Sir Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who had a castle on Bury Hill, was the arch-villain of the reigns of Stephen and Matilda (Maud). His notoriety has inspired legends in many of the places with which he was connected, including SOUTH MIMMS CASTLE, Hertfordshire.
‘The Wicked Sir Geoffrey’ seems to have believed that, despite a career of treachery and godlessness such as to warrant excommunication, he could secure a place in Heaven by benefiting the Church: he founded a priory at Walden in, say the chroniclers, 1136, although they call him Earl of Essex and he was only given this title in 1140, four years before his death. He endowed the new priory, later abbey, with no fewer than nineteen churches, together with the hermitage of Hadley.
Such was his reputation, however, that even these pious endowments became the stuff of legend. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Walden abbey and its manors were surrendered on 22 March 1538 to the king, who immediately (27 March) granted the whole property to Sir Thomas Audley in fee.
As often with ecclesiastical properties taken from the Church and distributed among secular owners, it came with a terrible curse. According to a tradition current in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, Sir Geoffrey laid this curse on anyone who seized lands he gave Walden to buy Masses for the repose of his soul. Until they are returned, he walks his former domains from South Mimms to East Barnet every six years near Christmas, dressed in armour and a red cloak, and accompanied by a spectral dog.