Everyone loves a good ghost story. Charles Dickens recognized this, which is why some of his most famous stories included awful specters and clanking chains. William Shakespeare, best-known for his penetrating studies of the human character, made ghosts an instrument of drama in plays like Hamlet and Julius Caesar. More recently, the halls of J. K. Rowling’s Hogwarts are haunted by spirits both funny and scary, including a fat friar and a ghost with a nearly severed head.
With its old, ruined castles and sweeping Gothic landscapes, Britain is in many ways an ideal place for ghost stories to develop. The British Isles have widely been acknowledged for centuries as home to some of the best scary stories in the language, both “real” (those that are said to have really occurred) and fictional. The following are some of the most memorable legends and real-life ghost sightings of Britain’s haunted castles.
10. Glamis Castle
Said to be the most haunted castle in all of Great Britain, the infamous Glamis Castle in Scotland is home to nine ghosts. Famously, it was the home of King Malcolm II “The Destroyer” and the place where he was assassinated by one of his own kinsmen in 1034. Among the ghosts that haunt the place are a mysterious “Grey Lady,” the spectre of a young woman who was wrongfully burned as a witch in 1537; the ghost of an unknown woman with no tongue; that of a black boy who, in life, was badly beaten; and the ghost of Earl Beardie, a wicked earl who’s reputed to have lost his soul in a bet with the devil. It’s said that he roams the halls of the castle, waking children out of their beds. Most famously, there’s rumored to be a secret chamber hidden in the depths of the castle that was once home to a monster. (This legend may have inspired a key plot point in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).
Knowing the reputation the place was already beginning to acquire even in the sixteenth century, Shakespeare memorably set much of the action of his play Macbeth at Glamis Castle, including the murder of the good King Duncan by the title character and his wife, an event which sets in motion the tragedy of the play.
9. Berry Pomeroy
This castle, now in ruins and uninhabited, was the ancestral home of the Pomeroy family from around the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. One legend tells that King Edward VI punished the family for partaking in a rebellion 500 years later by ordering parts of the castle to be destroyed. However, two of the Pomeroy brothers resisted the king’s men, blindfolding their horses and galloping headlong into the jaws of death.
Another legend tells of two sisters, Eleanor and Margaret, who fell in love with the same man. Driven mad by jealousy, Eleanor imprisoned Margaret in a room of the castle and slowly starved her to death. Today Margaret’s ghost wanders restlessly over the ramparts of the castle. Nor is she the castle’s only ghostly occupant: a woman who smothered her child, the product of incest, in the Middle Ages, is said to roam the grounds to this day.