Richard Gough, an eighteenth-century antiquary who published in 1789 a translation of William Camden’s Britannia with additional material, describes a curious heirloom associated with the medieval Bronsil Castle, the ruins of which are near Eastnor. This was a cedar box containing a few human vertebrae, and labelled ‘Lord Beauchamp’s Bones’. It was said to date from late in the reign of Elizabeth I; at first it was kept in the castle itself, but later in the owners’ new residence at New Court, Lugwardine. It was still in existence in the 1760s, but was lost or destroyed at some later period.
Gough gives a story linked to these bones, involving both a ghost and a treasure. It is said that in Elizabeth I’s time the castle was so noisily haunted that the then owner, Gabriel Reede, went to a learned man in Oxford for help, and was told that the only way to stop the disturbances was to get hold of ‘a bone of the first Lord Beauchamp’ and keep it always in the castle; Lord Beauchamp had died in Italy, and could get no peace unless he –or at least part of him – was returned to his ancestral home. So the box with his backbone in it was sent from Italy, and all was peaceful once more. The motivation is the same as in the more common legends about skulls which insist on remaining in houses they had owned, or lived in, when alive.
The legend developed further details in the course of the nineteenth century. Folklorist Mrs Leather was told that the treasure is a large chest of gold and silver which Lord Beauchamp is said to have buried somewhere in the castle grounds; some say, before setting out for the Crusades. It is guarded by a demonic raven. In one version, the precondition for finding the chest is that the seeker must be the rightful owner, and must also possess the bones of Lord Beauchamp; if so, one has to wonder why Mr Reede did not find it, for he certainly had the bones – perhaps local tradition did not think him a rightful owner of the castle?
In another version, the Crusader had ordered that if he was killed in the Holy Land his body must be brought home for burial, otherwise the treasure would never be found; the body was indeed brought home, but only in the form of boiled bones (as was often done for those who died in foreign lands), and this was not good enough to fulfil his demand. And now even the bones are lost; but the treasure must still be there, for sometimes the raven is heard croaking at midnight.
Haunted England : The Penguin Book of Ghosts – Written by Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson –
Copyright © Jennifer Westwood and Jacqueline Simpson 2005, 2008