A radiant boy is the glowing ghost of a boy who has been murdered by his mother and whose appearance portends ill-luck and violent death. Radiant boys appear in the folklore of England and Europe, possibly originating with the Kindermorderinn (children murdered by their mothers) of Germanic folklore.
There are numerous radiant boys stories in the Cumberland area of England, which was settled by Germanic and Scandinavian peoples in the 9th and 10th centuries.
A radiant boy once haunted the Howard family’s Corby Castle in Cumberland, making its most famous appearance in 1803. The castle—really a manor house— stands on a fortification site once used by the Romans. Part of the old house adjoins a Roman-built tower.
According to an account written in 1824, the radiant boy haunted a room in part of the old house adjoining the tower. The origin of the ghost is not known, but he plagued many an overnight guest with his appearances and noises. The room had an air of gloom which Howard sought to dispel by changing some of the furniture. Howard recorded in his journal that an incident took place on September 8, 1803 involving the rector of Greystoke, who, with his wife, was among the guests staying at the castle.
The rector and his wife had planned to stay several days, but after their first night they announced at breakfast that they intended to depart. The Howards were stunned. Some time later, the rector confessed the reason.
Howard quoted him as saying:
Soon after we went to bed we fell asleep. It might be between one and two in the morning when I awoke. I observed that the fire was totally extinguished; but although that was the case, and we had no light, I saw a glimmer in the middle of the room, which suddenly increased to a bright flame. I looked out, apprehending that something had caught fire; when, to my amazement, I beheld a beautiful boy clothed in white, with bright locks resembling gold, standing by my bedside, in which position he remained some minutes, fixing his eyes upon me with a mild and benevolent expression. He then glided gently towards the side of the chimney; where it is obvious there is no possible egress, and entirely disappeared. I found myself again in total darkness, and all remained quiet until the usual hour of rising. I declare this to be a true account of what I saw at Corby Castle, upon my word as a clergyman. It is not known if anything ill befell the rector; some 20 years later, he was still talking about the ghost. The radiant boy no longer haunts the castle.
The room, called “the Ghost Room,” is a study. Lord Castlereagh, second Marquis of Londonderry and one of England’s most illustrious statesmen in the early 19th century, allegedly saw a radiant boy years before he committed suicide. There are different versions of the story. According to one, the episode occurred when he was a young man, Captain Robert Stewart.
He was posted in Ireland, and one day he went hunting and became lost. With darkness coming on, he sought lodging at the home of a gentleman. There were other guests in the house, and Stewart was invited to stay a few days and join their hunt. He agreed. When it came time to retire, Stewart was taken to a room with little furniture and a blazing fire. He fell asleep and was awakened suddenly by a bright light in the room.
At first he thought it was the fire. The fire, however, had gone out, but the light seemed to emanate from the chimney. Gradually Stewart became aware of the glowing form of a beautiful naked boy, surrounded by a dazzling brilliance. The boy gave him an earnest look and then faded away. Stewart thought he had been played a joke and was mightily offended.
The following morning, he brusquely announced his departure. The host managed to pry the details out of him, and gave the butler a tongue-lashing for putting Stewart in “the Boy’s Room.” The butler protested that he had lit a fire “to keep him from coming out.” The host explained to Stewart that according to a tradition in his family, whoever saw the radiant boy would first rise to great prosperity and power and then suddenly die a violent death. Stewart, the second heir in line in his family, was unconcerned.
Within a few years, however, his older brother drowned in a boating accident. Stewart left the army and entered politics, rising quickly. He was influential in creating the Act of Union between England and Ireland in 1800. He served as secretary of war in 1805 and 1807, and as foreign secretary from 1812 on. Despite his success, he was not well liked and was even hated by many for his cold demeanor. In 1821, his father died, making him Lord Castlereagh, second Marquis of Londonderry.
In 1822, Lord Castlereagh’s fortunes abruptly began to dim. He suffered from gout, and the stresses of his career began to take a heavy personal toll. He became paranoid and suspicious and acted strangely, and was feared to be losing his mind. He was confined to his country house, North Cray Place, and forbidden to have razors, lest he do something foolish.
On August 12, 1822, he took a penknife and slashed his throat, killing himself. Author Edward Bulwer-Lytton later advanced another story as to how Castlereagh came upon a radiant boy. Bulwer- Lytton said that Castlereagh had stayed at Knebworth, the Lytton family seat, at a time prior to his confinement. One morning he appeared at breakfast looking very pale, and said that a strange boy with long yellow hair had appeared in his room, sitting in front of the fire. The boy had drawn his finger across his throat three times and then vanished. The story most likely is one of Bulwer-Lytton’s inventions.
He often would invite guests to sleep in the “haunted room” and then sneak upstairs and scare them.
- Cohen, Daniel. The Encyclopedia of Ghosts. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1984.
- Harper, Charles G. Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural With Some Accounts of Hereditary Curses and Family Legends. Rev. and enlarged ed. London: Cecil Palmer, 1924.