The Ghosts of Blickling Hall - Blickling - Norfolk

                    (c) by John Ashley Photography

It is 8am on the 19th of May in the Year of our Lord 1536. The setting is Tudor England in the grounds of the Tower of London, kneeling on the ground is a young woman aged somewhere between twenty-nine and thirty-five. Her small neck, on which there is a large mole the size of a walnut, rests on a block. On her left hand there is a very small extra finger.
She is, of course, Anne Boleyn, Queen of England, second wife to Henry 8th, mother of Elizabeth I, who will eventually become Queen of England. But at this time she has yet to attain her 3rd birthday. Anne who has been found guilty of treason and for this the penalty is death.   

Behind the supplicant, Anne, stands the executioner, an expert swordsman, specially brought over from Calais, France. In his hands he holds a French sword. A fair distance away the King, Anne’s husband, is mounted on his horse awaiting the signal gun that will declare him to be a free man.

It takes only one stroke of the Frenchman's sword to sever Anne’s slender neck and to detach her head from her body. As the executioner holds her head up high for the large crowd who have gathered to witness the first public execution of an English queen, Anne’s eyes continue to move and her mouth continues to utter her dying prayer “To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesu receive my soul. "Upon hearing the signal gun that announces that his second wife is dead, Henry the 8th shouts to his men around him "Loose the hounds and away!" and sets off immediately to Wiltshire and to Wolf Hall. Here preparations have been made over the last few days, whilst Anne awaits her execution in the tower, for a celebration of Henry’s betrothal to Jane Seymour of Wolf Hall. Ten days later, they are married in Whitehall.

But back to Henry’s second wife. It is unclear in which year Anne Boleyn was born but history puts the dates somewhere between 1501 and 1507. Her ancestral home is said to have been that of Blickling Hall in Norfolk. Here Anne was born and spent her childhood though not in the current house but an earlier house that was on the same site. It was her father, the ambitious Thomas Boleyn, who had engineered his second daughter Anne’s marriage to the monarch, after Henry 8th had discarded his first daughter, Mary. Although the affair with Anne’s sister was brief ending sometime in 1525, it is said that she gave birth to a son who she called Henry and it was widely believed that he was the king’s son having a strong physical resemblance to the king. Further proof of Henry’s illicit affair with Anne’s sister Mary was the fact that he sought and received a papal dispensation ‘to marry the sister of a woman with whom he had engaged in unlawful intercourse’. 

In 1528 a Member of Parliament insulted the king’s morals by accusing Henry of sleeping with Anne’s mother and also her sister, to which the king replied “Never with her mother”. It is widely believed that Anne not only having eleven fingers also had three breasts. She is described as no great beauty, as was her sister Mary, with a sallow complexion, black hair and black-eyed. Yet she had both wit and style, which commended her to the King. To hide her defects Anne took to wearing necklaces like dog-collars and long sleeves that dangled over her hands. The other ladies at court also adopted this style.

Henry was married to Katherine of Aragon, who described her rival Anne as ‘‘a woman who is the scandal of Christendom". Although married, this did not stop the King pursuing and bedding other women. Though with Anne he met his match as she said "she would either be his wife and Queen or nothing at all". Henry, being deeply infatuated with her, set about trying to get a divorce from Katherine from the Pope on the grounds that Katharine had been his dead brother's wife. The Pope, however, refused so in the end Henry declared that England should be free of all Papal rule and that he himself would be head of the church. Thus allowing him to marry Anne, who having seen her goal in sight had yielded to the King and was pregnant with Elizabeth. 

After the birth of a daughter, Henry’s affections began to cool and his eyes to stray. His attentions turned to one of his wive's maids of honour: a young girl called Jane Seymour, a quiet and timid girl. Finally tired of Anne’s nagging and there being no sign of a son and heir, Henry charged Cromwell and the Duke of Norfolk to carry out a secret investigation, in order to find grounds on which Henry could justifiably discard his second wife Anne. Cromwell and Norfolk, keen to curry favour with the King, took less than one week to compile a lengthy list of his wife’s "shameful adulteries" with men that included her own brother Lord Rochford!It was a clear case of treason, which of course brought with it the death penalty for both Anne and her so called lovers, thus freeing Henry.

The date for Anne’s execution was set for the 19th of May and at Anne’s request, a swordsman from France had been brought over to perform the deed. To the astonishment of her jailer, whilst in the Tower, Anne was neither melancholy nor frightened but was very merry, laughing and making joke. However, on the day of the execution, she was not so merry and seemed amazed that no reprieve had been forthcoming.  

After her execution it is said that her body was stuck in an old arrow chest with her head tucked beneath her arm and that she was buried in the Chapel in the Tower. Other accounts say that she was taken by friends and family and buried at a Norfolk church. There have even been reports that her heart was cut out and stolen and was found in the south wall of a church in Elvedon Park, Thetford in 1836. And that this heart was subsequently reburied in Salle church Norfolk. 

Given this account of her life and of her death is it any wonder then that Anne’s spirit might be restless and that on the anniversary of the fateful days she appears at her childhood home of Blickling Hall.
Salle Church

Blickling Hall
Dressed all in white and carrying her dripping, severed head, she arrives in a coach driven by a headless coachman and four headless horses.  

The coach slowly travels up the drive of Blickling Hall and upon reaching the front door of the Hall coach and driver vanish, leaving just the spectre of Anne. 
This ghostly apparition then glides into the Hall, where it roams the corridors until daybreak.  
Not satisfied with one haunting, Blickling also lays claim to the ghost of Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn who as a result of his strivings, lost not only a daughter but also a son. This is given as the reason for his penance that he is required to perform every year for a thousand years after his death in 1539.Once a year, for a thousand years, he has to attempt to cross 12 bridges before cockcrow. His route takes him from Blicking to Aylsham, Burg, Buxton Coltishall, Meyton, Oxnead and Wroxham.

Like his daughter his head is severed and once again the headless horses are harnessed to a phantom coach. As with his daughter he too carries his head underneath his arm, but flames gush from his mouth rather than blood.

Henry 8th Six Wives 
Katherine of Aragon – died 7th January 1536 at Kimbolton Castle just after her 50th birthday.
Jane Seymour - born 1506 married 30th May 1536, died 24th October 1537, after childbirth.
Anne of Cleves - married 6th January 1540, annulled 6 months later, with Anne becoming the King's honorary sister. Survived the king and died in 1557.
Catherine Howard - born 1521, married 28th July 1540, executed on Monday 13th February 1542.
Katharine Parr - born 1512, married 12th July 1543, was almost sent to the Tower but survived Henry who died on 28th January 1547. Katherine eventually died on 5th September 1548.