The Wedding "Ghost" List

What Spirits Might the Royal Couple Encounter?

By , Columnist

John Bradshaw - exhumed, hanged, and decapitated.

The Daily Telegraph says, "Diana's ghost will be everywhere on Prince William's big day". I'm pretty sure they meant that metaphorically, but perhaps William and Kate really should keep an eye out for phantom wedding guests on Friday. History is never too far beneath the surface in London and sometimes the past can seem a little too close for comfort, especially when your route takes you through an area so steeped in ghostly legend.

On Friday morning William and Kate are due to leave from one of three royal residences, either Buckingham Palace (which we'll come back to later), St James's Palace or Clarence House.

Ernest_Augustus_I_of_Hanover.pngSt James's Palace - originally built in the sixteenth century on land that had once housed a leper hospital - is reputedly haunted by one of the country's grisliest ghosts. Two hundred and one years ago, on the night of 30-31 May 1810 to be precise, the boorish and arrogantErnest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and fifth son of King George III, returned to his rooms late after a long evening at a charity performance. What happened next is open to speculation but it ended with the bloody death of the Duke's valet, Joseph Sellis, whose throat was cut so savagely his head was almost severed.

The Duke claimed Sellis had tried to assassinate him but ran off after the Duke fought back and, aghast at what he had done, committed suicide. But the London public preferred to believe the hated Duke had murdered his valet, and the rumours were hardly quelled by serious inadequacies with the Duke's testimony. His valet's gruesome apparition is said to haunt the Palace still, stretched across blood-drenched sheets with his mouth open in a terrible silent scream.

Clarence House is no safer. Built starting in 1825 for the Duke of Clarence before his accession to the throne as King William IV, it housed the offices of the British Red Cross Society's Foreign Relations Department during the Second World War. One damp Saturday afternoon in the 1940s a female clerk working here alone encountered 'a sort of greyish, swirling, triangular, smoky mass' bobbing in the air before her, a bizarre apparition that made her flee the building in terror.

JohnBradshaw.jpgAssuming the happy couple avoid the spectral terrors of their starting point, they will be taken by car to the Gothic splendour of Westminster Abbey, where more ghosts await their arrival. One that they ought perhaps to be especially wary of is the shade of John Bradshaw, president of the High Court of Justice that ordered the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Bradshaw's macabre punishment for the crime of regicide was carried out in 1661, after his own death and the restoration of the monarchy: his corpse, together with those of Sir Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, was exhumed, hanged, and decapitated.  Rarely glimpsed in the Abbey, Bradshaw's ghost is apparently most likely to make his presence here known by the heavy sound of his footsteps.

A more poignant phantom to watch out for wears the mud-stained khaki uniform of a First World War infantryman. This apparition is said to appear from time to time a few feet from the grave of the Unknown Warrior, silent, his head bowed in sorrow.

Westminster Abbey is also said to be haunted by the phantom of a tall, thin monk. Sallow-skinned, with a domed head and prominent nose, this apparition is known as "Father Benedictus" and his favourite walk is meant to be the Abbey's quiet cloisters.  Reportedly, this phantom appears to be perfectly solid although his ghostly status is betrayed by his standing an inch or two above the present level of the time-worn stone floor. "Father Benedictus" traditionally appears between five and six in the evening, and perhaps he will make a late appearance on Friday to enjoy the relative calm after the day's hurly burly.

westminster-abbey-london.jpgShortly after midday the newlyweds are scheduled to leave the Abbey in a horse and carriage, retracing their route along the Mall and entering Buckingham Palace, primary residence of the sovereign since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837. But not even here will they be able to relax fully. Apparently the first floor corridors occasionally reverberate to the sharp crack of a gunshot, a supernatural echo of the suicide of a private secretary here in the early years of the twentieth century.

Buckingham Palace also boasts the tale of a ghostly monk, clad in a brown habit and carrying the clich├ęd clanking chains as he moans miserably and shuffles along the terrace overlooking the Palace gardens. Legend describes an ancient priory that stood on this site long before the Palace, a priory that vanished after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the mid-sixteenth century, and in whose punishment cell this monk died after being imprisoned for some long-forgotten crime.

At least the royal couple need not worry about meeting this monk. For one thing, he is only supposed to appear on Christmas Day, while for another there never actually was any priory here.  The phantom monk, at least, would seem to exist only in our shared imagination.
As for all those other spectres roaming London's mythological landscape, who knows? This is, after all, a city where the past never really dies.

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James Clark is a freelance writer based in deepest, darkest south London, UK. His latest book, "Haunted Lambeth", exploring ghosts and legends from the London Borough of Lambeth, is due out in February 2013.

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