Thursday, 19 June 2014
The Phantom Bishop-killer of Braunton Barrows, Devon
The coast north of the Taw Estuary is marked by extensive beaches and towering sand dunes built up by the wind and waves.
Many years ago this stretch of coast was among the various Devon estates of the hot-headed and ambitious young knight William de Tracy. One fateful day in 1170 young William and three friends were at the court of King Henry II when they heard the king raging against the intransigence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas a Becket. “Will no-one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, shouted the king at his cowed court. De Tracy and friends took the king at his word. They rode to Canterbury and slew the Archbishop in his own cathedral.
The king at once repented of his hasty words, but this did nothing to calm the anger of the Church nor of the people. Penances were imposed on King Henry and upon the four knights. In 1173 the murdered Becket was canonised and in time became the most popular of the English saints.
Although Tracy worked out his penances before he died, the good folk of Devon never forgave him for his acts. It is said that his ghost is condemned to exist on the windswept Braunton Burrows. There he must twist the sand into rope to gain his entry into Heaven. Not content with imposing such an impossible task on the murderer, it is said that the sands are patrolled by a great black dog raised from Hell itself. If the ghostly Sir William ever looks like completing his task, the dog breathes out a ball of red fire which destroys his work. The ghost of Sir William de Tracy is also seen at Lapford.
from "Haunted Places of Devon" by Rupert Matthews
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