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Lady Howard’s Perpetual Penance


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« on: July 26, 2009, 01:49:38 pm »

Lady Howard’s Perpetual Penance, Devon

Some ghost stories are genuinely spooky, and some like this are gloriously embellished to include details which are almost comforting in their customary use, folk tales that you can imagine told around the cottage hearth and down the pub for centuries. And such tales would keep the kids from wandering off too.

In the time of James I Mary Fitz was left an orphan when very young, her debauched, mad and murdering father having killed himself. As heiress to Fitzford House, a considerable property near Tavistock in Devon, she was herself a valuable property, and was duly married off to Sir Alan Percy. He died of a mysterious fever; Mary’s next husband met his end equally strangely; as did the next; and the next. Mary in life was a creature of habit it seems, as she has become in death, or so the legend has it. She was openly evil to her daughter, and after the family had returned to live at Fitzford House her only son died young, a blow from which she never recovered.

Soon after her death tales began to spread of sightings of Mary’s ghost. She cannot know peace until she has completed a task that would seem to be never ending: every night (though some versions have it that it is only every midsummer’s night) she must travel in her spectral carriage – jet-black of course, and adorned with skulls, and pulled by similarly jet-black horses – from Fitzford House (of which only the gatehouse remains, now a private residence) to Okehampton Castle, presumably these days following the A386 which runs beside the Tavy. She is accompanied by a huge black dog, all dripping fangs and saucer-eyes, which at the Castle picks a single blade of grass that the wicked lady puts in her bible or her bosom and bears back to Fitzford House, where it is placed on a granite slab. Leaving at midnight (when else?) she must journey there and back by cock-crow (naturally). In times past such a journey of 30 miles and more would have been extraordinary for a single night, especially the shortest night of the year. Until she has removed every single blade of grass from the parkland around the castle she cannot be redeemed. Poor Lady Howard.

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