Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Berkeley Castle

In Gloucestershire, England, on the south-eastern boundary of the town of Berkeley, at the edge of the Cotswold, there is the haunted Berkeley Castle built by the Severn estuary to stand guard over the Bristol-Gloucestershire road and to protect the estuary and the Welsh border. This is Berkeley Castle (sometimes spelled “Berkley Castle”). In 1067, after the Norman conquest of England, William FitzOsbern built a motte-and-bailey castle on this site. In 1153, Robert Fitzharding received a royal command from King Henry II to rebuild the castle. The final additions to the castle were constructed in the 14th century during the time of Thomas de Berkeley, the third Baron Berkeley.

Berkeley Castle

Photo of Berkeley Castle - Courtesy of Steve Knight

Berkeley Castle is surrounded by beautiful landscaping. There are Elizabethan era terraced gardens around it. There is an Elizabeth I’s bowling green and a pine tree that is said to have been planted from a cutting taken from a tree at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. In the Walled Garden, there is a tropical Butterfly House which is the home to more than twenty-five different species of tropical butterflies. The castle itself is said to be possibly the most outstanding example of medieval domestic architecture in England.

Inside the Berkeley Castle there are many rooms and pieces of furniture with historical significance. There is a bedroom called the Admiral Drake’s room. In this room, there is a bedstead, chairs and a wash-hand-stand. All these pieces of furniture are made of ebony. They had been used by the admiral during his voyage around the world.

In another room, there is a state bed which had been used by Queen Elizabeth I when she visited the castle. She went to the castle with her retinue for a hunting holiday. It was said that the royal party hunted so voraciously that “27 stages were slaine in one day”. Naturally, this stirred the ire of Lord Berkeley who immediately put a halt to all hunting on the castle grounds. The whole affair was said to have been a conspiracy cooked up by Leicester to annoy Lord Berkeley and put him at odds with the queen.

Berkeley Castle Rooms of Paranormal Interest

There are two rooms of particular interest to fans of paranormal events. In one of the towers of the keep there is a dungeon. This is a D-shaped room about 28 feet deep. There are no openings to let in light or air, except for the trap-door in the floor of the room over it. The trap-door does not let in much fresh air and sunshine, though, for by design and utility, the trap-door is more often shut than open. In the floor of the dungeon there is a deep dry well. This dungeon was where King Edward II was imprisoned after he was deposed by his own queen.

In the inner quadrangle, there is a square tower of two-stories high attached to the keep. From the tower there is a long flight of steps that goes to the base court of the keep. At the side of these steps there is a narrow gangway. This leads to a room covered with a rough timber-shed roof. In this room, there is an old chair, a four-poster bed and, recessed into the wall, an old pallet-bed. This was the bedroom in which Edward II’s life was snuffed out in a decidedly most unkingly manner.

The deep dungeon in the Berkeley Castle served a dual purpose. It functioned as a garbage dump for rotting carcasses of animals. Peasants who got on the wrong side of the Lord Berkeley were also killed and their corpses thrown into the dungeon as well. The stench that emanated from this dungeon would have nauseated anyone who caught a whiff of it. Imagine the plight of anyone unfortunate enough to be imprisoned in the place.

The Screaming End of Edward II

In 1327, Edward II was put into this dungeon of Berkeley Castle. It was hoped that the disease-laden atmosphere would put an end to him. Actually, he did become ill but he recovered and managed to keep alive for five months in the hellish pit. A more direct approach had to be used to kill him without any outward sign of violence.

On September 21, 1327, the dirty deed was done in the room accessed from the square tower. Two men held him face down on the bed. A third inserted a horn or a funnel into his anus. Through this, a red-hot spit was thrust deep into his bowels. In such an unkingly way, Edward II gave up the ghost. Gray wrote of this tragedy:

Mark the year and mark the night,
When Severn shall re-echo with affright
The shrieks of death through Berkeley’s roof that ring
Shrieks of an agonizing king.
She-wolf of France, with unrelenting fangs,
That tear’st the bowels of thy mangled mate
From thee be born, who o’er thy country hangs
The scourge of Heaven

Thus ended the life of Edward II. In the final minutes of his life he had screamed long and loud. His cries can still be heard in the castle on the anniversary of his death. Ardent fans of paranormal phenomena are well-advised to put Berkeley Castle on their ghost-hunting calendar.

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