Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Okehampton Castle and The Carriage of Bones

A-Z Challenge 2012 - O
 Okehampton Castle and the Carriage of Bones

Okehampton Castle is one of the largest castle ruins in the South West of England

Okehampton Castle 2004
The castle was built in Norman times and is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) when it was part of the estate of the Sheriff of Devon, Baldwin de Brionne. The motte and bailey castle sat on an outcrop in a wooded spur above the River Okemont. The stone keep was added in the 11th century, and further buildings added in the early 14th century.

The castle was abandoned in 1538 after its owner, Henry, Marquis of Exeter, was convicted of conspiracy and executed by Henry VII.

The ruins including the bulk of the keep and the curtain walls are now in the care of English Heritage.

Okehampton Castle Motte - 2009
The most dramatic of the stories linked to Okehampton is that of Lady Mary Howard, her ghost, a spectral dog and the carriage of bones.

“My ladye hath a sable coach,
And horses two and four,
My ladye hath a black blood-hound
That runneth on before.
My ladye’s coach hath nodding plumes,
The driver hath no head;
My ladye is an ashen white,
And one that long is dead.”

At the tender age of 9 Mary Fitz inherited a fortune when her father, John Fitz, committed suicide. It should be no surprise that many had designs on her wealth. James I sold her to the Earl of Northumberland who married her off to his brother, Sir Alan Percy. Percy had no time to enjoy his ill gotten gains as he caught a fever while on a hunting trip and died.

Mary set out to find true love with Mr Darcy (No! Not the Austen one) with whom she eloped only for him to die after a few months. Undaunted at being the target for fortune hunters Mary married yet again. She had secured her wealth so no man could get to it; unsurprisingly her third husband was not amused but he lost more that Mary’s fortune when he followed his predecessors and died of causes unknown. Naturally tongues began to wag

Mary married her third husband, Sir John Howard, in 1612; he died in 1622. She remarried in 1628, this time to Sir Richard Grenville – this marriage ended in divorce and she reverted to the Howard name.

It wasn’t long before stories arose about the perceived evil woman who had lost four husbands. The legend has her travelling each night from Fitz House in Tavistock to Okehampton Castle in a carriage made from the bones of her husbands and driven by a headless driver. A huge black dog with crimson eyes precedes the coach whose horses are lashed on by the headless driver. As the coach passes the ghostly white figure of a lady can be seen sitting in the back.

At the castle the black dog plucks a blade of grass which on return to Fitz House is laid on a granite slab. Only after all the grass has been removed from the castle mound will Mary be allowed to rest in peace.

Check out the lush grass left; it seems the coach will be travelling for a long time yet.

Both Hilary and I chose Nottingham Castle  but with a different emphasis; so be sure to follow the link.

Note: Post delayed due to internet connection failure for 36hours
  • Okehampton Castle looking down into the bailey – 2004; author Mortimer Cat: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
  • Okehampton Castle Motte, 2009 A 'close-up' view of the ruined building atop the motte inside Okehampton Castle; author Oliver Hunter; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 license


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Bob .. Okehampton is an interesting Castle - I've spent years driving through or past on my way to Cornwall .. and stopped but never to look at the Castle - a more leisurely drive sometime.

This is really fascinating - especially Mary's life - and her protection of her wealth .. that was quite difficult for a woman to do in those days.

Beautiful photos too .. and I loved that poem ...

Cheers - just glad you're back up connected again - it happens doesn't it = frustrating .. good to have you back .. Hilary

Luanne G. Smith said...

A carriage made from the bones of her husbands? I'm so stealing that for a story some day. :D

Jo said...

Yes, I loved the story too and the poem. I would like to know how she protected her wealth in that day and age.

In this day and age, 4 hubbies would be nothing, LOL

Jenni Steel said...

Such a fascinating story and the poem was very interesting.

I do like your photos and your right they make the post so much more interesting.

Mmm, I to wonder what she did to protect her wealth especially in those days.

Thanks for sharing your stories..

Unknown said...

I've been fascinated with Okehampton Castle for most of my life and visited it many times. From the roadway, it looks unimpressive, looks are deceiving. Once you have walked through the ruins and the pathways around it, it gets in your blood. The church interior walls still have faint painted images on them. it is quite a large place and certainly worth taking the time to look it over. best regards
Larry Haley