Our story begins not
with Lady Hoby herself, but in the years preceeding her occupancy of Bisham Abbey. When
the black monks of Bisham were forcibly evicted in 1538, they did not go quietly. In fact it is
said that Henry VIII’s commissioners had to physically drag the Abbot from the steps of the High Altar. He allegedly cursed any family who should ever live there:
"As God is my witness, this property shall ne’er be inherited by two direct successors, for its sons will be
hounded by misfortune."
to David Nash Ford, “misfortune has indeed struck the sons of Bisham’s owners, the Hobys and latterly the Vansittarts,
with alarming regularity”. The first instance of a sudden death associated with the Manor is by far the most disconcerting
and directly connected to the haunting. This is the account of William Hoby.
was the youngest son of Sir Thomas & Lady Elizabeth Hoby. He was brought up at Bisham Abbey by mother – a proud and ambitious
woman according to some. To others she was cold and hard. This might be attributed in part to the death of her husband whilst the children were young. She was, however, one of the most learned ladies of the age, and oversaw all her children’s tuition
herself. Dame Hoby was a perfectionist and as a result expected perfection from
her pupils. In order to do this, she used strict methods of discipline.
William was not as bright
as his siblings, and regularly blotted his copybooks. During a lesson in a summerhouse
had been constructed for the children on the edge of the lawn down by the River, one villager reported that he had once heard
her violent shouts and saw her beating William about the head with her ruler. The
poor child collapsed on the ground with blood streaming from his eyes, nose and mouth.
However, the main incident
that we are concerned with occurred in the Abbey’s tower room. William
had taken longer than usual that morning to complete his tasks, unlike his siblings, and had blotted his books again in the
process. Lady Hoby administered her usual brand of punishment bringing ruler
rose high in the air and brought it down sharply on the William’s head. What
occurred next is indicative of a woman devoid of restraint, and filled with abject cruelty.
Again and again Lady Hoby beat him to the head, till he lay on the floor bleeding once more. Her hands were covered with blood, but her temper had not yet been fully expelled. She fetched rope and dragged poor William back up into his chair. She
tied the rope around him, thrust the quill back into his quivering hand and the
copybook into his face. In fury she screamed at him to re-write every word, then
left the room still enveloped with rage, locking William inside.
Later that morning, Lady
Hoby was summoned to Court by Queen Elizabeth I and was ordered to leave without delay. She immediately rode to Windsor, without
a thought for packing or saying goodbyes, and leaving the children in the care of her servants. It was several days before she returned home to Bisham Abbey. All
her children, with the exception of William ran out to greet her. Lady Hoby asked
after her youngest son. "We thought he was with you", came the reply. An unpleasant
jolt of fear and realisation hit Lady Hoby. She raced up to the Tower Room but it was too late. William was dead.
Lady Hoby was filled
with remorse for her wicked actions and spent the rest of her life in sorrow and misery. After
her death in 1609, her ghost was reported wandering through the house. Lady Hoby
has been allegedly seen many times since. Reminiscent of Lady Macbeth, she is
seen with a fountain floating before her and she tries to wash William’s blood from her hands.
According to David Nash
Ford, Lady Hoby’s best known appearance was to Admiral Edward W. Vansittart, when she stepped down from her portrait
to stand beside him. She has allegedly appeared before other guests, displaying a temper that must have struck fear into their
hearts, by “tearing curtains from beds, throwing things around rooms, and threatening to strike them bald”!
however, her appearances are more generally composed, dignified and contained to the interior of the building. However, she was once allegedly seen by some young boys down by the river, and some even believe she is
responsible for the mists which often envelope the Abbey, drawing the most unwilling of passers-by into the depths of the
River Thames – yet another reason that some fear the appearance of this daunting apparition. Interestingly, some have reported that her apparition is in negative, with black face and white clothes
– an opposite of the portrait on display in the main hall. It is reported
that the more often effect of the haunting is merely her sobbing that is heard, or a light seen in the empty Tower Room.