Fifty one servants pandered to her every need, including a Secretary, Masters of House and of Horse, a physician, a reader, an apothecary, a surgeon, an embroiderer, four grooms of the chamber, two yeomen of the pantry, two yeoman of the warder, two cooks, four grooms of the stable and three laundresses. This is only two servants less than Iain Duncan Smith. Not bad for a prisoner.
But then this was no ordinary prisoner and no ordinary prison. She was Mary Queen of Scots. Her prison – one of many in her short life – Bolton Castle, Wensleydale. Your modern prisoner might be lucky getting to watch Sky TV on the evening of a big match but nothing as lavish as the perks afforded to Mary during her 19 years of incarceration.
Bolton Castle, damaged during the English Civil War, dominates Wensleydale. In the Plague year 1348 so many people died from the disease that wages were driven higher and workers were less compliant. This did not suit the gentry who started building Castles like there was no tomorrow in order to re-assert their superiority. Bolton Castle was one such castle.
The castle is situated is an ancient Bronze Age landscape of stone circles, lead mines and rare breeds of sheep. Though Bolton Castle is arguably stereotypical of other castles built in the 14th century, with its 600 year old oak beams, nine foot thick walls and obligatory dungeon, the area’s place names evoke a unique flavour of a long history: Ivy Scar, Slapestones Wath, Apedale Beck and Redmire.
And in keeping with other castles of a similar age, Bolton Castle is haunted. In fact it could safely be described as very haunted. According to those in the know, a variety of spectral figures drift about the place at all hours. Any more spooks and they’ll need to erect traffic lights. There’s a phantom drummer and at least two female ghosts (one of whom may or may not be Mary Queen of Scots). Yet the apparitions here have not settled into ectoplasmic cliche. No shades with their ‘eads tucked t’underneath their arms for this castle – it has a haunted bed. It’s a unique selling point.
People who sleep in it experience nightmares. Dogs who venture too close, go berserk (though a couple of tins of Pedigree Chum usually calms them down they say). The bed has been exorcised twice. When I were a lad my mother would slip a hot water bottle under the covers of my bed in the winter to warm the cold sheets. I was happy to wait until my bed had cozied up. I can’t say I’d have hung around waiting for evil spirits to be cast out before I jumped in with my glass of warm milk and my Beano Annual.
Nowadays, the Castle is popular with Hen Parties and corporate team building companies with names like veryhaunted.com.
Back in the day it took two whacks of the executioner’s axe to sever Mary Queen of Scots’ head from her frail young body. Nowadays things have settled down a lot – instead of catching the plague you can get scones, cakes and hot beverages from the castle’s tea shop at very reasonable prices.