Christ Church, Greyfriars
There is a tradition that during the Victorian times a Night Watchman came across the ghosts of two beautiful ladies in the ancient burial ground of Greyfriars. The two ladies had haunted the site oblivious of each other for centuries, but, once they noticed each other and saw that they were of equal beauty, they got angry and started to fight. This spectral melee frightened the watchman so much that he fled, never to return….not even to claim his wages.
So, according to the story, who are the two feuding apparitions?
In the Blue Corner:
We have the medieval monarch accused and found guilty of arranging her husbands death, the “She-Wolf of France”, Queen Isabella (1295 – 22 August 1358). She was the daughter of King Philip IV of France and Joan I of Navarre. Promised in marriage as an infant to Edward II of England, they married at Boulogne-sur-Mer on 25 January 1308 and was described as “the beauty of beauties…in the kingdom if not in all Europe.” Eventually she had an affair with Roger Mortimer, 1st Earl of March and they rebelled against Edward, eventually arranging his murder in Berkeley Castle. Her son, Edward III revenged his father, having Roger Mortimer executed and confining Isabella to Castle Rising in Norfolk, where she died and apparently also haunts. She was buried at Greyfriars back when it was a conventual church of a Franciscan monastery in 1358. She was buried in her wedding dress with Edwards heart. Some accounts say it is her heart that was buried at Greyfriars, though this could be the story being confused with Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, who’s heart is buried there. Isabella shares Greyfriars with her lover, Roger Mortimer and her daughter Joan of the Tower.
Her ghost has been described as being beautiful but angry as it flits around still holding the beating heart of her murdered husband.
In the Red Corner:
I suspect (see note below) we have one of the most beautiful women to grace Tudor England, found guilty of arranging her first husband’s murder and hung at Tyburn for her crime in 1523, Lady Agnes Hungerford. Not much is known about Lady Hungerford’s early life, before she married John Cotell. On 26th July 1518 whilst the couple were staying with a widow named Edward Hungerford of Heytesbury, John Cotell died. By 28th December 1518 Agnes and her two servants were residents of Hungerford’s Farleigh Castle and the two were soon married. On 24th January 1522, Edward Hungerford died making his widow, Agnes his only beneficiary, bequeathing to her “the residue of all” his “goodes, detts, catalls, juells, plate, harnesse, and all other moveables whatsover they be”. His son from his previous marriage was to receive nothing. Edwards will was dated 14th December 1521.
It soon came to light though that John Cotell had been murdered whilst at Farleigh, strangled with a neckerchief and his body destroyed in the kitchen furnace of the castle. Two Yeomen of Heytesbury and servants of Lady Hungerford, called William Mathewe and William Ignes were responsible “by the procurement and abetting of Agnes Hungerford”.
The three were indicted for murder on the 25th August 1522 and brought to trial on the 27th November. William Mathewe was found guilty of the murder and Agnes of inciting it. They were both hanged at Tyburn on 20th February 1523. William Ignes claimed benefit of clergy and avoided punishment, however was eventually hanged after he was found to be a bigamist.
Lady Hungerfod’s estates and possessions were seized by the crown in July 1523 and later returned to her stepson Walter Hungerford. The case raises a few questions. Why was John Cotells body cremated in the kitchen of the castle? Was Edward Hungerford involved in the murder? Why did the murder only come to light after Edwards death and Walter had been left out of the will? Was Agnes Hungerford innocent? One must bare in mind that her stepson Walter, like his father married three times. His third and last wife Elizabeth Hussey, whom he abused, wrote to Thomas Cromwell for assistance in 1536. She accused Walter of locking her in the south-west tower of Farleigh Castle for three years and attempting to poison her. Thomas was a friend of Walter and instead paved the way for him to become Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury, a seat in the House of Lords. However, Walter was executed for treason and unnatural vice in 1540. He was beheaded on 28th July 1540 on Tower Hill, along with his friend Cromwell.
The apparition of Agnes Hungerford was said to wander the cloisters of the ancient church and monastery, then the graveyard it became.
In medieval London, Christ Church on Newgate Street was second only to St Pauls Cathedral in size. It burned down during the Great Fire of London in 1666, and though Sir Christopher Wren was involved in redesigning aspects of the church, it was not rebuilt to it’s previous large size. All that remains now is the tower after a Nazi bombing raid in World War II and the ruins are a public garden.
The name Greyfriars dates back to the gray habits worn by the Franciscan monks that first occupied this site and built their monastery and church here between 1306 and 1327.
In 1538, just fifteen years after Agnes was buried at Christ Church, King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries and gave the church to the City of London. Much damage was done during this period, with tombs being stolen and the buildings stripped for raw materials. Some of the buildings were to become Christ’s Hospital.
After being destroyed in 1666, Christopger Wren oversaw the reconstruction. The new church and tower reused some of the foundations of the earlier Gothic style church and was completed in 1687. 29th December 1940 Christ Church was severly damaged during one of London’s worst bombing raids and in 1949 the decision was made not to rebuild it.
The ghost of Agnes is almost always referred to as Alice Hungerford. The method of murdering her husband is sometimes shown as poison and she was hanged at Tyburn, not boiled in oil as some other accounts have stated. This confusion comes from the other Lady Hungerford, Alice Hungerford, daughter of William, Lord Sandys. She was the second wife of Walter (Stepson of Agnes). They married in 1527 but she was accused of poisoning him and was hanged with one of her servants some years later. I don’t think she was buried Christ Church and in the ghostly accounts her date of execution is given as 1523, which is the date Agnes paid for her crime.