palace itself…to me, if it’s a hoax, that would be akin to a venerable museum like the Smithsonian trying to hoax the public. I just don’t know what to think!
Regardless, even without the video, Hampton Court Palace is one haunted place. King Henry VIII alone had a lot to do with that!