England is a land steeped in history dating back to the dark ages and beyond. It’s no surprise then that many of the world’s most famous ghosts reside in the foggy hills and rain covered castles that cover this ancient land. Yet perhaps the most famous of all these specters are the female ghosts that count among their number. Their woeful tales deriving from tragedy, despair and unjust deaths. Some of these female spirits come from a time gone by, lost to history, while others are the shades of famous figures, but all share the common thread of strange and terrifying accounts told by those unfortunate enough to encounter them.
Here are 5 of the most famous English female ghosts that are still bound to the land that served as their home and the stories behind their terrifying hauntings.
1. Anne Boleyn
History paints Anne Boleyn as a famous seductress and strong willed woman who used her cunning and ambition to win the heart of a king. The second wife of King Henry VIII, Boleyn is arguably the reason the Church of England exists. Henry separated himself and in turn the country from the Catholic church in order to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. However, the marriage was short-lived after Boleyn was unable to give the King a male heir (although their daughter Elizabeth would become the most famous and successful Queens of England), and Anne Boleyn was famously beheaded in 1536 at the tower of London under charges of adultery, incest, and treason.
It’s said Anne Boleyn’s ghost still roams hallways of the Tower, eternally trapped and tormented within its looming stone walls. A Captain of the Guard famously spotted her walking the halls, followed by a full procession of court men and women. However, the Tower of London is not her only stomping ground, she is also said to haunt Heaver Castle, her childhood home. Her ghost has been seen staring forlornly out the windows of Windsor Castle, wandering headless at Hampton Court, as well as Rochford Hall and Blickling Hall.
2. Bloody Mary
In keeping with the Tudor timeline, another member of the royal family became a source of infamy over the years and something of an urban legend. Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. She was crowned the first queen regnant of England, reigning from 1553 until her death in 1558. During her reign, Mary garnered a fearsome reputation for her religious persecutions of Protestants and the executions of over 300 subjects as she sought to return the iron fist of Catholicism to England. The result of her strict and punishing laws earned her the infamous nickname Bloody Mary. A phrase you probably recognize from the childhood game.
Legend has it that if you chant Bloody Mary in front of a mirror three times in the dark, she’ll appear before you covered in blood, damned for eternity for the atrocities she committed during her bloody reign. Dare you summon the Queen tonight? Be careful if you do, the legend goes onto to describe the terrible fate for all who invoke her terrifying spirit.
3. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
We’re moving out of the realm of Tudor ghosts and onto one of the most famous hauntings in all of England. Located in Raynham Hall in Norfolk, the Brown Lady is believed to be Lady Dorothy Walpole, wife of Charles Townshend and sister of Robert Walpole who is considered by many to be Great Britain’s first Prime Minister. The story goes that Dorothy was confined to Raynham Hall after her husband believed her to be having an affair with Lord Wharton. She was held captive at the hall for the rest of her life until she died of smallpox in 1726. However, it was not until the 1830s that the first appearance of her ghost was sighted.
The Brown lady earned her name when she appeared in the hall’s main staircase wearing a brown brocade dress, startling guests during Christmas party in 1835. A few years later she was seen again by Captain Frederick Marryat when he requested to stay in the notoriously haunted house in order to debunk the rumors of a haunting. The Brown Lady was not seen again until the 1920s when a friend of Lady Townsend claimed to see the ghost on the staircase. Then in 1936, a photographer visiting Raynham Hall for Country Life magazine captured a misty figure descending the steps on camera. Today she is considered England’s most famous hauntings, endlessly wandering the halls of the place that had been her prison in life and now her eternal resting place.
4. The Grey Lady of Hampton Court
It is said the Grey Lady of Hampton Court is the spirit of Dame Sybil Penn who died in 1562 of smallpox and was laid to rest in the palace grounds. Interestingly, her spirit didn’t start making appearances in the royal abode until the 19th century when her tomb was moved. The legend goes that immediately after Dame Sybil’s tomb was disturbed, strange noises like those of someone working a spinning wheel were heard through a wall at Hampton Court. A search revealed a previously unknown chamber containing… an antique spinning wheel.
However, the Grey Lady is not the only ghost to haunt Hampton Court. Rumor has it she shares this eternal home with the spirits of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife who died just 12 days after giving Henry a son and heir to the throne and Catherine Howard, Henry’s fifth wife who, like Anne Boleyn was beheaded after being accused of adultery. While the palace may be crowded with otherworldly royal residents, it’s the Grey Lady who has made a name for herself by being regularly spotted by staff and visitors alike over the years.
5. The White Lady
All around the world, countries share their own version of the White Lady, and England is no different. Often appearing in rural areas, the legend can first be traced back to the medieval period. It was believed that seeing the White Lady apparition was an ominous sign that a member of the family was going to die in the near future. Since her first appearance in folklore one of the most famous White Lady legends to arise in England comes from Portchester Castle. The story goes that a woman dressed in white drowned in the moat surrounding the castle in an attempt to save her baby who had fallen in. Ever since the White Lady is damned to wander the castle’s grounds looking for her lost child.
Another legend in the area tells of the White Lady dying in a car accident in the 1980s and how she now haunts the road to this day, cursing motorists who spot her during their journeys. In another castle, she was rumored to have been the lost soul of a suicidal girl who threw herself out of a tower in a desperate attempt to escape marriage. Other White Ladies are said to be searching for deceased husbands, or else eternally tormented for killing an unwanted child or lover. While the stories vary, the central figure remains chad in deathly white, a ghostly apparition haunting the landscape forever more, shifting and morphing into something new with each year that passes by.
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