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The Headless Ghosts of Blickling Hall

The Headless Ghosts of Blickling Hall - origins

What are ghosts? Do they really exist?

The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
  • Ghost of Raynham Hall
  • Some people think ghosts are spirits of the dead that stay on Earth. Others believe that when something violent happened long ago, it left behind an 'energy' that repeats the happening in a ghostly way, again and again. Others are sure that ghosts are just something people imagine seeing.

    They usually appear in a misty or semi-transparent (see through) human shape. Sometimes ghosts cannot be seen but show they are around by moving objects or turning a room icy cold.

    Whatever the explanation, every culture in the world has ghost stories.

    How did ghost stories originate?

    Blickling Hall
  • Blickling Hall Today -Jacobean Mansion House
  • People have believed in ghosts since the earliest times. In Celtic Britain, on the night before October 31st (the Celtic new year), it was thought the edges between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of the dead came back to earth. They celebrated this with a festival called Samhain (later to become Halloween).

    The Romans had names for their ghosts. Good spirits of the dead were called Lares and the evil, vampire like ones were known as Lemures. They terrified good people and always haunted the wicked ones.

    In ancient Norse legend, the spirits of the underworld drove chariots pulled by headless horses, to hunt and carry off people to their doom. This tale may have given rise to the idea of the phantom coach, which became popular in later fiction. During the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, ghosts featured in many stage plays and, from 1790 to 1830, a type of fiction known as 'gothic' added mystery, dread and fear to the ghost story.

    The idea of getting in touch with the dead came back in the 1800's, when many people started to believe that a spirit of the dead could communicate with the living, through a special person called a medium. The medium would go into a 'trance' (a half conscious state) to 'commune' with the spirit during a specially set up event known as a s�ance. During the Victorian era, many s�ances were held and (although many were proved to be a fake) the idea took root.

    Why do ghosts haunt places or people?

    Sir Thomas Boleyn
  • Sir Thomas Boleyn betrayed his daughter
  • Folklore also provides reasons why ghosts haunt us. Nearly all use the idea that a ghost is a spirit or soul that cannot rest. The ghosts may be:

    - Victims of violence or crime looking for justice or revenge on those that harmed them in life. This kind of ghost became common in Tudor plays, including those of Shakespeare;

    - Spirits of criminals who stay around on earth to avoid Hell;

    - Spirits sent back to pay a penalty for bad behaviour during their life;

    - Spirits of people that have not been properly buried and seek a proper resting place;

    - Spirits wishing to finish a task left undone or to warn the living about a future problem or happening.

    The troubled lives and violent deaths of many famous historical people make them likely to become restless souls.

    How did the tale of Anne Boleyn arise?

    Headless horses
  • Headless Horses
  • Little is actually known about Anne's childhood or where she lived. Several locations are said to be her family home or places she lived when young, including Blicking Hall. However, the story of Anne's life and death has everything needed for a good ghost tale:

    - A violent and, probably, unjust death: Anne was beheaded at 8am on the 19th May 1536 at Tower Green.

    - No proper burial: After the execution, it is said Anne's body was dumped in an old arrow chest and buried in the tower, her head resting under her arm.

    - Family betrayal: Her uncle helped in the treason trials testifying against those involved with her and her father Sir Thomas Boleyn did little to help.

    - A large country manor house, Blickling Hall: Anne is said to be trying to return there. Ghosts usually haunt places they knew well when alive, or where they died.

    The ghost of Anne Boleyn is one of the most famous in England. She is claimed to haunt many different historical buildings. She often appears as a headless figure just as she does in the Blickling haunting. However, Blickling is unique in having not one, but two ghosts, who are related to each other. The curse on Sir Thomas for failing to assits his daughter Anne lets the Phantom coach come into the story.

    The legend of the ghost of Anne Boleyn probably started soon after her death in the Tudor period. The more 'gothic' parts, such as the curse on her father and the phantom coach, were probably added later during the late 1700's and 1800's. Anne's extra finger is also a Victorian invention. The description of the phantom coach is, like typical of many stories where the driver and passengers, and even the horses, are usually skeletons or headless. Passing by very fast, the phantom coach is dangerous to anyone who gets in the way. In this story though, instead of being silent as is usual, the coach is chased by a horde (gang) of noisy demons.

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