Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Unlucky Wives of Henry VIII

A man as determined as Henry to have just the right wife to bear one living son after another was bound to be bad news for the women around him, and he was.

The similarities are eerie. He divorced his first and fourth wives. He had his second and fifth wives beheaded. And his third and sixth wives died of puerperal fever, a streptococcal infection that often set in after childbirth. (Granted, his sixth wife outlived him, so she was married to another man at the time of her death, but she did have that connection with Henry.)

Of his wives, only one (Anne of Cleves) rests in peace. The others have been seen many times over the centuries.

Catherine of Aragon, rejected after many years of marriage for her younger and apparently more fertile lady in waiting, Anne Boleyn, was banished to Kimbolton Castle until her death. It is there that her ghost walks, in the chamber where she spent much of her time in life. Creepily, Catherine's death occurred just a few months before her successor's.

The ambitious, sharp-tongued Anne Boleyn was no more successful than Catherine at producing even one living male heir, let alone several of them. Beheaded on the grounds of treason and adultery (including a charge that she had had an affair with her own brother), she is perhaps the most famous ghost connected with Henry. She has been seen at the Tower of London, where she was executed and buried; at Blickling Hall, her father's residence; and at Windsor Castle, among other places. She is usually seen headless, sometimes holding her head under one arm. She is said to arrive at Blickling Hall on the anniversary of her death, in a coach drawn by headless horses and driven by a headless coachman. Her own head rests on her lap. 

Jane Seymour, who gave the King his much-awaited son, comes back to Hampton Court Palace on October 12, the date of the boy's birth. Dressed in white, she often carries a candle.

Silly, flighty, and fatally foolish Catherine Howard has been seen running frantically through the "haunted" gallery at Hampton Court. Legend has it that she slipped away from her guards and ran to beg Henry's forgiveness for her adultery (which, in her case, was true). The guards caught up to her at the doors and dragged her away. Evidently, she is never seen headless, unlike her first cousin, Anne Boleyn.

Catherine Parr has been seen at Sudely Castle, where she died. She wears a green dress.

Henry VIII is said to haunt Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. In 2003, a security camera aimed at one of the doors caught the image of a richly-dressed figure opening the doors, hesitating, then closing them again. Could this have been the ghost of Henry, able somehow to move solid objects?