Skipsea Castle dates from around 1086 and was one of the early Norman period Motte and Bailey Castles. The remains of the castle which was destroyed in 1221 when William de Froz II rebelled against King Henry III (born 1 October 1207 – died 16 November 1272) are traditionally thought to be haunted by a white lady, the wife of Drogo de la Bouerer, who founded the castle.
Drogo de la Bouerer was awarded Holderness by William I after the Norman conquest and Skipsea Castle was built to defend this part of the North East coast from Viking raiding parties. It is thought that Drogo poisoned his wife at Skipsea Castle and fled back to his native Flanders leaving her ghost in East Yorkshire.
Stories of this haunting has been around for a long time and the following account appeared in John Ingram ‘s ‘The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain’ (1897). ‘Skipsea, an out of the way Yorkshire village, on the sea-coast between Bridlington and Hornsea, is celebrated for one of the most enduring apparitions on record. ” The White Lady of Skipsea,” as this phantom is styled, has haunted the old castle, of which, now-a-days, little more than the foundations remain, ever since the days of William the Conqueror. This Skipsea ghost, whose local habitation no native of the place would venture near after nightfall, is described as haunting the Castle mound, and its vicinity, in the form of a beautiful young woman, of mournful aspect, attired in long white drapery. Occasionally she may be seen flitting about the intrenchments or slopes of the Castle mound, and at times, even in the daylight, she is seen wandering about the precincts of what was formerly her home. No ill effects are reported to follow the appearance of this apparition, whose story is detailed by Mr. F. Ross in his interesting ” Yorkshire Legends and Traditions,’ – ‘ now appearing in the Leeds Mercury, in these words :
” The White Lady was the wife of Drogo de Bevere, a Flemish soldier of fortune, who took up arms under the banner of the Norman Duke William, in the army he assembled together for the conquest of England. He was a good and valiant soldier, and fought with great bravery at the battle of Hastings, for which he was rewarded by Duke William, when he had subdued Northumbria, with a grant of the district of Holderness, which he constituted a Seigniory, and made Drogo the first Lord, who went to reside there, and erected a castle at Skipsea, as a defence against the Danes, who were wont to land at Flamborough, and to serve as his caput baronium, where he exercised a semi-regal rule over the district. Although a brave warrior, he was tyrannical and oppressive to the Angles and Banes of Holderness, whose lands had been reft from them in his behalf, and whom he reduced to complete serfdom. He was subject to ungovernable bursts of passion, and, when in this mood, would perpetrate the grossest acts of cruelty and injustice. He was also exceedingly covetous and avaricious, as was evidenced by his seizure, by forcible means, of the lands in Holderness belonging to St. John’s Church, at Beverley, which had been specially confirmed to the Canons, by King William; but these he was compelled to disgorge.
As a further proof of his favour the Conqueror gave him one of his nieces in marriage, whose identity has not been clearly ascertained, but who, possibly, from the obscurity in which she is enveloped, may have been a granddaughter of William’s mother, Herteva, by her second marriage. However this may be, they were married, and he carried her down to his Yorkshire domain, where they resided together in Skipsea Castle. The marriage does not appear to have been a happy one; their tempers were incompatible. He was brutal in his tastes and manners, delighting only in war, the chase, and tyrannising over his menials and tenants; she, gentle and refined, as were the Norman ladies of the period. He always treated her with churlishness, often with savage barbarity, frequently threatened her with death, and, at length, in a fit of fierce passion, caused her to be poisoned.
The deed was no sooner perpetrated than Drogo perceived his folly, feeling assured that her uncle would take vengeance upon him for it, and that the result would be a confiscation of the Seigniory, and his execution as a murderer. His craft and subtlety, however, served him well in this crisis. His victim was scarcely cold when he mounted the fleetest horse in his stable and rode southwards, bating neither whip nor spur until he reached the Court of the King. He represented to the latter that he was very desirous of taking his wife across sea to Flanders, to show her the land of his birth, and introduce her to his family. The King applauded the idea, nnd granted his permission for them to leave England, upon which Drogo represented that the domain which had been given him was of so poor a nature that it would grow nothing but oats, and that a great portion of it consisted but of woodland and morass, so that he was utterly destitute of the means of taking shipping to cross the sea. ‘If that be all,’ said the King, ‘you shall not be baulked of your pleasure trip, for want of money,’ and he gave him an order on his exchequer for a sum sufficient for the purpose. As soon as he got the money he took leave of the King, hastened to the sea-side, and set sail for Flanders. He had not been long gone, when a messenger arrived from Skipsea, who informed the King of the death of his niece and the manner of it. Upon receipt of this intelligence the King sent a body of horsemen after the murderer, with instructions to bring him back, alive or dead. But Drogo had got too much start, and eluded the pursuit, arriving in due course in Flanders, but what was bis after fate records tell not.
“We have no account of the place of burial of the unfortunate lady. There was no church at Skipsea at the time of the Domesday survey, but we find that Stephen, Earle of Albemarle, Lord of the Seigniory in the time of Rufus, gave his church of the Castle of Skipsea to the Monastery of Albemarle, and it is probable that within its walls her body was deposited. Her spirit, however, seems not to have found a resting place, but for the past eight hundred years has been wandering about the scene of her unhappy wifehood. The phantom has not appeared in recent years, but in the Advertiser, early in the present century, we have an account of the apparition having been seen. The editor prefaces the account by saying ‘In introducing the following singular article, it may be necessary to state that the writer as well as the two persons upon whose testimony the circumstances rest, are well known to us, and above all suspicion of having thus related anything save what they believed to be strictly correct.’
” The writer states that he was visiting a lady in Holderness, when the conversation of the party then assembled turned upon supernatural appearances, the lady expressing the opinion that they ‘ were owing to some misapprehension of the senses,’ upon which a gentleman of the party, of unimpeachable character, said that he was under the necessity of differing from the lady. ‘ For, said he, ‘ about ten years ago I was travelling on horseback one afternoon from Bridlington to Hornsea, and just as I was descending the brow of a hill, on the south of Skipsea, I observed a woman, apparently young, dressed in white, walking a little before me on my left hand, between the hedge and the road. Supposing that she had been visiting at a house on the top of the hill, I turned my head to see if there were any persons in attendance at the door, but the door was shut and none to be seen. My curiosity being now greater than before to know who this genteel person was, I followed her at the distance of twenty or thirty yards down the hill, which was 100 or 150 yards long, and expected when she got to the bottom, where there was a small brook, that I should meet her in attempting to gain the carriage bridge, but to my great astonishment, when she approached the brook, instead of turning to the right to gain the bridge, she vanished from my sight, at the very time that my eyes were fixed upon her. As soon as I got home, I related the strange affair to my family ; and as it was light, and I had not previously been thinking about apparitions, nor was I ever in the habit of speculating on such subjects, I am firmly persuaded that what I saw was one.*
” The lady of the house said that the recital had made ‘ a greater impression on her than anything she had ever heard before.’ ‘ For,’ continued she, ‘ about five years ago I had a servant, who was a young man of good character and of a bold, active disposition, one who professed a disregard for any extraordinary appearances. In the month of November, about Martinmas time, he requested leave to go to Bridlington and also to be accommodated with a horse, which was granted him. Being very desirous to make a long holiday of it, he rose early in the morning and set off two hours before daybreak ; but, to our very great surprise, returned home early in the afternoon, before it was dark. On being questioned if anything was the matter with him, he replied that he had been so much alarmed that he was resolved never to travel alone in the dark if he could avoid it. ‘For, as I was cantering along Skipsea-lane in the morning, bending forward with my face downwards, the horse suddenly bolted from the road to such a distance that I was very nearly dismounted. On recovering myself and looking about to discover what had frightened my horse, I saw a fine lady, dressed in white, with something like a black veil over her head, standing close by. How I got to Skipsea I cannot tell, but I was so frightened that I durst go no farther, but walked up and down the hill till it was light, when I found some persons going the same road, whom I accompanied to Bridlington.’ “