Friday, 2 December 2011

A Royal Ghost in Shaftesbury, Dorset

The hill top town of Shaftesbury began as a fortified settlement built by King Alfred the Great as a bastion against the Viking invasions of the 9th century. He later gave the place to a convent which had his own daughter, Ethelgiva, as its first abbess. Thereafter the town kept its royal and sacred connections for centuries and it remained one of the most important places in the county.

The oldest ghosts of Shaftesbury are linked to this era. Walking slowly up the steep cobbled street known as Gold Hill come two phantom men leading a ghostly pack horse on which is slung a human body wrapped in old sacking. These ghosts are more than a thousand years old, so they can perhaps be forgiven for being rather shadowy and insubstantial when seen. They are recreating the arrival in Shaftesbury of the body of King Edward the Martyr in 978. The 18 year old king was murdered on the orders of his stepmother Elfrida at Corfe Castle  – see the entry on Corfe Castle for details of the crime.

Elfrida needed to get rid of the royal body as quickly as possible and with the minimum of fuss, but could not afford to be accused of treating the body with contempt. So she had it carried on horseback to the famous royal convent of Shaftesbury for burial. Edward was later venerated as a martyr and miracles were worked at his tomb in Shaftesbury. The tomb has long gone, but the ghostly re-enactment of his arrival here continues.

From HAUNTED PLACES OF DORSET by Rupert Matthews

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