Belvoir Castle is home to David Manners, 11th Duke of Rutland, Marquess of Granby. It has been the seat of the Dukes of Rutland for three hundred years and the home of the Manners family over for over five hundred. In ‘The Story of My Life, volumes 4-6’ (1900), Augustus J. C. Hare gives the following story of a haunt like experience at Belvoir.
‘About ghosts Lady Marion was very amusing:–“When I went to Belvoir with Lady Caroline Cust, they danced in the evening. I went upstairs early, for I was tired. As I was going to my room, Lady Jersey–it was wrong of her, I think–said, ‘Oh, I see you are put into the ghost-room.’ I said, ‘I am quite happy; there are no real ghosts here, I think.’–‘Well,’ said Lady Jersey, ‘I can only say Miss Drummond slept there last night, and she received letters of importance this morning and left before breakfast.’ Well, I went into my room, and lit the candles and made up the fire, but very soon I gave a great jump, for I heard the most dreadful noise close at my elbow–Oh-o-oo-oo!’ I thought of course that it was a practical joke,and began to examine every corner of the room, thinking someone must behidden there; then I rang my bell. When my maid came in I said, ‘Nowdon’t be frightened, but there is someone hidden in this room somewhere, and you must help me to find him.’ Very soon the noise came again. Then Lady Caroline came, and she heard it: then her maid came. The noise occurred about every five minutes. We examined everything and stood in each corner of the room. The noise then seemed close to each of us. At last Lady Caroline said, ‘I can stand this no longer, and I must go,’ and she and her maid went away and shut themselves into the next room. Then I said to my maid, ‘If you are frightened you had better go,’ but she protested that she would rather stay where she was; after what she had heard, anything would be better than facing the long lonely passages alone. However, just at that moment ‘Oh-o-oo-oo!’ went off again close to her ear, and with one spring she darted out of the room and ran off as hard as ever she could. I went courageously to bed and determined to brave it out. But the thing went to bed too, and went off at intervals on the pillow close to my face. And at last it grated on my nerves to such a degree that I could bear it no longer, and I dragged a mattress into Lady Caroline’s room and slept there till dawn. The next morning I also received letters of importance and left before breakfast.
“Before I left, I sent for the housekeeper, and said, ‘You really should not put people into that room,’ and told her what had happened. She was much distressed, and told me that there really was no other room in the house then, but confessed it had often happened so before. Sometime after I went over to Belvoir with some friends who wanted to see the castle, and the housekeeper then told me that the same thing had happened again in that room, which was now permanently shut up.”
The Castle is also known for its witches. The following description of the witches crime is extracted from an article by Peter Lewis entitled ‘A witches’ brew of orgies and devil cats’ published on 6 September 2013 the Mail Online.
Joan Flowers and her two daughters, Margaret and Phillipa, became servants of the Earl at Belvoir Castle, Leicestershire, in 1613.
The earl, Francis Manners had two young sons, Henry and Francis. Henry fell ill with a mystery illness and died. Soon afterwards Francis fell ill with similar symptoms.
It so happened that in the previous months Margaret Flowers had been caught taking stuff from the castle to her mother’s village house, where they held parties with their many lovers. When the Countess dismissed Margaret, her mother, Joan, was furious.
Joan had a reputation as a ‘cunning woman’, knowledgeable about natural herbal medicine and healing. According to local gossip she put curses on the Manners family and made dark hints that their sons would not live.
The Earl ignored the rumours and spent a fortune on the leading doctors of the day, who failed to help young Francis, now the heir to the Rutland estates.
When it seemed that he, too, might die, the Earl agreed to investigate the rumours of sorcery. Joan and her daughters were taken to Lincoln to stand trial.
Joan died mysteriously as she was being taken to the cells but her daughters were interrogated by JPs, including the Earl himself.
Successful trials of witches depended on getting a confession and torture was frequently employed. Eventually Margaret admitted taking one of young Henry’s gloves at her mother’s bidding. Joan had boiled it then rubbed it on her ‘familiar’ – her cat Rutterkin. The glove was then buried in the belief that as it rotted so would the owner’s liver.
After Henry’s death the process was repeated with a glove belonging to Francis.
The sisters were tried at Lincoln Assizes in March, 1619. Witches were not allowed a defence lawyer. They were considered guilty unless proved innocent.
One of the difficulties the author has is the disappearance of the trial records for Lincoln. The only contemporary source is a lurid pamphlet entitled ‘The Wonderful Discoverie of the Witchcrafts of Margaret and Phillipa Flowers neere Beever Castle’. It is, admits the author, ‘biased, confused, self-contradictory and inaccurate’.
The sisters were found guilty and hanged publicly from a wall of Lincoln castle. A year later Francis finally died.
They were executed on the 11 March 1618.
Examination of Margaret Flower 4 February 1618.
‘That being asked what shee knoweth concer∣ning the bewitching of the Earle of Rutland, his wife, and children, shee saith, that it is true, that her selfe, her mother, and sister were all displeased with him, especially with the Countesse, for turning her out of seruice, wherevppon some foure yeare since, her mother commanded her to goe vp to the Castle, and bring her the right hand gloue of the Lord Henry Rosse, the Earles eldest sonne; which gloue she found on the rushes in the Nurcery, and deliuered the same to her Mother, who put it into hot water, prickt it often with her knife, then tooke it out of the water, and rubd it vp∣pon Rutterkin, bidding him height and goe, and doe some hurt to Henry Lord Rosse, wherevpon hee fell sicke, and shortly after dyed, which her Mother hea∣ring of, said it was well: but after shee had rubd the gloue on the Spirit Rutterkin, shee threw it into the fire and burnt it.’