English politics have always been full of drama, intrigue and betrayals and Raynham Hall is no different. Without drama what would Shakespeare have had to write about? The parade of dirty deeds done to achieve succession or some financial advantage examples go on and on from Lancelot and Guenivere all the way up to Princess Diana. Probably the worst period of history for this sort of skullduggery was during the latter half of the 17th century during the time known as The Restoration. This was the period of time when the English monarchy was reestablished after the Interregnum, during which time the country had been governed as a republic. This was the Commonwealth of England, presided over (for a short period of time) by Oliver Cromwell who was entitled Lord Protector, not King.
During the Restoration there were many prominent politicians and artists who were notorious for debauchery and womanizing. Taking mistresses and cheating on your wife was almost considered a man’s right to the point of necessity. This philosophy seems to have been especially applied to the aristocracy. One of the most notorious of the “Restoration Libertines” was Thomas Wharton, the 1st Marquess of Wharton. He is important to this history as he has something to do with the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall,” one the most famous ghosts in the UK.
The Ghost Story Begins
Raynham Hall was built in 1622 for Sir Roger Townsend, who died in 1637 before it could be completed. Its most famous occupant was Sir Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend and leader in the House of Lords. Concurrent with Sir Charles’ political career was Sir Robert Walpole’s, who was considered the first Prime Minister of England and held that position for 21 years (1721 to 1742).
Townshend held various positions within the Court of George 1 as did Walpole. Robert Walpole’s sister, Lady Dorothy Walpole, married Sir Charles Townshend, was his 2nd wife and is the so- called “Brown Lady of Raynham”.
Sir Charles was known to have a violent temper. There is a story that Charles, after discovering an affair between his wife (Lady Dorothy) and the libertine Thomas Wharton, locked her up in various rooms of the home. Lady Dorothy died of smallpox in 1726. There is also a story that Lady Dorothy was lured over to the house of Thomas Wharton by his wife, the Countess of Wharton who supposedly did so knowing that her wild, debauched husband would never allow Dorothy to leave with his having seduced and “spoiled” her.
This was an era where women, even aristocratic women, basically had no rights and were not allowed to have a will and a mind of their own. When a girl came into her teens, her parents, especially her father, arranged whatever marriage would afford the best political or financial advantage for her family. Love simply did not enter into it. Love was something reserved for your mistress, or for that cute little servant girl who brought you your tea in the afternoon. Love (or more accurately, lust) was an urge for men to satisfy whenever, wherever and with whoever it pleased them to do so.
Although the 1700s were referred to as the “Age of Enlightenment,” many of the old built-in cruelties and injustices of the Feudal Era still remained. One of these, and by far the most cruel and inhumane in modern eyes, was the attitude that a woman was basically her husband’s or father’s property, to be controlled or bought and sold like a piece of prize livestock. Sir Charles Townshend was not likely to be an exception to this rule.
Was Lady Dorothy a victim of the time she lived in? Was she forced into a loveless, unhappy marriage to a violent and abusive man who treated her no better than he did his cattle? Or was she a shameless adulteress, deliberately promiscuous, who betrayed the selfless trust of a loyal and loving husband? Was she an innocent victim of the depraved and profligate Lord Wharton, who for whatever reason, decided it would be fun to cuckold Sir Charles and so ruin his marriage and Lady Dorothy’s life?
Whatever the reason may be, it appears that for the last 300 years, she has been haunting Raynham Hall, seeking a resolution and closure.
The following video from YouTube’s Strange Mysteries, provides more information on the legend and the ways the Brown Lady has manifested herself. Give it a watch and be sure to give his video a “like” if you appreciate his work.