Maybe it’s just me, but haunted castles are the most intriguing of all haunted places, probably due to the age and history involved. The word “castle” conjures up a lot of different images, some benign and airy, others dark and brooding, and some oppressive and malignant.
You can think of haunted castles as beautiful, Disney-esque structures. Maybe they’re full of slender, elegant spires and turrets, colorful pennants and flags fluttering in a gentle breeze ruled over by an infinitely wise and merciful monarch who truly loves and adores his people. And those people in turn, truly adore and love him/her. So nice.
The picture is complete when you add in the surrounding lands, teeming with the splendorous bounties of nature. Swelling fields of grain and orchards extend further than the eye could ever see. Produce harvested by hordes of happy, dancing peasants who can feel no greater joy than the elation induced from serving their lord and master.
With gallant knights and foot soldiers everywhere, ready to defend their Ruler’s honor with their very lives and for no other reason than the honor of defending that which is by divine decree truly sacrosanct and morally upright.
Cheerful, happy music fills the air, played by jolly troubadours who wander through the halls and banquet rooms of the castle, entertaining the king, queen and their guests.
Towering cathedrals are populated with pious, chaste and all-knowing men of God who feed the poor, cure the lame and sick, and provide comfort and guidance to all in need and distress. Chubby, merry friars and monks, whose only sin is an occasional mug of beer, teach scripture to the enraptured children of the village, who do their utmost to live a life according to the Bible.
Ok, well, maybe in storybooks, but in reality … think again!
Haunted Castles: the Reality
Most castles were massive, oppressive structures designed for two purposes: to repel invaders, usually with boiling oil or crossbow bolts, and to keep the supposed enemies of the king and family locked up and out of the way or better yet, dead.
That wise and all knowing king more than likely got his position either by some form of murder and intrigue, often times by the elimination of his closest relatives, or he simply inherited it, in which case, there was a good chance he was completely unqualified for the job or even an idiot (or cretin) who took a great deal of pleasure from inflicting pain upon others.
You could pretty much count on him/her being a fairly psychotic megalomaniac at best, and even if he/she started out with good intentions, they often times fell into the ways of an Ivan the Terrible or Vlad the Impaler due to all the plots and schemes brought against them by the advisers and courtiers they were supposed to be able to trust. Look at what happened to Henry the VIII!
Castles were dark, dank and rife with the stench of excrement and unclean bodies. Disease was rampant, and the screams of the tortured and imprisoned filled the air like a symphony of insanity and death. That’s why so many are now haunted castles.
Those tortures were, more likely than not, administered by these so called pious men of God for no other reason than to cover up the fact that those jolly monks and friars were busy with their own corrupt activities, for mere scraps of food. (As they had none themselves-most of what they grew and so laboriously produced went to the king so that he could lavishly entertain himself and his equally degenerate and ruthless friends.)
Those gallant knights and foot soldiers were usually mercenaries whose main occupation was to loot, pillage and kill people who had never done any harm to either them or their king, merely because they had something the king did not and wanted.
It was a morbid and treacherous world back then. And because of that, it would be pretty improbable for many castles to NOT be haunted castles. So it is against this morbid, treacherous backdrop that we go to assiduously examine and explore: the haunted castles of the world! Here we go …
The Tower of London
London, England – One of the most haunted castles is known as the Tower of London is actually an aggregate of several separate structures. The Tower of London (also known as the “White Tower”) is a castle built by William the Conqueror in 1066 as a move to consolidate and establish himself as the ruler and monarch of the newly conquered England and is the first and oldest building of the compound.
The fact of its origin and original purpose is probably what has made the Tower of London such a vivid symbol of oppression and injustice. Throughout its long and turbulent past there have really only been a few executions there-but what executions!
Those that did occur were such horrific, blatant and bald-faced miscarriages of justice that just one of these would have more than sufficed to create the Tower’s current image of being one of the darkest, most malignant places on the face of the earth. Like the stench and miasma of a burning dung heap, a pall of hopelessness and despair of those awaiting a long and painful death seems to permeate the place.
Of course the most famous and often seen ghost of the Tower is Ann Boleyn, seen walking around the White Tower with her head tucked underneath her arm. Margaret Pole, a victim of Henry the VIII and another famous Tower ghost, purportedly carved the following poem into her cell wall before being forcibly led to the executioner’s block:
For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!
That about sums up the atmosphere of the place. Disneyland it ain’t.
Edinburgh, Scotland – Edinburgh Castle was built on a hill overlooking the city of Edinburgh known as Castle Rock. It is thought that there were human settlements there as early as the 2nd Century AD. It appears that the first castles and royal residences were built there during the 12th century. It continued as a home for royalty until the 17th century at which point it became a military barracks.
It was recognized as being a significant part of Scottish history during the 19th century and there have been several renovations since that time. It is currently one of the most visited tourist attractions in all of Scotland and even Europe.
It is also reputed to be the most besieged and attacked place in England and indeed, in the world. It is reported that it has been besieged no less than 26 times in its 1100 year history as a castle.
It is a squat, massive structure whose architecture makes no mistake as to its real purpose: that of an imposing and impregnable fortress and prison from which no one escapes, except as a corpse. You can almost hear the anguished cries and whispers of the countless lost souls who perished there, still languishing and unable to move on after hundreds of years.
County Offaly, Republic of Ireland – Given Ireland’s tumultuous and violent history, it is no surprise that Leap Castle is a haunted castle and was a scenario for many treacherous, bloody deeds. You could not ask for a grimmer, more dour looking structure. You can’t help but think that simply living there would produce a psychotic state of mind.
The castle was built in the 15th century, a violent era when most problems were solved by the sword, especially political problems. It contained an “oubliette” which was a small dungeon with a drop floor, and an 8-foot deep pit with spikes at the bottom.
If you wanted to get rid of someone, you simply threw them into the dungeon, dropped the floor and if the stakes did not kill them, they would starve to death. You just let the floor back up and no one was the wiser.
In 1922, workers who were restoring the castle discovered the oubliette and found three cartfuls of skeletal remains in the bottom, all impaled on the stakes.
The routine usage of this expedient but brutal way of handling the friends and relatives that happened to get in your way by both the O’Bannon and O’Carroll clans (who were constantly competing for ownership and control of the castle and the surrounding lands), resulted in more than a few unhappy souls who felt the impulse to linger about and inform the living as to just how miserable their lot happens to be.
Angus, Scotland – The core structure of Glamis Castle (the main keep and donjon) was built in the 14th century. The exact date is unknown, but 1372 is more or less agreed upon. As the years passed, many other structures, like the very prominent turrets and towers that seem to define the look of the place, were added to expand it.
All the turrets and towers give this haunted castle a bit of a stereotyped fairy tale quality, like something out of Snow White or Cinderella. Don’t be fooled by the castle’s benign, virtuous “Prince Charming” appearance, though. That “pretty as a picture” facade conceals a brutal, cruel and malignant past populated with a cast of characters that make Freddy Krueger look like a Sunday School teacher.
Probably the most notorious of these was the degenerate and ruthless libertine known as “Earl Beardie” (Alexander-Earl Crawford). Local lore has it that when the castle staff and the Earl of Glamis himself refused to play cards with him on the Sabbath, in a drunken, debauched rage he dared the Devil to appear and play cards with him. The devil took him up on it and to this day they are still at it in a hidden room somewhere in the castle. The Earl Beardie lost his soul to the fiend and is supposedly still trying to win it back. If you go to Glamis Castle, you might catch a glimpse of the Earl yourself. More…
Read About These Haunted Castles, Too.
Berry Pomeroy Castle – Located in Devon, Wales
Calvados Castle – Located in Calvados, France
Hampton Court – Located in Surrey, UK
Hermitage Castle – Newcastleton, UK