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The Ghost Of Anne Boleyn: What A Traveler Beheld At The Scaffold On Tower Hill (c. 1912)

December 9, 2015

This unsigned short story appeared on page 6 of the Newport [WA] Miner on July 11, 1912, nestled between several columns of jokes and comedic sketches on one side and a comic poem and “Snapshots At Celebrities” on the other. (The celebrities in question were “Douglas Robinson, Executive Of The Astor Estate” and “The New Papal Delegate, Archbishop Giovanni Bonzano” — sic transit gloria celebrity). Whether the story was actually written for this specific paper is doubtful — the surrounding articles and “Humorous Quips” are mostly sourced to a variety of other publications and it’s very likely that this story originally came from somewhere else as well, and was either officially purchased or unofficially swiped and repackaged for its entertainment page by the Miner. Some stories could circulate through different newspapers for years, which is why 1912 is only an approximate date for this one. However, I can’t help but wonder if this was in fact a new story, possibly inspired by  The Favor Of Kings, which was copyrighted in April of 1912. (Reginald Drew’s lushly unhistoric  Anne Boleyn, which would seem like a natural foundation for a romantic ghost story, wasn’t copyrighted until December of 1912).

It’s a fairly typical short ghost story of the time; however, readers who attended slumber parties as children and heard the usual round of urban legends and spook tales will appreciate the fact that the protagonist wears a black velvet ribbon around her neck. Enjoy!


It was moonset, a blood red crescent sinking into a band of yellow just over the roofs of London. The day had been a holiday, for King Henry VIII had divorced his queen, Anne Boleyn, not by process of law, but by the ax.

The young Earl of Emberton, who since childhood had been in France, had just returned and was passing over Tower hill. Before him against the yellow strip loomed the silhouette scaffold, the sinking moon at the moment standing above it, its lower horn seeming to rest upon the block where that had been bowed the head of the young queen.

“Singular,” muttered the earl, “that the red crescent should be in that position.”

As he drew near the scaffold he heard a low moan and then noticed for the first time, seated on the lowest step, a woman, her head bent to her knees, her face buried in her hands.

“Madam,” he said, greatly surprised, “I marvel to find you in this grewsome [sic] place at such an hour. How came you here?”

The woman raised her head, and Emberton saw that she was young and comely. She was not weeping, yet on her face was a strange distress. Her costume was rich, denoting that she was of high degree, her robe being of silk, though without any adornment whatever. Around her neck was a broad black velvet band, but even from this no jewel or trinket was suspended.

“Oh, sir,” she said, “take me away! I was here with the crowd today, and when it was over all went to their homes but I. It was cruel to leave me here alone.”

“But your menials? If your friends deserted you, surely those dependent upon your bounty —“

“They all went together, and I, dazed by the multitude, the solemn words of the man of God, the grim figure of the executioner, the glitter of the ax in the sun, must have fallen into a swoon, for I have only just now come to consciousness.”

“I cannot imagine,” said the earl, perplexed, “how your friends and servants could have been so brutal.”
“Brutal! Can you expect tenderness from a people whose king’s divorces are written in blood?”

“Come away,” said the young man. “You are trembling; you are faint.”

“Where shall I go?” she asked, fixing despairing eyes upon him.

“To your people.”

“Oh, my people!” she said, a wail in her voice. “Do you think that they would welcome me after what occurred today?”

“Then you must come with me,” said the earl. “To stay here another hour would drive you to a madhouse.”

In Emberton’s heart suddenly, without requiring time to develop, there was born a great love for this desolate being who had passed through so strange an ordeal. Since she did not move he sat down beside her. A chill wind made her shiver, and he folded his cloak about her, leaving his arms about the cloak. His eyes fell upon the band at her neck, and as his hand rested upon her shoulder he took the ribbon in his fingers and moved it just so far that in the dim light he saw what he thought was a fine red line. She drew his hand away. Hers was as cold as ice.

“Go with me,” he pleaded. “You are cold and desolate. I will warm your heart with mine. I will make you forget this dreadful place. I will take you to sunny France. This dreary town is not fit for one so delicate, so sensitive. In France there are no troubles. The court and the nobles live in bright Paris, with its gardens, while the peasants tread the purple grapes in the wine vats, singing gayly. I came from there only today. We will go back together.”

She turned her eyes upon his and seemed to drink in every word. He fancied a color coming into the pale cheek; that the icy hand he held in his was less cold.

“I will go with you,” she said, “and love you forever, but first let me take one last look at the block.”

“No, no,” he cried; “no more of death! Come rather into life.”

Despite his pleadings she moved up the steps, looking back at him wistfully. He held her hand, but it seemed to slip from his as if it were unreal. He caught at her robe, but it was fluttering in the wind and eluded his grasp.

“Listen,” she said, pausing.

It seemed that he could hear a low murmuring of many voices. Then all was still.

She moved on, mounting each step heavily, as if weighted with lead, till she had reached the platform. Then, waving her hand to him as if in adieu, she kneeled and placed her head upon the block.

Emberton fancied he heard something moving swiftly through the air, a thud as of steel entering wood.

The next morning at daylight as the watch moved across Tower hill he discovered the Earl of Emberton lying in a stupor at the foot of the scaffold. He was taken to his home, where he lay for months with a diseased brain, and when his reason returned he left London forever. Even in his beloved France he found neither health nor happiness. No one save a menial was ever admitted to his bedroom, and after his death a portrait was discovered above his mantel — his sovereign’s beheaded queen, Anne Boleyn.

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