The Haunted Gallery, Hampton Court Palace

As part of Supernatural Month on WU History, I am going to examine the strange phenomena that has gained a lot of attention within Hampton Court Palace, London. What became Henry VIII’s favourite residence became the heart of Tudor politics amongst a thriving court full of scandal, victory, grief and fear.

Katherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1540-41
Katherine Howard by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1540-41

In November 1541 the King’s fifth and frivolous wife is placed under house arrest on charges of adultery, locked in her royal apartments at Hampton Court. Unlike the situation five years ago when trumped-up accusations emerged against Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard had reason to be concerned. She had kept her scandalous past hidden from Henry, which included various carnal relations with those from her childhood in the Dowager Duchess’s Household, such as Henry Mannox and Francis Dereham. There is evidence that Katherine may have entered into a marriage precontract with Dereham, which was a complete deception in Henry’s eyes who wanted a legitimate marriage with no succession disputes. Even worse, Katherine had recently allowed Dereham to join Court as her personal secretary.

Yet it was unlikely that the queen rekindled the fire with her childhood sweetheart. What really brought her down were the various love letters discovered between herself and the king’s courtier, Thomas Culpepper. Testimonies from the queen’s ladies in waiting provide unmistakable evidence that with the help of Lady Rochford, Katherine snuck Culpepper into her chamber multiple times, even whilst on progress throughout the country with her husband. Yet she was fourteen when she married the king, who was in his forties, greatly obese, with a re-opening wound on his leg that leaked puss with a foul odour. It is necessary to see her as the young girl she was, although naive and excitable.

Henry VIII 1540 by Hans Holbein the Younger
Henry VIII 1540 by Hans Holbein the Younger

There was no warning for Katherine that something was wrong at Court. Out of nowhere in November 1541, guards interrupted her day with the queen’s ladies and stationed themselves outside the queen’s apartments. She was told nothing and left in an abyss of confusion and panic. What did they know? Was it Dereham, was it Culpepper? Was the king testing her? Begging the guards did not get her anywhere. The second she saw an opportunity, Katherine sprinted from her chamber when the guard’s attention was elsewhere, through the Haunted Gallery, attempting to reach Chapel Royal where Henry was hearing Mass, screaming for mercy and forgiveness. She was caught before she could enter and taken back to her apartments. In February 1541 she was executed on Tower Green behind the White Tower alongside Lady Rochford who had gone insane during imprisonment. Their bodies were buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula next to Anne and George Boleyn.

The ghost of Katherine Howard in the Haunted Gallery, courtesy of
The ghost of Katherine Howard in the Haunted Gallery, courtesy of

The Haunted Gallery remains intact over the last 500 years, and both staff and visitors at Hampton Court Palace have reported a number of strange phenomena. Grace-and-favour residents in neighbouring apartments have often heard screams from the gallery. In 1999, there were two female faintings on the same spot in the Haunted Gallery within half an hour of each other. In addition, half of all visitor faintings at Hampton Court Palace occur in the Haunted Gallery. Others report sudden ‘chills’ and other strange feelings. Psychologists have also failed to explain how certain experiences happen on specific spots within the gallery following a week-long investigation in 2000.


The Fall of Catherine Howard


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