To mark Halloween we need look no further than the former home of the Cope Collection, Bramshill House in Hampshire. Boasting fourteen ghosts and described as ‘one of the most haunted houses in England’, many of its apparitions feature in a memoir by Sir William Cope’s great-grandaughter, Joan Penelope Cope. They include a lady in grey usually seen at 3 a.m., a woman in white, leaping from the balustrade and a green man seen by the Pale Pond, possibly one Sir Henry Cope, who favoured green for his clothing, decor and more unusually, his food. As well as these visual manifestations, heavily spurred boots had been heard on the stairs and visitors in the Chapel Drawing Room reported the sensation of having their hand taken by a child.
Of these tales, one became particularly well-known, that of a young woman dressed in white seen in the Long Gallery and the Fleur-de-Lys Room. The story went that many years ago at a Christmas wedding, the young bride had insisted on playing a game of hide and seek, only to find herself locked in the chest in which she had hidden. Despite the desperate searches of the wedding party, she could not be found. Some years later the chest was opened, revealing her remains, a sprig of mistletoe still clutched in her skeletal hand.
The association of the story with Bramshill was such that in 1890, perhaps after one too many of his visitors had asked to see the chest, Sir William Cope printed a short pamphlet on the subject, The Bridal Chest of Bramshill. Sadly for devotees of the supernatural, Cope reported that the chest concerned was no longer at Bramshill, having been removed earlier in the 19th century by the widow of the tenth baronet, and more importantly, there was no record of any bride in the family having died shortly after her wedding, neither had the ghost been seen by any living witness.
Cope’s explanation was that the original bridal chest, of Italian origin, had become associated with a story set in Italy of an entombed bride, told in Samuel Rogers’ 1822 poem ‘Ginevra’. Rogers wrote that he believed the story ‘founded on fact’, though at a time and place uncertain, whilst Cope had been informed that ‘a Lady of a distinguished Italian house’ had claimed the story for her family describing the chest as having been sold to an Englishman. The fifth baronet, Sir John Cope, was known to have lived in Italy during the 17th century and to have returned with various items acquired at this time.
Following the publication of the poem, the story was popularised in a ballad of the 1830s, ‘The Mistletoe Bough’ by T.H. Bayly and Sir Henry Bishop and it became associated with a number of country houses. It was retold in a play by C.A. Somerset in 1835, provided the inspiration for Henry James’ The Romance of Certain Old Clothes (1868), appeared as a short story by Susan E. Wallace in 1887 and was the subject of three silent films, including The Mistletoe Bough by Percy Shaw (1904). More recently ‘The Mistletoe Bride’ has again been retold as a short story by both Jeanette Winterson (2002) and Kate Mosse (2013).
For those who might have hoped that both the chest and its ghostly contents had been transported from Italy to Bramshill, it now appears that the story has an origin earlier than the 1822 poem cited by Cope. It is recounted under the title ‘A Melancholy Occurrence’ in the 1809 issue of The Monthly and Boston Review, but in this case the tale is set in Germany and was described as a ‘singular and calamitous event’ brought to light a few years since.
It seems that Bramshill House, currently the subject of development proposals, might be lacking one of its fourteen ghosts, but who can know what the remaining thirteen will make of any proposed changes.
For descriptions of more recent sightings of the Bramshill ghosts, including the Mistletoe Bride, see: Ian Fox The Haunted Places of Hampshire (1997) Cope 39.