Longleat Stately home in Wiltshire, England, haunted by several ghosts, including the “Green Lady,” who is said to mourn her murdered lover.
Since the Reformation, Longleat has been the home of the Thynne family. Superstitions and Ghost lore have surrounded it for centuries.
The Red Library is haunted by two ghosts. One is Sir John Thynne, the first occupant of Longleat. Sir John bought what was a run-down priory and began turning it into an elegant residence. Shortly after construction was completed about 1568, the house burned down and had to be rebuilt. Sir John died in 1580. The second ghost, also named John, was killed in action during World War I in 1916. Tour guides have seen him reading books in the library and have mistaken him for a visitor.
The most famous ghost at Longleat is Lady Louisa Carteret, the Green Lady. In 1714, the house was inherited by four-year-old Thomas Thynne when his great-uncle died. The young boy, the second Viscount Wey – mouth, grew up arrogant and careless. He married at age 20 and almost immediately left his wife to go touring around the Continent. She died while he was away. At age 22, he married Lady Louisa. This relationship, too, was short lived. In three years of marriage, Louisa bore three sons. The third birth was problematic, and on Christmas Day 1736 she died from complications. Soon after her death, Thomas left Longleat and never returned. His youngest son died at age four. Thomas let the family home fall into disrepair.
In 1915, central heating was installed at Longleat, and the skeleton of a man wearing 18th-century boots was discovered under the flagstones in the cellar. A story arose that he had been a footman and the lover of Lady Louisa. Thomas had found out about him, murdered him in a duel and buried him in the cellar. There is no historical evidence to support the story, but it became part of the ghost lore surrounding the house. The morose Green Lady wanders a top-floor corridor named after her, and the reason for her sadness remains a mystery. A superstition holds that the Thynne family will die out if the swans, which have nested on the property for centuries, ever fly away.
- Brooks, J. A. Britain’s Haunted Heritage. London: British Tourist Authority, 1990.
- Coxe, Anthony D. Hippisley. Haunted Britain. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1973.
A story reported by V. S. Manley in his book The Folk-Lore of the Warminster District (1924) claimed that there had once been a Marquis of Bath who returned to haunt Longleat House after his death and made himself so troublesome to his widow that she called upon twelve parsons to come to the house to lay him in the Red Sea. This much is common in folklore, but the remainder of the procedure is unusual. In Manley’s words:
A sheepskin was procured, into which the Marquise was wrapped, and in a cradle they laid her, and carried her to her room. The twelve parsons sat around a table and waited. At midnight the ghost appeared and stood among them. Each parson in turn asked the ghost what troubled him. It begged to be allowed to touch the hem of his wife’s garment. They told him this was impossible, because she was wrapped in lamb’s wool. Then they walked through the house reciting the Lord’s Prayer backwards, which proved effective in ridding the place of the ghost.
It is an enigmatic tale. The protective power of the sheep’s or lamb’s fleece is clearly related to the religious symbolism in which these animals stand for innocence, as at HEYTESBURY; the Marquise is also laid in a cradle, like an innocent newborn babe. But what was the ghost’s intention towards his living wife? Would he have murderously attacked her? There are Danish legends in which a revenant begs to touch his wife’s hand but she, forewarned, holds out her kerchief, which he rips to pieces. Or is he amorous? Katy Jordan, retelling the story in the year 2000, says the lamb’s wool ‘protect[s] her from the ghost’s advances’. Sexuality in ghosts rarely features in British sources, most of which have been filtered through the respectability of nineteenth-century informants and collectors, but can be deduced from some accounts of the undead, as for instance the twelfth-century writings of William of Newburgh, who mentions a dead man entering the bed where his wife was sleeping. Or is his gesture meant as a humble plea for her prayers, rather as the ghost of Sir John Popham at WELLINGTON, Somerset, had his fate alleviated by the prayers of his pious wife? It is, alas, impossible to get past the collector to question the informant, so the questions must remain unanswered.