Female Phantoms of Stirling Castle: Ghostly Encounters with a Handmaiden and Her Queen
Approaching Stirling Castle in the day time is rather daunting. Filled with the scent of ancient dust, damp stone, and dew-covered grass, the palace exudes magic from the moment one steps inside its grounds. Now, imagine that same feeling, those same scents, in the dark of the night. The fields around the castle are empty; the only noises are your gentle footsteps on the hard stones, echoing throughout the structure, as if someone, somewhere close, is following you. There are shadows in every corner; no sun chases them away through open windows, no burning torches cast them aside as they did once upon a time. The stones are weathered with age, coarse and cold against your fingertips. There are stories within them, hidden in the cracks and crevices, but those who could tell those tales died long ago.
Stirling Castle and a graveyard. (Giuseppe Milo/ CC BY 2.0 )
Yet in the dark, in the echoing silence, all alone in a room chilled by the dampness alone, you suddenly feel a cold breath against the back of your neck.
And you know, that while the storytellers are dead, they are not gone.
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Lower level of the Great Hall at Stirling Castle. ( CC BY SA 3.0 ) Many ghosts are said to walk the halls of this famous site.
Stirling Castle has a long history as the royal residence of Scottish kings and queens. It was the seat of power in the north. The land upon which the castle stands has passed through more hands than can be counted, from native tribes to the kings of Mercia to the Picts the 12th century, and so on. As such, it is no wonder that its history is filled with as much bloodshed as treason and treasure.
It is therefore the perfect breeding ground for specters and shades to make their eternal home.
Ghostly encounters can take place at any time at Stirling Castle. (Finlay McWalter/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
The Green Lady: A Repentant Handmaiden?
A woman known as the ‘Green Lady’ is said to wander the castle’s halls. According to locals raised on tales of Stirling since youth and the guides who provide ghost tours at Stirling, the castle is filled with female ghosts of all hues of the rainbow. The Green Lady, however, is feared the most—perhaps it is due to her appearance, known only by her long hair and ghastly green gown, or perhaps it is because of the legend of her death. Regardless, it is her likeness who frequents the halls most often; so naturally it is with her story where we must begin.
While it is unknown for certain who this ghost might be, the Green Lady has been theorized as one of two people: a military commander's daughter who was a victim of a star-crossed relationship which eventually led to her suicide, or an unnamed handmaiden or serving girl of the most infamous female leader of Scotland (albeit temporarily), Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary, Queen of Scots, Separated from Her Faithfuls. ( Public Domain ) Many believe the ghost of the Green Lady was one of the queen’s handmaidens.
In the year of her Lord 1562, Queen Mary returned to Scotland from France after her French husband, King Francis, died. She remained in Stirling Castle, the home she had been raised in, surrounded by the faithful folk of Stirling who valued, rather than damned, Mary's royal position in the British Isles. One of the young women who tended the queen believed herself a receiver of the gift of premonition, and prophesized that her beloved Queen Mary was in dreadful danger. Though it is uncertain if Mary believed the girl's abilities of foresight, legend says that she allowed the girl to watch over her as she slept.
Now, the tale would make just as much sense if one stated that a group of soldiers who valued the Tudor family over the Stuart Queen had attacked in the night; if the young girl had foreseen an assassination attempt on Mary, it would not have been unusual. Yet what happened was quite the opposite. In fact, what happened next could just as readily be called a "freak accident" as anything else.
Mary, Queen of Scots. ( Public Domain )
One night, while the girl watched over Mary, she is said to have felt herself drifting off. Exhausted from her constant watch, the girl closed her eyes but for a moment…and awoke to find her queen's bed aflame.
In a twist of perfect irony, the fire came from the candle the servant girl had lit to ensure that, if the queen awoke while she slept, the queen would be comforted by the light. As the room filled with smoke and fire, and the queen—whose own clothes were already burning—could not be woken, the young girl called for help as loud as she could.
Legends say a candle lit the room on fire and caused the tragic end of the Green Lady’s life. ( Public Domain )
Eventually, both the unconscious queen and the petrified girl were rescued…however only the queen survived the traumatic event. The girl died from her wounds, and despite her noble efforts, only the color of her dress remains in memory, and it is by that color that she is remembered.
Some say the Green Lady haunts the halls of Stirling out of guilt for the queen's near death experience. Others say she is merely a lost soul, unable to move on because of the trauma of her death. Regardless, it does not appear that her life poses any indication of a malicious intent against the living, so the fear of the Green Lady likely comes from the belief that she is an omen of misfortune.
The Green Lady - an omen of misfortune? ( Public Domain )
A Queen in Pink?
Another ghost believed to wander Stirling is a woman called the Pink Lady. Tales of her are fewer than those of the Green Lady, thus any indication of who she was is even more difficult to know for certain. Yet one of the prevalent theories is that she is Mary, Queen of Scots herself, still haunting the rooms of her childhood and widow's shelter.
Legends say Mary, Queen of Scots may be the Pink Lady haunting Stirling Castle. ( Public Domain )
Cousin of Queen Elizabeth I of England and mother of King James VI of England/I of Scotland, Mary's life was one filled with contempt, political strife and near-death experiences that undoubtedly shook her to the core. It is highly possible that Mary, who met her death at the point of a sword while her head lay on the execution block, could not bear to leave the country she believed to be rightfully hers. If she is indeed the Pink Lady, then the Green Lady is certainly well-cared for.
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The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. ( Public Domain )
Should you ever visit Stirling Castle, for the first time or the fiftieth, consider these ghosts as you wander through their domain. They are used to one another—they have haunted the walls for hundreds of years—and they very likely mean you no harm. They might, in fact, merely wish to tell you who they are, so their names can be remembered. If you ever smell the ancient dust, the damp stone, and the dew-covered grass of the castle seated in the Scottish Lowlands, be aware of the directionality of the wind and airflow. It could be that the ghosts are right behind you.
Graveyard outside Stirling Castle. (Brian Gratwicke/ CC BY 2.0 )
By Ryan Stone
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