Tonight is the night to spot Anne Boleyn's 'headless ghost' in Norfolk
- Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC
She’s arguably Britain’s most famous phantom, the headless ghost of a tragic Norfolk-born Queen who still visits the county on the anniversary of her execution.
Born at Blickling, in a medieval manor house now occupied by the famous hall, Anne Boleyn was famously beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII after she failed to bear him an heir.
The ill-fated queen is said to return on the anniversary of her execution every year on May 19, arriving outside the hall at midnight in a carriage driven by a headless coachman and led by spectral horses.
Within the carriage sits the tragic Queen, her white dress stained with the blood that drips from the severed head she holds in her lap.
And hers is not the only Boleyn-family-based supernatural schedule that repeats itself on May 19 each year: but more of that in good time.
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Anne was not King Henry’s first wife: that dubious honour went to Catherine of Aragon who had previously been married to his brother Arthur, who died in 1502.
The Pope gave Henry dispensation to marry Catherine in 1509 and the pair eagerly awaited the arrival of a son: six children arrived between 1510 and 1518, five (including two sons) died in early infancy leaving only daughter Mary.
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Henry decided the answer would be to take another wife and he didn’t cast his net wide: Anne was Catherine’s beautiful lady-in-waiting and he moved heaven and earth to make him his bride.
When the Pope refused to grant him an annulment to his first marriage, Henry broke away from Rome and created his own religion where his second marriage was, somewhat unsurprisingly, completely legal.
The marriage was short-lived.
Anne gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, nine months after her wedding day in September 1533, miscarried the following year and her son, who she gave birth to in January 1536 was tragically stillborn.
Henry lost patience, and began to loudly complain that Anne had seduced him into marrying her, bringing with it suggestions of enchantment and witchcraft, and meanwhile, history was repeating itself.
Anne had a very beautiful lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour…
Swiftly, Anne was arrested and committed to the Tower of London where she faced a range of charges that included incest with her brother George, adultery and, later, treason against her own husband.
It is almost certain the charges were dreamt up by a King desperate to end his marriage, but nevertheless, she was duly found guilty by a court of peers under the direction of her uncle Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk.
Her brother George was beheaded on May 17, Anne two days later on May 19, the axe swapped for a sword, the symbol of Camelot and a rightful king.
It is said that as the French executioner raised his sword at the Tower of London, his aim was so true that the Queen’s head fell with a single blow, her eyes and lips still moving as the head landed on the straw.
Her body was placed in an old elm chest which had once contained bow staves from the Tower, her head and body were reunited and she was buried in the chancel close to the remains of her brother.
Her heart, it is said, was taken either to St Mary’s Church in Erwarton in Suffolk or to Salle Church in Norfolk, where it was interred at midnight with the full rites of Christian burial.
Regardless of Earthly remains, it would not be long before Anne would return to Norfolk, her spirit unable to find rest: the first documented sighting of her restless spirit was in the late 18th century, many more have followed.
Tonight, at Blickling Hall, it is said that Anne returns to mark the anniversary of her death in quite spectacularly gory fashion.
Around midnight (other tales claim the ghosts arrive at dusk), a ghostly coach and horses arrives on the drive and noiselessly speeds towards the hall, four black spectral horses commanded by a headless horseman.
Once at the hall, some accounts say the vision disappears, others that Anne steps down from the carriage, her dripping head tucked under her arm, before she glides into the hall where she spends until sunrise roaming from room to room.
Perhaps Anne returns for a ghostly family reunion, as two other Boleyn ghosts are said to haunt Norfolk on May 19: her father and brother.
As the story goes, Sir Thomas Boleyn has been given a dreadful punishment for being too weak to challenge the King and simply standing back and watching both his children executed.
He must, legend has it, attempt to drive four headless horses across 12 Norfolk bridges on the eve of May 19 before the clock strikes 12: and he must do it while carrying his own head under his arm.
The bridges include those in Coltishall, Aylsham, Hautbois, Burgh, Meyton, Oxnead, Blickling and Wroxham and stories say that flames could be seen shooting from his severed head while others say the coach itself is pursued by shrieking demons as it charges through the darkness.
Cursed to continue his challenge for 1,000 years, other versions of this tale maintain Thomas is compelled to complete his task more than once a year and that the bridge count has risen to 40.
Poor George, who died at the hand of an executioner just two days before his sister, has also been seen in the Norfolk countryside on this most haunted of nights.
He is said to suffer a terrible ordeal in which his headless corpse is dragged across the hedges and ditches of the county by four headless horses.
Ghost hunters despondent they have missed the May deadline need not worry: Anne’s ghost has also been seen inside Blickling Hall throughout the year, with head attached, and she also is said to haunt the Tower of London, the chapel where she is buried, Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle, Marwell Hall and Hever Castle.
Dare you set a diary date to meet the most famous ghost of all time?