There is no doubt, the imposing castles of Europe are a thing of beauty. They transport you to another era, one with servants, maids and ladies in waiting. It is as though time stands still while you become part of the magnificent royal lifestyle. But it isn’t just the lives of the noble that are fascinating, crossing the threshold into the lower sections of these majestic buildings will give you a glimpse into a different universe – the drudgery of servant life.
Spend long enough in these castles and a story will begin to unfold before your eyes. However, lurking underneath the regal façade of these elegant forts is the real tale. It may be one that did not have a happy ending, or perhaps it is a finale shrouded in secrecy.
We have looked high and low to round up 10 such castles with a story baffling enough to leave you wondering for years to come.
1. The most haunted castle in the world
Home to regular paranormal activity Leap Castle in Ireland is often called the most haunted castle in the world.
The castle’s real age is cloaked in as much mystery as its story. While some historians say it was built in the 15th century, others argue that the grand fort is much older and was built around the year 1250.
Its bloody history suggests owning the castle was perhaps a coveted honour. It was home to the ruling clan O’Carrolls in the 16th century when the Earl of Kildare first attacked it – after an unsuccessful attempt he waited three years before trying again. This time he managed to knock down part of the castle. It was only four decades later that the O’Carrolls were able to reclaim their castle.
Brave as they may have been, the ruling clan was not exactly a friendly bunch. In fact, there was bitter contention among the O’Carroll siblings. So much so that one brother drew a sword into the other during a gathering. As the story goes, the victim – who happened to be a priest- was in the midst of a family mass when his angry relative stormed through and killed him. This gory incident earned the church, where the accident took place, a fitting title – The Bloody Chapel.
To this day, visitors report seeing shadows wandering near the priest’s house. Some accounts also suggest the sighting of a broad-shouldered and heavy set man pushing a barrel up the stairs and as soon as he gets to the top he rolls it down the and much to the astonishment of onlookers, both the man and the barrel disappear.
Another chilling account is that of the Red Lady, seen lurking the alleys with a dagger raising it as though to stab someone. She is said to be the ghost of a woman who was captured and raped by the O’Carrolls. She later fell pregnant and her child was killed by her captors.
If during your tour of the castle you notice the smell of decaying flesh and sulphur, then chances are you have encountered “It”- yes that is what this creature is known as. About the size of a sheep, It is reported as having a decaying face.
2. The prison castle
There are fewer castles more beautiful than Dragsholm Castle in Denmark, and fewer still are those where the residents include those from a parallel universe.
In the mid 16th century the castle was converted into a prison by the Danish crown. The captives included some high profile figures, including former owner of Dragsholm Joachim Rønnowand and the Earl of Bothwell Ejler Brockenhuus who was also Mary Queen of Scots’ third husband.
This fact alone is enough to make visitors feel slightly queasy. However, it gets stranger. There have been numerous reports of sightings of three very eerie ghosts in the castle.
The spirit of a woman wearing a white dress is often seen lurking on the grounds. The White Lady, as she has come to be known over the years, was of noble lineage. She did the unimaginable and had an affair with a servant. This did not bode well with her father, the owner of the castle. He had her thrown in the castle dungeons. For hundreds of years her restless ghost has been spotted roaming the castle. Freakier still is the fact that in 1900 when evacuations took place in and around the castle, a female skeleton was found where the dungeons must have been, wearing a white dress.
Part of the splendour of living in a castle was having servants at your beck and call. It is said that these servants were extremely loyal to their owners. One maid grew up serving her masters at Dragsholm. It is said her ghost roams around the castle to this day, to make sure that everything is running like clockwork.
There is one spirit that has and somewhat a celebrity status. The Earl of Bothwell, Ejler Brockenhuus is the castle’s most famous ghost. Do not be alarmed if you were hear the sound of horses’ hooves clapping on the ground. He has been spotted writing into the castle grounds with his horse carriage.
3. Where spirits and humans coexist
Windsor Castle in England is the oldest and largest castle in the world. As the official residence of the British monarchy, it has housed the royal family for over 100 decades.
The list of course ghosts, which are said to share the castle with the British monarchy and their 500 staff members, is endless.
Hendry VIII is an overpowering historical figure. It seems even in death he wants to keep an eye on the throne that was once his. The despot, who it is said had a foul temper, had suffered an unfortunate accident. As a result, his leg became ulcerated. Many visitors to the castle have reported sightings of Hendry VIII dragging himself through the corridors. Some have also claimed that the former monarch can be heard shouting in the castle.
The majestic library of Windsor Castle has a regular visitor from the other side. Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of Henry VIII, has been spotted wearing a black dress and shawl inside the library. The clicking of her shores on the wooden floor is clearly audible. Believe it or not, King George III claimed to have spoken to her ghost.
Another member of Henry VIII’s family makes an occasional appearance at the Dean’s Cloister at Windsor. The ghost of Anne Boleyn has been sighted several times. While some claim she is just standing in the window, others say she is weeping.
Charles I, who was captivated in Windsor Castle and later decapitated, is also seen roaming around in the castle.
4. The cursed tower
For nine centuries, the Tower of London has remained an enigmatic fort.
It is said the very first ghost that was spotted at the castle was during its construction. When the towel was being built St Thomas of Canterbury is said to have made an appearance. However Henry III, whose grandfather is said to have murdered St Thomas, built a chapel in the tower for the Archbishop. The victims ghost seems to have been pleased with this offering and was never seen again.
Sightings of Lady Arbella Stuart are common. She had chosen to marry the nephew of Lady Jane Grey, William Seymour without permission from King James I. Seymour was imprisoned in the Tower, while Lady Stuart was placed under house arrest. Their arrangements to escape failed and while her beau made it to freedom, the unfortunate noblewoman was captured and remained in the tower until her death. It is said she was murdered.
Queen Anne Boelyn’s restless spirit captures the imagination of history enthusiasts all around the world. A woman of noble lineage herself, she became the second wife of Henry VIII. However, she was caught amidst many controversies. The most heinous of her crimes was not being able to produce a male heir to the throne. Henry VIII’s lost interest in her and divorced her. She was charged with treason and then famously had her beheaded at the tower. It is said she was in agony during her final hours. To this day her headless ghost is said to roam the corridors.
Even if you don’t sight any apparitions, the narrow alleys and mysterious corridors together with the towers daunting presence are enough to send shivers down your spine.
5. Threshold to hell
The mysterious Houska Castle in the Czech Republic has an unsettling story.
The fort’s Gothic architecture and stone walls present a majestic, yet disturbing sight. It is located in the middle of nowhere. The first impression you get from looking at the castle is that it is a structure built to protect those on the outside from that which is within the walls of the castle. Even stray animals tend to stay away from this site.
Perhaps this is because Houska Castle, which was built in the early 13th century, was not designed for residents. In fact, it is said the stone edifice was built around a crater. Folklore suggests this hole in the ground was the Gateway to Hell and demons and strange winged creatures would pour out of it. In fact, there are frequent reports of such beings circling the castle to this day.
The castle was taken eventually taken over by the Nazis, who used for grotesque activities such as the torture of hundreds of people and genetic testing.
Paranormal activity enthusiasts often visit the site. Most people tend to keep their visits brief. It is said no one can spend longer than a certain period of time in the castle, especially because most visitors report a feeling of being constantly watched.
6. The home of the Grey Lady
So we have made it to the second half of the list, and if you have been wondering when Hampton Court Palace was going to feature, your wait is over.
Not so long ago, a couple of 12-year-olds were on a trip to the 16th century palace. They were busy taking photographs of each other, as you do on a school trip. However, what they could not spot was a rather towering figure photo bombing their clicks. They could have easily avoided her – though the trouble was, she couldn’t be spotted by the naked eye. It was later when they looked at their pictures that they saw an apparition – eerily fitting the description of the Grey Lady, who is said to haunt the Hampton Court Palace.
Stories suggest that this is the ghost of Dame Sybil Penn – a servant and nurse to Prince Edward and Queen Elizabeth I. She is known to have died of small pox in 1562. After she passed away, the Victorians were the first she seems to have visited. It is said she has never really stopped making appearances since then. Another famous visitor to the palace is Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard, who was accused of adultery and then cruelly yanked to her death. Her restless soul is said to run screaming along the haunted gallery.
The halls and corridors of Hampton Court are full of all of disturbing secrets. As though the ghouls wanting to be notice by the other side of the threshold, turn up in a photograph here or make a ruckus there.
Another infamous photograph doing the rounds is of the faint figure of a small child in the Queen’s privy chamber. She is one of many ghosts of children in Tudor dress that roam the palace.
7. Home of the haunted
This list would be incomplete without the mention of Dracula’s castle.
Located in Romania, Bran Castle is the majestic 13th century building linked to the enigmatic story of a vampire.
The author of the book Dracula, Bram Stoker never visited the place apparently. However, this Palace is where fact and fiction become one.
Legend says Dracula took the lives of thousands of people. Worse yet, some of the victims experienced extended torture until they died. The winding stairs, spacious rooms and many secret passages add to the castle’s mystery.
There is a chapel at the bottom of the stone structure. This is the resting place of Queen Marie’s heart, which as stated in her will was placed in a gold casket. At first it was buried in a different location, however for reasons unknown it was moved to this chapel at the foot of Bran Castle.
8. The last resting place for many
The Newcastle Castle, as it is popularly known, has a history that dates back the second century. The Romans first built it as a port to guard a bridge over the River Tyne. Over time the site became a cemetery.
There are varying accounts of when it was turned into a graveyard. Some suggest that it was in the eighth century while others argue it was 400 years later in the 12th century that hundreds of bodies were moved to this location.
Around 75 feet away from the castle another is another structure called the Black Gate, which was built between 1247 and 1250AD.
It is said if you listen hard enough you can hear footsteps in the empty corridors. Many visitors claimed to have captured images of a strange mist in their photographs. Dark shadows and orbs also occasionally turn up.
Venture forth into the Queen’s chamber, and you may be welcomed by faint sounds of chanting. No one knows who recites the hymns, but stories suggest these are the spirits chanting monks. There is also the ghost of a lady who, it is believed, pays the occasional visit – only to attack, scratch and shove some visitors. Don’t worry, only a few have reported the physical ill-treatment but since we don’t know how the lady picks her victims, there is no advice on how not to be the chosen one
Don’t be alarmed if you smell a whiff of flowers, around one of the staircases. It may be the restless soul of a flower girl who was sent to prison because of a large debt she owed. While there she was raped and abused and finally beaten to death by the male prisoners.
9. It’s all in the name
Fewer castles have a history as tragic and bloody as the Moosham Castle.
It is the site of many witch trials; young women in the thousands were set ablaze because they were suspected of being witches. In the dungeons many women were tortured and killed for witchcraft.
Thankfully, those days of persecution have passed – however, it is hard to say whether the victims have done the same. If legend and local stories are anything to go by, it is the sightings of the restless spirits of these women that have earned Moosham its popular name Witches Castle.
10. Till death doth us part
They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. The mysterious rooms, wall and corridors of Dalhousie Castle in Scotland know this all too well.
Eight hundred years ago, Lady Catherine was a young resident of the castle. At a tender age she fell in love with a stable hand, at 16 her secret was caught.
Discarded away, she was sent to the castle tower. She starved to death – however, apparently she hasn’t still met her end.
The castle, which was turned into a hotel in 1972, has had many visitors who have reported seeing mysterious young woman.
Ironically, the hotel is a popular site for weddings and love-struck honeymooners. Lady Catherine’s silhouette is sometimes seen in their photographs. She also appears at weddings.
If you are at Dalhousie and a stunning young woman donning a grey dress with puffy sleeves and tiny feet and pointed shoes, do not mistake as a staff member as plenty of hotel guests have done in the past. It could be Lady Catherine’s ghost. Still in doubt? Perhaps will become a believer once you see her walk through locked doors, or spot her in your room, she may even wave to you from a window – and if you’re really hard to convince, maybe she will just come and sit at the end of your bed.
So there you have it folks, the most haunted castles in Europe. Grandiose structures with horror stories and tales of mystery. Have you visited any of these? Did you meet a ghost? Let us know in the comments below.