Berry Pomeroy Castle
The castle, now a romantic ruin, is reputed to be one of the most haunted in the British Isles. It has numerous legends associated with it, and although now only a shell of its former glory, it retains an air of its troubled history.
The lands around the present castle were originally bestowed upon Ralph de Pomeroy by William the Conqueror, as reward for his loyalty and support during the Norman invasion, and the subsequent battle of Hastings. The Norman structure, still seen in the gatehouse of the present ruin, dates from the end of the 13th Century, when Henry de Pomeroy (the 9th generation of Pomeroy’s) started the construction of the castle. The structure had been completed by Henry’s death in 1305.
The castle remained in Pomeroy hands until the late 1540’s, when the castle was bought or acquired by other means by the influential Sir Edward Seymour. Edward was the Lord Protector, and the brother of Jane Seymour, third wife to Henry VIII. Edward commissioned the building of a mansion house within the confines of the Norman castle, creating the resultant mixture of architecture seen today.
Edward Seymour made a lot of enemies as Lord Protector, and he was ousted by the Earl of Warwick and imprisoned in the Tower of London in October 1549. With 29 charges against him he was sentenced to death and executed on January 22nd 1552.
Somehow the castle remained in Seymour hands, and continued to be occupied by them up until 1688, when it was abandoned as an abode. There is some evidence that a proportion of the rooms remained inhabitable up until the reign of George the IV, and the castle has remained in guardianship of the Seymours, currently the 19th Earl of Somerset. In 1977 English Heritage took over the maintenance of the castle, and have continued to carry out restorations to the present day.
Ghosts and Legends
The castle has been the scene of numerous ghostly sightings and strange phenomena. The most enduring ghosts seem to be the terrifying apparitions of a White Lady and a Blue Lady. The White Lady haunts the dark dungeons, and rises from St Margaret’s Tower to the castle ramparts, where she has been seen beckoning to witnesses (as recently as 1987). According to the legend she is the spirit of Margaret Pomeroy, who was imprisoned in the dungeons by her sister Eleanor. Eleanor was jealous of both her beauty and her affections for the man she had designs upon. Margaret slowly starved in the dungeons, a long drawn out and painful death. Whether she is the source of the feeling of unease and horror some people experience at the castle is unknown.
The Blue Lady is not confined to specific areas of the castle and is supposed to lure people into parts of the ruin. Traditionally she is seen as the ghost of the daughter of one of the Norman Lords of the castle. She was raped by her father, who then strangled the resulting child in one of the upper rooms.
In other tales it is she who strangles the child, haunting the castle in anguish. When seen, her face is said to portray this suffering. She is regarded as a death portent to members of the Seymour family.
Sir Walter Farquar (Dr Farquar) is said to have seen the spirit while he was attending to the wife of one of the Stewards in the 19th Century. She died soon afterwards although she seemed to be making a full recovery.
Another popular tradition relates to the heroic fate of two brothers (Pomeroys), who were besieged at the castle at some point in its history. To save face from a long drawn out defeat, they dressed in full armour, mounted their horses, and rode off the top of the castle ramparts and precipice below. The area was known thereafter as the Pomeroy’s leap, and is associated with anomalous noises such as screams and dull thuds. This story may have origins in a real life event, although the occurrence does not appear in written history.
The castle has been the scene of many other ghostly sightings and phenomena. Strange lights have been witnessed, voices have been heard, and there have been reported cold spots and freak winds, although the latter is always possible in an open ruin. Other apparitions reported include a lady in a grey dress, the ubiquitous Cavalier, and strange shadows with no earthly presence to cast them.
Whatever the nature of the occurrences I have no doubt that strange events will continue to be experienced at the castle, and it is well worth the effort of making a trip to see the romantic ruin.