Does Catherine Howard's Ghost Really Haunt Hampton Court?

I visited Hampton Court at the end of last year, November 2019. I got there early - for when it had just opened - and so apart from a small group having a personal tour by the wine fountain, I walked through those ornate gates on a rainy Friday morning and was pretty much the only one there. And as a life-long Tudor fan, my two-hour train journey was for one thing: Henry VIII's Royal Apartments. I headed up the worn stone steps, through the Great Hall and snaked around and up the steps to the Gallery, on my way to the chapel. 

Photo by Kristoffer Jensen on Unsplash

It was just me - and the portraits staring indifferently back - as I slowly made my way up the corridor, gazing at the fireplace, the portraits and other artefacts on display on the walls. I remember thinking how lucky I was to have this place to myself. But then again it was early, hazy with rain and well out of visitor season. As I walked, an icy breeze suddenly cooled my left calf. I looked down, for the window or vent that would have been pumping cold, damp air into the room. There was nothing. The coldness in my leg continued as I walked, as if there was some weird, arctic breath on it.

I wandered slowly to the end of the gallery and suddenly felt my throat close up, as if there were hands around it. And then in a split second it was over. "This gallery is where most of the faintings happen in the palace" the narrator of the audioguide piped up cheerily, as I composed myself. 

Yeah. No wonder, I thought. 

Me, arriving at Hampton Court Palace and having no idea of the spookiness that awaits...

So what the heck. 

This was my real, truthful experience of the 'ghost' of Hampton Court Palace. 

I have no reason to lie about it. It makes me sound like a lunatic when I tell people, but it's the honest truth. The reaction I get ranges from the wide eyed, enthusiastic nods of people who believe, to the pursed lips and cynical, narrowed eyes of those who don't. Whatever. I know what happened and my leg got chilly and I got sort of strangled a bit on my way out of there.

But who - or what - is haunting Hampton Court Palace's Haunted Gallery? 

The first person people think of is Catherine Howard. Catherine was Henry VIII's (likely teenage) bride, his fifth queen, who was accused of adultery and therefore treason - and was forced to place her head delicately on the executioner's block at the Tower of London in 1542. Legend has it that Catherine, when she found out about her impending arrest, ran down the gallery to try and reach Henry, who was praying in the Royal Chapel beyond. She was stopped by Henry's personal guards, while she screamed and cried - on the very spot where I had the ghostly strangling experience. 

But there are problems with this theory. 

I can't find any primary evidence of Catherine's dramatic, desperate dash down the gallery here. Sure, there are dozens of articles online that talk about it vaguely, referring to the event as 'the legend goes' or 'the story says'. And also by all accounts she was immediately confined to her apartments once suspicion arose. The Victoria County History even goes so far as to say that Henry was away from Hampton Court at the time of her arrest, and so she couldn't have reached Henry even if she had run down the corridor. Imagine this. A soon to be disgraced queen, running screaming down the corridors of a busy palace. Hundreds, if not nearly a thousand people resident at the royal court. Screaming, sobbing and being dragged away by royal guards. It's hard to imagine this not making sensational news. Courtiers sent word of everything from Henry boarding his boat on the river to listen to a spot of music to the regularity of his bowel movements, so, yep. I reckon if this had happened, it would have been reported. 

From the Victoria County History:

"The great objection to the story seems to be that Katherine was not informed of the charges against her until after Henry had left the palace. Marillac mentions particularly that he maintained an unmoved demeanour and left Hampton Court 'secretly.' Even if Katherine suspected what was going on it was not likely, until the circumstances were made public, that the guards would have dared to use force to prevent the queen from entering the king's presence." (Victoria County History, Spelthorne Hundred, 1911).  


So, if it wasn't Catherine, who was it? 

In 2015, two twelve-year old girls, Holly and Brook - were on a family day out at Hampton Court, when one snapped a photo of her cousin - yep, standing in the Haunted Gallery. But Brook wasn't the only one in the photo when they looked back at it. Towering above her was a tall, distorted figure with tumbling dark hair and a dark grey dress. It was immediately offered that this could be the ghostly Grey Lady who had been reportedly seen at Hampton Court since the nineteenth century. Her name in life was Dame Sybil Penn, and she was Edward VI's nurse. Dame Sybil died of smallpox in 1562, but was rudely disturbed from her heavenly slumber when her tomb was opened and her remains moved in 1829. 

So there you go. Was it Catherine? Was it Dame Sybil? Was it someone else? Jane Seymour maybe, who died there after giving birth? Some unknown courtier with a grudge? 

Whoever it was, there's something spooky going on at Hampton Court Palace. 

I can't wait to go back. 

Other Sources: 

You might also like: Drawing Hampton Court Palace, How to Swear Like a Tudor or The Murky Word of Elizabeth's Pirates. There's also a post on Catherine Howard in 1542 and what was the final turning point of her fall. Or check out these 7 Historic Events That Happened At Hampton Court Palace. 

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  1. Great story, Jo! I’ve had a few encounters with some ghosties in my life, so yeah, I’m a believer! ��


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