Few English royal homes are richer in ghosts than Hampton Court, the splendid palace built by Cardinal Wolsey in 1515, which he prudently gave to Henry VIII in an unsuccessful bid to regain favor. The ghost of the disillusioned Wolsey was first glimpsed in 1966 and has been seen twice more since. Of the five of Henry’s wives who lived there, two have appeared more frequently than others.
Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard, was a tragic pawn in a power game between the Catholic and Protestant court factions. In 1540, aged 19, she was engineered into the royal marriage by her Catholic family. Protestants accused her of immorality, and she was beheaded on 13 February 1542. Her ghost is said to run shrieking along the so-called Haunted Gallery, echoing her arrest in November 1541, when she is said to have broken away from her captors and run down the corridor screaming for Henry’s mercy.
In 1918 the Haunted Gallery was cleared, and for a while Catherine Howard’s ghost disappeared. But later an artist repeatedly saw a ringed hand in front of a tapestry he was sketching. The ring was identified as belonging to Catherine. A resident of the palace at the time told investigator Andrew Green that she had seen the shrieking figure often enough to take it as a matter of course.
Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife, has been sighted too, although her restlessness is harder to explain. Henry was genuinely fond of her and was sincerely distressed by her death in 1537 soon after she gave birth to his only son, the future King Edward VI. Twelve hundred masses were sung for the repose of her soul.
Non-royal ghosts include Mistress Sibell Penn, foster-mother to Edward VI, who lived in the palace until she died from smallpox in 1562. She was buried in St Mary’s Church nearby. In 1829 her grave was disturbed, and soon after palace residents began to hear a woman muttering and the sounds of spinning wheel. An entirely forgotten rooms was found, containing an ancient spinning wheel.
One February night in 1907, a policeman patrolling the grounds around midnight saw people in evening dress in the Ditton Walk. The only sound was the rustling of the ladies dresses. The party proceeded a little way and then suddenly vanished. This extraordinary incident has never been explained.
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