England’s historic houses and stately homes are full of stories and legends – tales of unexplained bumps in the night, unquiet spirits and eerie occurrences.
As the homes of powerful figures and families, sometimes as far back as the medieval period, many of England’s manors have seen their fair share of power struggles, mischief and death. In some instances, the sinister histories of these buildings can apparently still be felt today.
Norfolk’s Blickling Hall, for example, is said to be graced by the headless ghost of Anne Boleyn. And outside Buckland Abbey in Devon, the spirit of explorer Sir Francis Drake is purported to roam Dartmoor.
Whilst there are hundreds of tales of ghouls and spirits to choose from, here are 6 of the most famous ghosts said to lurk behind some of England’s most opulent manors and palaces.
Owain Glyndwr – Croft Castle, Herefordshire
The last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales, Owain Glyndwr led a campaign for Welsh independence in the 14th century. One of Glyndwr’s daughter married Sir John Croft of Croft Castle, making the family directly descended from Glyndwr himself.
Despite never visiting the castle, Glyndwr’s ghost (amongst many others) is said to haunt Croft: he appears as a 7-foot-high spectre, clad in a leather jerkin.
Anne Boleyn – Blickling Hall, Norfolk
Blickling in Norfolk was the ancestral home of the Boleyn family, and it’s thought that Anne Boleyn, the future queen of England, was born there in the early 16th century. Although Anne never lived at Blickling, spending her childhood at Hever in Kent and abroad, her ghost is said to return here on the anniversary of her execution every year, 19 May.
Some claim that at dusk, a ghostly coach drawn by a headless horseman rides up to the entrance of the hall with Anne’s ghost sitting inside, clutching her severed head. As the coach reaches the house, it vanishes.
Catherine Howard – Hampton Court Palace, Richmond upon Thames
Henry VIII’s fifth wife, Catherine, is also said to have a ghostly presence. The teenage Catherine Howard was accused of adultery and arrested at Hampton Court Palace, where she was lodged at the time. She broke free of her captors briefly and ran down the corridor to the doors of the Chapel Royal, screaming her innocence to her husband, the king, and begging for clemency, believing if he only saw her he would believe her protestations of innocence.
Unfortunately for Catherine, Henry was not in the chapel and her pleas went unanswered. She was executed after being found guilty of adultery and treason in February 1542, before reaching her 20th birthday.
Her ghostly presence has given rise to the corridor’s name, the Haunted Gallery. Some visitors report feeling a sudden chill as they walk down the corridor, and some members of staff have reported ghostly sightings late at night, as Catherine’s ghost makes the same anguished journey down the corridor again and again.
Francis Drake – Buckland Abbey, Devon
Sir Francis Drake was an explorer and privateer (crown-sanctioned pirate) during the reign of Elizabeth I. He is most famous for his circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580 and his role in defeating the Spanish Armada. When he returned to England in 1580, he bought Buckland Abbey in Devon and went about renovating it.
Whilst Drake was revered as a national hero by many and had been rewarded with a knighthood by the queen, not all thought Drake was good. Some of the more superstitious locals believed he had signed a pact with the devil in order to defeat the Spanish Armada, or that he had to have supernatural powers.
More recently, visitors to Buckland Abbey and the surrounding region claim to have seen Drake’s ghost ride across Dartmoor in a black coach driven by headless horses and pursued by a pack of barking dogs. Reportedly any living dog which hears or sees its ghostly counterpart dies instantly.
The legend of Drake’s ghost is said to have inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous story The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Elizabeth Murray – Ham House, Richmond upon Thames
Elizabeth Murray, Duchess of Lauderdale, was one of the most formidable women of the 17th century. Ambitious and cunning, she cultivated friendships with Oliver Cromwell and the exiled future King Charles II in order to ensure her own good fortune no matter what happened politically.
Rumours swirled in her lifetime that she was romantically involved with Cromwell himself, and the death of her first husband and the Earl of Lauderdale’s wife in quick succession fuelled speculation about whether their deaths were entirely natural.
In her later years, the money dried up and Elizabeth ended up residing in a few rooms on the ground floor of Ham House, her ancestral home. It’s here her ghost is said to be felt, with some claiming that a woman in black has been seen in the rooms and that there is an oppressive, chilling feeling on entering the area. A large 17th-century mirror is also said to inexplicably terrify people, who find themselves dreading what or who they might see looking back at them.
Lady Louisa Carteret – Longleat House, Wiltshire
The 21-year-old Lady Louisa Carteret married the 2nd Viscount Weymouth of Longleat in 1733, becoming his second wife and a Viscountess in the process. Legend has it she took a lover, her footman, and the other servants grew jealous of the favours he received from his mistress as a result.
News of Louisa’s affair reached her husband, who threw the footman down the stairs in a fit of jealous rage. Louisa was told he had abandoned her, but she refused to believe this and searched the house from top to bottom in an attempt to find him. Her ghost, known as the Green Lady, is said to haunt the house today as she continues her search for her lover.
Whilst most discount the story – and there is scant evidence that Louisa ever took a lover, let alone one who was a footman – a skeleton dating back to the 18th century was found under the floor of the cellar during building work in the 20th century.