Thursday, December 25, 2003
London Are there ghostly goings-on at Henry VIII's palace, or is that hazy image of a fellow in fancy robes just a bit of Christmas cheer?
Closed-circuit security cameras at Hampton Court Palace, the huge Tudor castle outside London, seem to have snagged an ethereal visitor. Could it be a ghost?
"We're baffled too -- it's not a joke, we haven't manufactured it," said Vikki Wood, a Hampton Court spokeswoman, when asked whether the photo the palace released was a Christmas hoax. "We genuinely don't know who it is or what it is."
Wood said security guards had seen the figure in closed-circuit television footage after checking it to see who kept leaving open one of the palace's fire doors.
In the still photograph, the figure of a man in a robelike garment is shown stepping from the shadowy doorway, one arm reaching out for the door handle.
The area around the man is somewhat blurred, and his face appears unnaturally white compared with his outstretched hand.
"It was incredibly spooky because the face just didn't look human," said James Faukes, one of the palace security guards.
"My first reaction was that someone was having a laugh, so I asked my colleagues to take a look. We spoke to our costumed guides, but they don't own a costume like that worn by the figure. It is actually quite unnerving," Faukes said.
The palace, built in 1525 on the River Thames 10 miles west of central London, is a popular tourist attraction and some of the guides wear costumes of the Tudor period.
Wood said she was hoping people would come forward with similar stories and try to explain the figure.
The palace has been the scene of many dramatic royal events, and already is supposed to have a few ghosts.
King Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, died there giving birth to a son, and her ghost is said to walk through one of the cobbled courtyards carrying a candle.
Her son, Edward, had a nurse called Sibell Penn who was buried in the palace grounds in 1562. In 1829 her tomb was disturbed by building work, and around the same time an odd whirring noise began to be heard in the southwest wing of the palace. When workmen traced the strange sounds to a brick wall, they uncovered a small forgotten room containing an old spinning wheel, just like the one Penn used to use.
Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, condemned for adultery, was held at the palace under house arrest before her execution at the Tower of London. An 1897 book about the palace says she was reportedly seen, dressed in white and floating down one of the galleries uttering unearthly shrieks.
The palace was once a prison for King Charles I, who later was beheaded, and then home to his nemesis Oliver Cromwell, who briefly ruled when Britain was for a short time a republic.