It would be an understatement to say that Anne Boleyn had an eventful life and, frankly, an eventful death. It’s the end of Anne Boleyn’s life that has probably had the biggest effect in permanently imprinting her story on the public consciousness, and almost 500 years after she took her final breath, she’s still said to live on in numerous locations.
Even her position as Queen of England hasn’t stopped time from erasing many details of Boleyn’s life. She was born at Blickling Hall in Norfolk some time between 1501 and 1507, growing up in France before returning to her native England in 1522.
In 1533 she married King Henry VIII, who, of course, had split England from the Catholic church in order end his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Within six months, Boleyn was crowned Queen of England. Later that year, the couple’s first child, Elizabeth, was born. Two unsuccessful pregnancies followed, and Boleyn’s perceived failure to deliver the son Henry craved created a greater and greater distance between them as Henry began to pursue Jane Seymour, his soon-to-be third wife.
By midday Friday, May 19th, 1536, Anne was dead, executed on charges of adultery, incest, and treason, accusations which have been debated ad nauseum ever since. Whether there was any truth in them, or whether they were completely fabricated to provide Henry with an exit from a marriage he had long-since moved on from, will never be known for certain.
The great stature of Anne’s title, the gruesome nature of her death, and the mystery surrounding her downfall, have all contributed to her story’s presense in the cultural consciousness, even all these years later, and nowhere has it presented itself more than her supposed returns from the grave.
As the place of Anne’s death, the Tower of London has naturally become a place associated with her restless spirit. The most famous sighting occurred in 1864 when a guard spotted a strange white figure. The guard, assuming she was an intruder, charged at the figure with his bayonette, only to pass right through her.
Anne is also said to haunt the grounds of the Church of St Peter ad Vincula, which sits on the grounds of the Tower of London and is Anne’s place of burial. Her spirit has been spotted walking towards the altar, beneath which she is buried.
In one common story, the Captain of the Guard investigated a flickering light within the church, trying to find its source. As he gazed through the window and into the church, he was surprised to see a ghostly procession of knights and ladies in 16th century dress, parading through the chapel lead by Anne Boleyn, who the Captain of the Guard reportedly recognised from paintings.
Although there is little reason to doubt that the Church of St Peter is Anne’s final resting place, and despite the fact that her body was exhumed from the chapel in 1876, rumours have persisted that Anne actually lies in the grounds of Salle Church in Norfolk. The legend says that her body was secretly removed from the Tower of London under cover of night and moved to Salle, close to Anne’s birthplace, Blickling Hall.
More adventurous versions of the story suggest that while Anne’s body lies at the Church of St Peter ad Vincula, her heart was removed and, at her request, buried at Salle church.
These rumours seem to have begun spreading in the mid-19th century, a good three centuries after Anne was executed, and long after she’d faded from living memory, so they do, of course, have to be taken with a great pinch of salt. But, nonetheless, multiple people have claimed to see the spectre of Anne Boleyn roaming the church grounds at Salle, Norfolk.
The nearby Blickling Hall has also sprouted multiple ghostly sightnings from its connection to Anne and the Boleyn family. Most famously, Anne’s spirit is said to return to the place of her birth every year on May 19th—the anniversary of her death.
The legend says that a headless Anne, carrying her head in her own lap, approaches the manor by carriage, pulled by a headless horseman. Upon arriving at the house, the carriage then vanishes into thin air.
There is also a similar legend which says that, upon news of Anne’s execution reaching Blickling Hall, four headless horsemen were seen dragging a headless man across Norfolk.
Anne has also been spotted roaming the halls of Windsor Castle, and official royal residence of the monarch of the UK, which has a history of its own stretching back a millenia to William the Conqueror’s invasion of England.
Some people have claimed to have snapped a picture of the late Queen’s ghost at Windsor Castle, and in one memorable story, Anne was spotted running down the halls of the castle, clutching in her arms her detached, screaming head.
Finally, Anne has also been spotted at Hever Castle in Kent, where she spent most of her early childhood. The castle would then pass to Henry VIII after the death of Anne’s father and Henry, in a somewhat cruel twist of fate, gave away the castle as part of his settlement with his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, making Anne’s childhood home the home of her successor.
Anne is said to appear at Hever Castle during the Christmas season, Anne’s favourite time of year, and her spirit has been spotted beneath a great oak tree on the grounds where she and Henry were said to have spent a great deal of time.
Rarely does a ghost appear in so many places and it makes you wonder about the very nature of ghosts. Are they, as many people believe, a soul seperated from its body? If so, one would expect a ghost to haunt only one location, but Anne seems to manifest in many places at once. Perhaps, then, ghosts are not part of a person at all, but instead a kind of echo or shadow—and imprint on the physical world. It would explain why a spirit like Anne’s could appear in so many places that played such large roles in her life—and death.
Thinking more scientifically, of course, the answer is simple: rarely does a story capture public attention as that of Anne Boleyn’s life, death, and notoriety. And she’s famous now for her post-mortem appearances, so it’s no surprise at all that so many people would claim to have seen her spirit—if you believe in ghosts and you see something odd in a location famed for its connection to the Boleyn family—well, who are you going to assume it is?
All we know for certain is that whether it’s ghostly processions or screaming heads, Anne Boleyn is not going to fade from public consciousness any time soon.