Weird Norfolk: The jilted Tudor ghost that haunts a National Trust hall
- Credit: Archant
It is a building filled with centuries of secrets and the ghost of a woman who died of a broken heart more than 500 years ago.
Built during the Wars of the Roses, Oxburgh Hall near Swaffham was completed for Sir Edmund Bedingfield in 1482 and the family has lived at the hall since, although ownership was passed to the National Trust in 1952.
Set in a square moat, the hall has welcomed royalty: Henry VII visited with his wife Elizabeth of York, his mother Margaret Beaufort and several bishops.
But it is the ghostly visitor that concerns Weird Norfolk today, that of a woman in traditional Tudor dress, who has been seen roaming through the north of the hall.
Witnesses – and there are very few – claim that the ghost drifts through the one of the oldest parts of the hall, the north wing where the tall gatehouse and towers stand.
According to the National Trust, which runs the historic building: “It’s said that the ghost of a jilted lover, a Countess of Italy, still roams the North Bedroom and north staircase.
“It’s thought she killed herself after jumping out of the North Bedroom window, drowning in the moat below. Visitors have since seen a woman in Tudor dress walking in the grounds, only to be told there were no costume volunteers around that day.
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“And environmental systems still report sudden unexplained drops in temperature!”
Other stories claim the ghost is the spirit of a Spanish woman who disappeared at Oxburgh in the 16th century a month before she gave birth to her lover’s child.
There is a painting in the Oxburgh collection titled, by the National Trust, An Unknown Lady aged 23 called ‘the Countess Miranda’ by Florentine artists and dated 1571.
It shows a beautiful young woman, her head turned slightly to the left, her right hand over her waist holding a highly decorative fan and wearing a small crown.
Her dress is white and embroidered heavily in gold and she has a lace collar and wears ornate jewellery: interestingly, the portrait was once thought to be Spanish but is now believed to be Italian.
The painting is often said to be that of Camilla Martelli, the lover and then the second wife of Cosimo I de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but the dates don’t match.
Despite being endorsed by Pope Pius V, the marriage scandalised Florence and the Duke’s children from his first wife and as soon as Cosimo – who was far older than Camilla – died, the children sent their stepmother to a convent.
There is no record of Camilla coming to Oxburgh, but by the time she would have arrived in Britain, Catholic visitors would have needed to keep quiet about visiting other known Catholics.
After years of royal favour and very vocal support of Catholic Mary I in her claim to the throne, the succession of Elizabeth I saw the Bedingfield’s fortunes change dramatically.
In 1559, Queen Elizabeth’s Act of Uniformity effectively brought an end to Catholicism when it hailed the English Book of Common Prayer as the only acceptable book of prayer in England. Everyone was forced to go to church weekly, or they would be fined.
Oxburgh became a secret place where Catholics could worship far from the prying eyes of the Queen and her officials and this is why Oxburgh has its famous priest hole under a toilet where clerics could be hidden at a moment’s notice.
To continue to practice their faith was to risk their lives, but it was a price the Bedingfields were willing to pay: they hung laundry on the hedge to signal that mass was beginning.
In 2020, more than 2,000 artefacts which provided evidence of secret Catholic worship from Queen Elizabeth I’s reign were unearthed.
Found under the attic floorboards during a re-roofing project, the items included books, manuscripts, clothing and musical scores which had been hidden in the ancestral Bedingfeld home.
The National Trust also revealed that a fragment from a 1590 edition of a Spanish tale which was written in 1420 had been discovered and that the family would have had a special interest in reading Spanish stories, imbued as they were with Catholicism.
In 2016, a visitor to the hall claimed to have taken a photograph of a cloaked woman on the bridge at Oxburgh, a picture she later sold to a national newspaper and which was ‘verified’ by a psychic medium.
Ian Griffiths, who makes psychic readings from photographs, said at the time: “My guide tells me there's definitely a ghost spirit there. I feel it's a young woman around the age of 23 years old with long, dark brown hair who was very pretty looking.
“I feel she was around eight months pregnant and was drowned, it was something to do with struggling under the water.
“She was not married, her father worked with the Kings' horses and she's been seen on some stairs inside the castle.”