An Investigation into the Alleged Haunting of Hampton Court Palace: Psychological Variables and Magnetic Fields

By Wiseman, Richard; Watt, Caroline et al. | The Journal of Parapsychology, December 2002 | Go to article overview

An Investigation into the Alleged Haunting of Hampton Court Palace: Psychological Variables and Magnetic Fields


Wiseman, Richard, Watt, Caroline, Greening, Emma, Stevens, Paul, O'Keeffe, Ciaran, The Journal of Parapsychology


Hampton Court Palace has been the home to some of Britain's most famous monarchs for over 500 years, and it is now one of the country's most popular historical attractions. The Palace has also gained a considerable reputation for "ghostly" phenomena and is frequently referred to as one of the most haunted places in England (see, e.g., Guiley, 1994; Law, 1918; Underwood, 1971). Perhaps the Palace's best known "ghost" is that of Catherine Howard, the filth wife of Henry VIII. Fifteen months after her marriage to the King in 1540, the queen was accused of adultery, arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to death (Thurley, 1996). Legend suggests that upon hearing the news, Catherine Howard ran to the King to plead for her life but was stopped by guards and dragged back along a section of the Palace now known as "The Haunted Gallery" (Guiley, 1994; Underwood, 1971). By the turn of the century the Gallery had become associated with various unusual experiences, including sightings of a "woman in white" and reports o f inexplicable screams (Law, 1918). More recent visitors to the Gallery have reported other ghostly phenomena, including a strong sense of presence, a feeling of dizziness, and sudden changes in temperature (Franklin, 1998). Interestingly, The Haunted Gallery is not the only part of the Palace associated with such phenomena, with visitors and staff reporting similar experiences in several other areas of the building (Franklin, 1998). In early 2000, the Palace administrators invited RW to investigate why many people reported ghostly activity within the building. (1)

A number of different theories have been put forward to account for hauntings (see McCue, 2002, for a review). Some past research has examined how people's belief or disbelief in the paranormal correlates with the way in which they perceive, interpret, and report alleged paranormal phenomena (see, French, 1992, for a review). Some of this work has examined the relationship between belief in ghosts and reports of ghostly phenomena. (2) For example, Lange, Houran, Harte, and Havens (1996) analysed a large sample of eyewitness reports of ghostly encounters and found that approximately 30% of witnesses expressed a prior belief in ghosts or other supernatural entity. Also, Lange and Houran (1998, 1999) administered questionnaires measuring belief in the paranormal and past levels of paranormal experiences to participants who had reported experiencing poltergeist phenomena. Path analysis indicated that participants' belief in the paranormal strongly affected their alleged paranormal experiences. (Path analysis or s tructural equation modelling is a statistical technique that can infer limited types of causation in correlational data; for an overview, see, e.g., Crowley & Fan, 1997.) The initial part of the experiment built upon this work by examining the relationship between participants' prior belief in ghosts and the ghostly phenomena they reported experiencing both in the past and when walking through an allegedly haunted area of the Palace.

In their analysis of over 900 ghostly experiences, Lange et al. (1996) noted that approximately 60% of reports mentioned some form of prior suggestion that the location was haunted (e.g., rumours, advertising, or prior knowledge of previous experiences reported in the location). Some researchers have argued that such suggestions may play a key role in causing people to misattribute mild psychosomatic, hallucinatory, or normal physical phenomena to paranormal activity (Houran & Brugger, 2000; Houran & Lange, 1996; Houran & Williams, 1998). To our knowledge, only one experiment has empirically tested this idea. Lange and Houran (1997) had two groups of participants walk around a disused cinema and rate the degree to which it caused them to experience certain cognitive, physiological, emotional, psychic, and spiritual phenomena. The experimenters suggested to half of the participants that the cinema had been the site of reports of paranormal activity, whereas the other half were told that the premises were curre ntly under renovation and the research concerned people's reaction to the environment. …

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