Catherine Cavendish is one of my most loved authors and a great writer friend. She’s one of the most talented women gothic and horror writers working today and she’s extremely supportive of other authors and her writing friends. She lives in the UK and always offers me the best essays for my site featuring haunts from there (though she has featured some in the states too), which I always love. Enjoy her article today on a very interesting ghost, and check out all her gothic titles, recently re-released. Linden Manor, and some of her other books, are some of my favorite reads.
The Dark Lady of Devon
by Catherine Cavendish, author of Linden Manor
“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,
As one that long is dead.”
My novella – Linden Manor – features the ghost of Lady Celia Fitzmichael, about whom a scary nursery rhyme was written, which haunted my main character, Lesley Carpenter. In it, Lady Celia is never mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to as ‘The Scottish Bride.’ And woe betide you if you laid eyes on her ‘blackened face.’
This made me research other notable hauntings by tormented brides (and women generally) and, inevitably, my path led to Devon, home of so many wonderful hauntings and folklore. Here, I found a tale which has all the hallmarks of a Daphne du Maurier dark story (OK, I know she wrote in neighbouring Cornwall, but you get my drift.) The tale of Lady Mary Howard is a dark and tragic one. Every night, her ghostly carriage and massive black dog, regularly travel sixteen miles from Okehampton Castle to Fitzford House and back again. Each time, the purpose of their journey appears to be to transport a single blade of grass.
So who was Lady Mary? And why does she perform this repetitive ritual?
She was born Mary Fitz in 1596, only legitimate child of Sir John Fitz, a man whose inherited wealth made him too rich, too young (at age 21). He spent his money, sinking into depravity and degeneracy to Dorian Gray proportions. His wickedness eventually alienated him from the whole of Tavistock – the town near his home of Fitzford House. Then, two men were killed on the steps of his house. They included his best friend. John Fitz slid into insanity and committed suicide at the age of 30, leaving nine year old Mary alone. She was sold by King James I to the Earl of Northumberland. He married her off to his brother, Sir Allan Percy, to ensure her fortune passed to their family when Mary was just twelve years old. Her new husband was 31.
The enforced marriage was shortlived as Percy caught a chill while on a hunting trip and died in 1611. Soon after, Mary eloped with her true love, Thomas Darcy. Tragically though, he died just a few months later. Mary had yet to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, so she was technically still the Earl’s ward. He married her off to husband number three – Sir Charles Howard, fourth son of the Earl of Suffolk. They had two children who both appear to have died in infancy. Then he too succumbed and died – of unknown causes – leaving Mary a widow for the third time at the age of just 26.
By now, tongues were wagging. That’s a lot of husbands to lose in rapid succession. Had the father lived on in his daughter? After all, didn’t Sir John Fitz become mixed up in murder at one time?
By now, perhaps as a result of her experiences at the hands of unscrupulous men, Mary had learned a little about keeping her hands firmly on her own purse-strings. She was now a wealthy and desirable widow and married husband number four – Sir Richard Grenville – who no doubt thought he was onto a good thing. He soon found out his new wife wasn’t to be taken advantage of. He didn’t like it and vented his wrath cruelly on her. Mary refused to relent, and kept her money safe.
In the end, Sir Richard’s cruelty became too much for Mary and she sued for divorce, between 1631-32. From then on, a series of extraordinary events saw Sir Richard imprisoned for debt, his subsequent disappearance for seven years and terrible injustice heaped on Mary when he returned and a court ordered that he could seize Fitzford House and her possessions. When Mary eventually turned up there (she had been living in London), she found the mansion wrecked.
Her marriage to Grenville was the only one to produce children – a son, Richard, who died young, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary – neither of whom Mary had anything to do with as they served as a constant reminder of their father. She did keep one child with her though. Her son, George, born around 1634 and whose father is unknown (possibly Theophilus, Earl of Suffolk).
As she grew older and remained, with her son, at the restored Fitzford House, Lady Mary became noted around Tavistock for her strong will and imperious temper. When her son died unexpectedly in 1671, she never recovered and died soon after. Then the legendary hauntings began.
It is said that, at dead of night, the gates of Fitzford House creak open and a massive black hound, with flaming red eyes bounds forward. Behind it rattles a coach made of bones, driven by a headless coachman. Its single passenger is a ghostly lady. Sixteen miles up the road, the coach stops at Okehampton Castle where the dog picks a single blade of grass. Back at Fitzford House, the dog lays this carefully down on a stone. Legend has it that when all the grass has been thus transported from Okehampton Castle, Lady Mary will finally be at rest.
Now, here’s a flavour of Linden Manor:
Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body?
All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it.
But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last.
Linden Manor has just been reissued by Crossroad Press and is available from:
Other books by Catherine Cavendish include:
And are currently available – or soon will be – from:
Catherine Cavendish Amazon page
Catherine Cavendish Amazon page
Catherine Cavendish lives with a long-suffering husband and ‘trainee’ black cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid-18th century, which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV. Cat has written a number of published horror novellas, short stories, and novels, frequently reflecting her twin loves of history and horror and often containing more than a dash of the dark and Gothic. When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.
You can connect with her here:
2 responses to “Article: The Dark Lady of Devon by Catherine Cavendish”
thank you so much for hosting me, Erin! 🙂
Anytime, Cat. You’re very welcome!