Hearts Through History Romance Writers

The Brown Lady

by | October 14, 2012

“I will not spend another hour in this accursed house, for tonight I have seen that which I hope to God I never see again.” — HRH George, Prince of Wales

Baroque face – Raynham Hall

This was the first time we have credible documentation of a haunting at Raynham Hall in Norfolk.  No wonder–this was about the time when it became fashionable to go country-house visiting, a custom begun by the Regent himself. Now, for the first time, the old house was to host overnight visitors outside the family–and regularly.

Raynham Hall was an older Baroque mansion. It had been built in 1630, rather grand and up-to-date for its owner, Sir Roger Townshend, not well known for either quality. A little Palladian design was added in the Regent’s time with a pediment supported by Ionic columns on the seldom-seen east side.

Raynham Hall has remained in the Townshend family for over three hundred years.

His Royal Highness was awakened from a sound sleep by the figure of a woman standing at the foot of the bed in a brown brocade dress sadly out of fashion. This visitation was clearly not the result of a romantic assignation. Our aging Lothario was horrified when she turned her eyes toward him–empty in their sockets.

Imagine the chagrin Prinny’s hosts must have felt. They had always thought the Brown Lady was the figment of silly maids’ imagination and drunken family members. Something must be done since the apparition could no longer be ignored. Raynham Hall with its excellent shooting could be expected to remain on the country-house visiting itineray for many more seasons. 

Lady Dorothy Walpole – the Brown Lady

Who the devil was she?

The answer didn’t come until twenty or so years later. A novelist, Captain Frederick, Marryat, was a a writer of sea novels and friend of Dickens. He came to stay at the house. His room was exhibited the well-known portrait of Dorothy Walpole, the “Brown Lady” of Raynham Hall.

At this time, the house still had the features of the Baroque house with inner and outer doors to each apartment. The captain had retired, accompanied by friends staying across the hallway from him. When he noted a light at the end of the corridor, he waited within the space between his apartment and hall until the aura had approached from the opposite end of the hallway:

“My father was in a shirt and trousers only, and his native modesty made him feel uncomfortable, so he slipped within the space of the outer doors (his friends shollowing his example) in order to concel himself until the lady should’ve passed by. …as she was close enough for him to distinguish the colors and style of her costume, he recognized her figure as the facsimile of the portrait of the “The Brown Lady.” He had his finger on the trigger of his revolver, and was about to demand it to stop and give the reason for its presecne there, when the figure halted of its own accord before the door behind which he stood, and holding the lighted lamp she carried to her features, grinned in a malicious and diabolical manner at him.”

Our sea novelist shot at her, the bullet passing through her into the opposite wall. Unperturbed, her ladyship gazed upon him, with socketless eyes, and then disappeared.

red look good on him

This account was given by the captain’s daughter, the actress Florence Marryat. In those Victorian times, women were not supposed to exhibit such insolence. Because of his outrage over feminine insolence, Miss Marryat’s father was the first to look the spectre “in the eye” and give us her identity.

The connection was thence made to an old story. Charles Townsend, the Turnip Townsend, had married his true love, Dorothy Walpole. But she had already enjoyed the favors of a lover, Lord Walpole, and Townsend was incensed that what he had brought to Raynham’s marriage bed had been sullied by another. He locked up his beautiful wife in his Baroque manor, and she was to die there, separated from her children, and her one true love.

True love can bear true fury.


well-known photo of the Brown Lady





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