31 October marks the annual celebration of Hallowe’en – or All Hallows’ Eve– now pretty much obsolete: in the middle ages, a hallow (n) meant a holy person or saint. In the Western Christian tradition, this time of year is dedicated to remembering the dead, and in particular saints and martyrs on All Saints’ Day (1 November) and deceased family members on All Souls’ Day (2 November). Many Hallowe’en traditions, however, are likely to have had earlier pagan roots, originating, for example, from Celtic harvest festivals. In modern times, activities like trick-or-treating, costume parties, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns and watching horror films seem to grow more popular year-on-year.
Carisbrooke, is a historic castle overlooking the village of the same name, near Newport on the Isle of Wight. Over 350 years ago, it hosted an important prisoner Charles I, defeated by Cromwell in the English Civil War, incarcerated prior to his execution. Charles, having escaped from Hampton Court sought refuge at Carisbrooke but was detained by Colonel Robert Hammond, governor of the island. Later, Charles’s two youngest children were also confined in the castle – Princess Elizabeth died there – and it continued to be used as a prison throughout the seventeenth century.
The Castle is reputed to have a number of ghosts although we haven’t come across anything specifically relating to King Charles or his daughter. Elizabeth Ruffin tragically drowned in the deep well and reports claim her disembodied face can still be seen in the well water. A “Grey Lady” wearing a long cloak and accompanied by four dogs is claimed to haunt the castle and the ghost of a man in a brown jerkin and trousers has been seen near the moat.
The Special Collections hold several books relating to King Charles’s imprisonment in Carisbrooke castle including The pourtraicture of his sacred majesty Charles I : in his solitude in Carisbrook-Castle, A.D.1648 : containing his meditations on death, prayers.
The strongroom also houses a length manuscript poem, “Elizabeth the fair prisoner of Carisbrook”, dating from the mid-nineteenth century. It’s preface recounts the affair:
After the murder of King Charles by Cromwell and his myrmidons, his second daughter was, by order of the regicides, incarcerated in the Castle of Carisbrook, and subjected to much harshness and indignity. Pious, learned affectionate and accomplished in a high degree, her sensitive mind soon sunk under the accumulation of misery: she pined, sickened, died, was buried and forgotten… [MS 5/32 AO205]
Princess Elizabeth was buried at St. Thomas’s Church, Newport, on the Isle of Wight. The preface goes on to recount how Queen Victoria later erected a “beautiful and lifelike” sculpture at the church which apparently “attracts thousands to see and admire it, and few leave the hallowed spot without shedding a tear in memory of The Fair Prisoner of Carisbrook”.