England is full of dramatic castles, grand stately homes and impressive halls. Many of these have rich histories, filled with intrigue and mystery, as well as some more unsavoury stories of murder, deception and revenge.
This autumn, why not head out to explore some of these imposing palaces to learn about their chequered pasts and discover the people who once walked (and perhaps still do…) their grand halls and grounds.
Beheaded by the jester at Muncaster Castle
With homesteads dating back to Roman times, and home to the Pennington family since at least 1208, Muncaster Castle has seen its fair share of conflict over the years. One of the most notorious characters of its past is Tom Fool. Tom was a jester who brought laughter to many, and pain to others. His biggest crime is also the most heartbreaking. A local carpenter's son fell in love with Helwise, daughter of Sir Ferdinand Pennington. Tom beheaded the craftsman as a favour to a knight who also wanted the young lady's hand. The current owners think that Tom still resides in the castle making things go bump in the night. Muncaster Castle has a full week of events for Halloween, check it out if you dare.
Berkeley Castle is where King Edward II ended up spending his last days. After beheading his cousin at Pontefract Castle and being ousted by his wife and her lover, the king was imprisoned and became ill in the depths of the castle. Despite surviving his illness, two men instructed by Queen Isabella held him down on a bed and ‘a kind of horn or funnel' was thrust into his fundament through which a red-hot spit was run up his bowels.’ Apparently, his screams can still be heard to this day in the dead of night. Thankfully their Halloween celebrations are a tamer affair, with family-friendly activities, witches, and wizards.
This ancient castle started as a wooden motte and bailey by William the Conquerer, on the site of Saxon fortification. The Earls of Warwick had a bit of a tricky time, with many being tried and executed for treason. Eventually, after passing through generations and falling into ruin, the castle was gifted to Sir Fulke Greville, who had served both Elizabeth I and James I. Whilst on a trip to London, Greville's manservant challenged him that he was putting too much money in the Castle's repairs, and not enough into his portion of Greville's will.
When Greville refused to pay, the manservant stabbed his master, and then turned the knife on himself. Greville died in great pain four weeks after the incident after his physicians treated the wounds with pig fat that turned rancid and spread infection. The castle plays host to a range of activities this Halloween from fire jousting, storytelling and some more scary offerings as well.
In the 17th century, Dorothy Southworth fell in love. Despite her family being Catholic she became entangled with the son of a nearby Protestant family, the De Hoghtons, meeting in secret and keeping their love hidden. Their tryst discovered, they had planned elope, but her lover and two of his friends were murdered by her brother. Dorothy is said to have gone mad and died of a broken heart in a French convent. Three skeletons were later discovered in the walls of the ancient hall and Dorothy is rumoured to be the tormented White Lady. This Halloween half term there will be spell making and witch talks with Janey, the rumoured witch of the Southworth clan.
Mentioned by Shakespeare, Pontefract Castle was once known as ‘Pomfret’. An imposing castle, described by King Edward I as the Key to the North, it held hundreds of prisoners, from soldiers to lords and kings. It was here, in 1322, that King Edward II beheaded his cousin, Thomas Earl of Lancaster. It is also, reportedly, the place where King Richard II was held in 1399 until his death, where it is rumoured he was starved and neglected until he met his maker. The Castle is now a ruin, demolished by order of Parliament. However, you can still visit the dungeon where prisoners carved their names into the rock during the English Civil Wars.