The Creepy History Of The British Royal Family

Illustration for article titled The Creepy History Of The British Royal Family

Sure, today they're all basking in joy and love and crumpets and hats, but the British royal family has had a pretty disturbing history. Below, a sampling of their beheadings, mysterious ailments, catastrophically failed marriages, and, of course, ghosts.


Ghosts of Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle is rumored to be (that is, totally really and truly) haunted by a number of ghosts, some of royal birth and some of more common stock. According to, royal ghosts include Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Elizabeth I, who apparently wears all black, presumably because she is dead. Less blue-blooded spirits include a guy named Herne the hunter, a little boy who yells "I don't want to go riding today," and my personal favorite, "a demonic horned being said to bring death and disease to those who are unfortunate enough to see it, especially the Royal family." Some sources say this being has a stag's head, which sort of gives new meaning to the scene in The Queen in which Elizabeth II encounters a stag.

Henry VIII, his wives, and his health

Henry VIII is, of course, famous for his many marriages and his quest for a male heir. Experts have long speculated on why this quest took so long and why Henry's wives suffered so many miscarriages — some have posited that the king may have had syphilis. But now some researchers think he may have had a rare blood type called Kell positive — if a man with this type impregnates a Kell negative woman, she's at increased risk of miscarrying, especially in the third trimester, when several of Henry VIII's wives apparently suffered miscarriages. Scientists point out that since we can't test Henry's blood, we'll probably never know for sure. Another interesting medical theory: some experts think Henry was so mean to his later wives because he suffered head trauma in a jousting accident. Historian Lucy Worsley tells the Independent,

We posit that his jousting accident of 1536 provides the explanation for his personality change from sporty, promising, generous young prince, to cruel, paranoid and vicious tyrant. From that date the turnover of the wives really speeds up, and people begin to talk about him in quite a new and negative way. After the accident he was unconscious for two hours; even five minutes of unconsciousness is considered to be a major trauma today. [...] Damage to the frontal lobe of the brain can perfectly well result in personality change.

Henry VIII was also a man ahead of his time, complaining that his fourth wife Anne of Cleves didn't look like her profile pic. According to, he chose her based on a painting by Hans Holbein, but in person he thought she was ugly and smelly. After their wedding night, he said, "I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse." He soon had the marriage annulled.

Charles I's head

King Charles I was tried for treason after the English Civil War, and was beheaded in 1649. This was not a big deal, since basically everyone was beheaded. More interesting: some accounts claim that Charles's head was then sewn back onto his body, perhaps as a bizarre mark of respect. Charles may not have been alone — some people also say James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth, may have had his head sewn back on so his corpse could pose for a portrait. Charles I's ghost reportedly haunts a building in Gloucestershire, which makes sense because if somebody sewed my severed head back onto my body, I would want to haunt people too.


The princes in the Tower

After his accession to the throne, Richard III famously had child princes Edward V and Richard, Duke of York sent to the Tower of London in the summer of 1483. Over the next few months, one contemporary writer creepily observed that they were "seen more rarely behind the bars and windows, till at length they ceased to appear altogether." What happened to the little boys? Many think Richard III killed them or had them killed, and two children's skeletons were found buried under the Tower in 1674 — but then again, two different children's skeletons were found there in 1603. One historian speculates that the young Richard escaped and became a bricklayer. Only one thing is for certain: the princes definitely haunt the Tower as ghosts. According to Haunted Places in the World, "he Princes have been spotted in the Bloody Tower wearing white nightgowns and holding hands. They never make a sound and can only be seen for a few fleeting moments before they fade into the stonework."


The madness of King George III

King George III reigned during the American Revolution, and in 1810, he began to have periods of insanity. The New World Encyclopedia offers this story:

One day, on a drive through Windsor Great Park, the king threw his arms up into the air and shouted, "Stop!" He alighted, walked over to an oak tree and acted as if he was shaking hands with one of its branches. He spoke for several moments before a footman asked him if he was feeling well. The king replied, "Of course I am! Now don't interrupt me sir. I am talking to the King of Prussia."


During Christmas of 1819, the king "suffered a further bout of madness, spoke nonsense for 58 hours, then sank into a coma." He died in early 1820. Modern experts think King George may have suffered from the disease porphyria, in part because his doctors said his urine was a weird color. The ailment could have been triggered by arsenic poisoning — high levels of arsenic have been found in samples of the king's hair.

Does King George III haunt Windsor Castle? You bet he does. According to Haunted Castles and Hotels, "He can be seen looking out the windows located below the Royal Library where he was confined during the recurrence of his illness."


Image via St. Nick/



And this is one example of why many Brits would rather like the whole lot of them to just bugger off somewhere so that we don't have to hear about them any more.

Not that we're going to do anything about it, being Brits. We'll just roll our eyes and mutter something about the ugliness of the commemorative biscuit tins.

(Seriously, why does the rest of the world love our royals so much? They're really not all that interesting, unless by interesting you mean batshit insane and with unfortunate ears as a result of inbreeding.)