Heads or Tales

There was no trick or treating, but the Tudors did recognise the night before All Soul’s Day (All-Hallows-Eve) as a particularly spooky time, a time when the uneasy dead or spirits could pass between the thinned veil of this world and the next, so this is a good time to talk about Anne Boleyn’s very famous ghost.  She is believed to appear, headless, at more than one location in England.


As a child I was terrified by the idea of a headless ghost. Why was a headless spectre scarier to me than a “regular” ghost? Most likely it was my very vivid imagination, which made picturing her head looking at me from its location under Anne’s arm so easy to see in my mind’s eye, that caused me such fright. Apparently, I am not alone in this ability. The thought of Anne’s ghost, like the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow, freaked me out. Even now, as an adult, I am pretty sure I would scream and loose my cool completely if I were to spot her majesty roaming any ancient halls or pulling up to the door of Blickling Hall.

But would there actually be a ghost for me to see?

Rationally, there are no so such things as ghosts. As a Christian I believe (as do many other practitioners of other religions) that human conscious — the soul — continues after the death of the body, but there is no theological basis for the idea that souls would be able to just float around scaring the jeepers out of people. (Some physicists argue that there this is a “quantum mind”, which would explain consciousness that might be able to exist independently of the physical mind, but other physicists think this is bunkum on par with mermaids.) Nevertheless, what most people call soul is a bit more complex to theologians. There is a lot of scripture/theology/philosophy that would indicate that while the soul is ‘you’, there is another aspect — the spirit — that gives life to the body. So while I personally think that that Anne Boleyn rests in peace, beyond suffering and with no need or ability to sashay past gawking mortals, arguably her spirit could still showing up due to the stress of her betrayal and murder. 

I can give a more concrete answer about the likelihood of the existence of another famous ghost — one of Henry VIII’s other luckless wives, Anne’s cousin Kathryn Howard. Legend has it that Kathryn appears on the gallery at Hampton Court, where she eternally repeats her last desperate attempt to reach Henry and beg his forgiveness. This is, I am sure, complete hooey. According to historians the King departed from Kathryn’s company without warning and without a word, and he was already far out of reach before she even became aware of the accusations against her. There was no desperate last dash, and thus there is nothing for her tormented ghost to repeat.

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