History, Stirling Castle, Tapestries

30 October 2017

Frightening Females of Folklore

Admissions Assistant Laurie tells us about some haunting figures from history as she uncovers the frightening females of folklore

image of a historic palace with sun setting behind it

Castles are rich with the weight of history – after all they’ve witnessed warfare, murder, births and deaths. It’s no surprise these events should pass into the frightening folklore of Stirling Castle, which has become notorious for ghosts and ghouls said to haunt our walls!

I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to ghosts, but there is a type of phantom that fascinates me – the female ghost.

Whiter Shade of Pale

The figure of the female ghost has cropped up at historic sites across the world for centuries. Nearly every culture has its own legend of this irresistible maiden. She even comes in a handy array of colours to help us identify her!

For instance there is a ghost known as ‘The White Lady’.  Typically a destitute figure dressed in a flowing white gown, her afterlife antics have been reported all over the world.

  • In Medieval England she was seen as an omen of death. One of the most famous examples is Henry VIII’s wife Anne Boleyn, said to haunt the Tower of London.
  • In Scotland, she has been seen as the desperate soul of a girl who threw herself from a tower.
  • She’s even been spotted in Malta, where she is said to have thrown herself to her death to escape an unwanted marriage.

A Ghost of Many Colours

We don’t seem to have been visited by the White Lady at Stirling, but other female phantoms are available.

There is said to be a ‘Black Lady’ who haunts the back walk. We don’t know much about her, or why she lingers in this spot. However, it is said she creates a foreboding atmosphere for anyone wandering this path at night…

woman in bonnet emerging from mist holding lantern aloft and staring grimly at the camera

The Black Lady creates a foreboding atmosphere…

We’ve also had reports of a ‘Pink Lady’ – or rather a ‘pink aura’ permeating the Kirkyards around the castle. This lady manifests as a sense of longing or unrequited love felt by people walking there. Some think she was a woman whose sweetheart died prematurely in battle. The poor soul is now doomed to roam the earth full of all the passion unfulfilled in life.

Our most notorious shade of female ghost though, is the infamous ‘Green Lady’.

Stirling’s Green Lady

We’ve heard reports of several forms of the ‘Green Lady’ spotted here at the Castle.

In one tale she appears at the top of the steps to what used to be the military base of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. She was seen gliding down the steps in flowing green finery, devastatingly beautiful. Luckily she seems to have been in a benevolent mood that day, and simply passed through the young soldier who spotted her!

old stone stairs leading up

The Green Lady was allegedly seen gliding down the steps

There are different tales of her origin, but the one that stems from some historical evidence is that she was a young Highland girl who attended the castle as a servant of Mary, Queen of Scots. She was said to be highly superstitious, and convinced that a terrible fate would befall Mary on the night of 13 September 1561.

The story goes that the girl was sure a terrible fire would break out in Mary’s room at the castle. She vowed to remain awake all night to guard the queen, but couldn’t quite manage it.  In her drowsiness, she accidentally set fire to the queen’s bed-curtains with a candle. The queen survived, but the poor girl fell victim to her own vision and died that night in the fire.

We have records to show that this fire took place. But we no written evidence of the existence of the girl, or her foretelling of her own terrible death. Still, her story has become legendary. Her tragic ghost is said to haunt the castle, a bitter spirit who brings misery and doom to those unlucky enough to find themselves in her company…

Ghostly Goings-On

When I heard this tale from a colleague, I didn’t think I’d ever run into her. But one day I descended the stone steps towards the room at the base of the Prince’s Tower where he said she resides, and the door handle mysteriously turned by itself.

A few months later, I returned to find some of our uniform rails had tipped over. When I went to investigate the windows began to rattle, which did make me wonder if I had overstayed my welcome in the Green Lady’s domain!

The door to the uniform room looks unassuming…

I suspect these female phantoms are simply the result of the dark and ghostly perceptions we all hold about castles. If a place has a dark and grisly past, our imaginations are bound to run wild. Who doesn’t love a romantic tale of the tormented figures who once stood between these ancient walls?

For me, there is something irresistible about phantoms who don’t conform to our standard conventions of femininity by meekly going off to eternal rest. Perhaps they represent women who have been oppressed throughout history, only now able to express their rage of life’s restrictions? Perhaps death is their chance to finally make their stories heard.

In any case, the legend of the Green Lady and her colourful counterparts will continue to terrify and enthrall us in castles, palaces and other historic nooks and crannies all over the world for years to come.