July 8, 2020

The Ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh at Sherborne Old Castle

Sherborne Old Castle now stands as a 12th century ruin in Dorset, England. It was originally built by the Bishop of Salisbury, Roger de Caen, as a fortified palace, and belonged to the Church of England until the 16th century.

Though the 12th century site belonged to the church, there was already a christian association with the land, as within the grounds of the castle, a 9th century christian cemetery has been found by archeologists.

The castle became an important stronghold for the Royalist forces during the civil war, withstanding two sieges, although not withstanding the test of time, as only the southwest gatehouse, parts of the great tower and the north range now survive. 

Sherborne Old Castle is now also famous as the place in which the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh is said to roam.

Sherborne Old Castle Under Sir Walter Raleigh

In 1519, Sir Walter Raleigh fell in love with the castle, and leased it to be used as his country home.

ghost of sir walter raleigh sherborne castle

Having gained wealth from being in service to the Queen, Raleigh decided that the cost of restoring the old castle would be too great, and instead, decided to build a completely new mansion in Sherborne’s old deer park, which he referred to as The Lodge.

His dream home was short lived however, as he went on to marry one of Queen Elizabeth I’s maids of honour, Elizabeth Throckmorton, without her permission, which led to his imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Just before Christmas, 1592, Raleigh and Elizabeth Throckmorton were released, and they returned to the castle. He had found favour with Queen Elizabeth I once again, having quelled a sailors rebellion in Dartmouth, however,  he was later implicated in a plot when her successor James I ascended the throne.

Raleigh would fall victim to the apparent curse that had been set upon the land by the former bishop, and now saint, Osmund.

The Curse of Saint Osmund

During the reign of Edward III, a heated dispute arose between the Bishop of Sarum and the Earl of Salisbury, which led to the Bishop putting on armour and challenging the Earl to settle the matter through a more violent approach. The matter however, was eventually solved without violence.

Saint Osmund then laid a curse upon the land on which the castle is built, by claiming that anyone who tried to take the land from the hands of the Church would meet their end.

This curse seems to have taken effect on some unlucky residents, including Sir Walter Raleigh, after he had leased the castle from the crown.

The Execution and Ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh

Having been implicated in a plot devised by Lord Cobham In July 1603, to replace James I with his cousin, Lady Arabella Stewart, Raleigh was once again thrown in the Tower of London, but this time, for treason.

Raleigh was given a trial, and found guilty. He was lucky to have been spared his life, but instead, spent the next thirteen years of his life imprisoned at the Tower. His estate at Sherborne was given to King James I’s favourite cousin, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset.

True to the curse of Saint Osmund, Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset, would also suffer a series of unfortunate events in his life, which would lead to his own downfall.

Having persuaded King James to allow him to set sail to Guiana to bring back treasure in 1617, Raleigh’s crew met with disaster, clashing with the Spanish. Despite the King’s orders, his own son, Walter, led a charge against the citadel at St Thome, during which he was killed. 

An outraged King James I ordered Raleigh back to England, and upon returning, was once again thrown in the Tower of London. He was given trial on 28th October 1618, at which he was sentenced to be executed the next morning. He went to the scaffold bravely, but his execution didn’t go to plan. It took two blows of an axe to remove his head. 

On Saint Michael’s eve, the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh is said to roam the grounds of Sherborne Castle, before disappearing next to an Oak tree that is named after him.

His ghost is only said to walk through the grounds on this one occasion every year. It seems as though the ghost of Sir Walter Raleigh doesn’t want to leave Sherborne Castle, despite spending so much time in the Tower of London, he spent his happiest days at the residence.

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