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Weird Norfolk: The ghosts of Castle Rising

PUBLISHED: 09:20 04 November 2018 | UPDATED: 17:04 04 November 2018

Castle Rising Castle. Pictured: the main door leading through to the stairway.

Castle Rising Castle. Pictured: the main door leading through to the stairway.

Archant © 2008

A Norfolk castle, the She-Wolf of France, a murder and bloodcurdling shrieks which have heard for centuries – the spine-tingling story of Queen Isabella’s haunting of Castle Rising has been passed down through generations.

The mighty Castle Rising, where building began in 1138 by the Norman lord William d’Albini, boasts one of the largest, best-preserved and most lavishly decorated keeps in England and is surrounded by 20 acres of impressive earthworks.

In the 14th century, the castle became home to Queen Isabella, widow – and alleged murderess – of Edward II. Isabella was regent of England from 1326 to 1330 and was the youngest surviving child of Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre.

Revered as beautiful, diplomatic and intelligent, the young Queen arrived in England at the age of 12 and her marriage to Edward was often difficult as he was notorious for bestowing his wealth and time on close male friends such as Piers Gaveston and Hugh Despenser the Younger.

By 1325, Isabella’s marriage was at breaking point and she travelled home to France and took a lover, Roger Mortimer, who agreed to depose Edward and oust the Depenser family from power. Within a year, Isabella had returned to England with a small mercenary army and deposed her husband and become regent on behalf of her son, Edward III.

Many believe it was at this point that she ordered her husband’s murder.

Isabella and Mortimer’s rule quickly crumbled – she was a spendthrift and unpopular with the people – and in 1330, her son deposed Mortimer, took back authority and executed his mother’s lover. He spared his mother, however, and she lived in some style until her death in 1358.

It is widely believed that while living at Castle Rising, following the coup, she suffered from occasional fits of madness, and it is thought that these gave rise to the legend which has it that when sent to Norfolk, she became mad with loneliness and grief following the death of her lover and her desperate screams can still be heard ringing out across the countryside.

The upper floors of Castle Rising are said to be haunted by Isabella’s crazed spectre and visitors have reported hearing manic laughter and screams while local villagers report ghostly cries and caterwauling.

Paranormal investigators have flocked to the site and reported hearing ghostly noises such as phantom footsteps and the sound of children weeping and they have also witnessed unexplained tapping on windows and strange mists, seen doors open by themselves and had the feeling they were being watched and were unwelcome.

The ghost was also, it is claimed, caught on camera by investigator Andy Radley in an image which shows the shadowy figure of a woman with a wolf-like shape at her feet, taken in the White Room, one of the rooms where Isabella’s spirit has been seen.

Weird Norfolk’s Facebook page has also received a sighting from Dawn Clark, who was in the cellar at Castle Rising when she realised that she was not alone and turned to face the presence she felt close to her. She said: “It was a tall grey looking guy towering over me. Looking straight at me and close to my face. I quickly stepped back. Mainly from surprise rather than fear. He disappeared so quickly. 

“I mentioned it to another friend who was standing on the other side of the room. I thought it was him behind me. He said he was watching me at the time and saw a grey shadow walk around me.”

Strangest of all, however, is the tale told by Norman Fahy, former custodian of the castle.

During a break in a paranormal investigation, he said: “I wandered silently around the group snacking on potato rings. We had four EMF meters lying on the séance table in the centre of the room when suddenly all four meters sprang into life, registering a high reading.

“I frivolously asked ‘do you want one?’ and a single red flash confirmed the entity did! I placed a single ring on one of the meters and it responded with a single flash…This experience was both profound and highly amusing. To think that great philosophical question regarding afterlife survival was answered in such a mundane way.” Hula Hoops and not French Fries for Queen Isabella, it seems.

For more Weird Norfolk stories click here.

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