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Sir George Villiers' Ghost

Categories: Appearance of Dead
Scary Books: The Book Of Dreams And Ghosts
: Andrew Lang

The variations in the narratives of Sir George Villiers' appearance to

an old servant of his, or old protege, and the warning communicated by

this man to Villiers' son, the famous Duke of Buckingham, are curious

and instructive. The tale is first told in print by William Lilly,

the astrologer, in the second part of a large tract called Monarchy or

No Monarchy in England (London, 1651), twenty-three years after

am's murder. But while prior in publication, Lilly's story

was probably written after, though independent of Lord Clarendon's, in

the first book of his History of the Rebellion, begun on 18th March,

1646, that is within eighteen years of the events. Clarendon, of

course, was in a position to know what was talked of at the time.

Next, we have a letter of Mr. Douch to Glanvil, undated, but written

after the Restoration, and, finally, an original manuscript of 1652.

Douch makes the warning arrive "some few days" before the murder of

Buckingham, and says that the ghost of Sir George, "in his morning

gown," bade one Parker tell Buckingham to abandon the expedition to La

Rochelle or expect to be murdered. On the third time of appearing the

vision pulled a long knife from under his gown, as a sign of the death

awaiting Buckingham. He also communicated a "private token" to

Parker, the "percipient," Sir George's old servant. On each occasion

of the appearance, Parker was reading at midnight. Parker, _after_

the murder, told one Ceeley, who told it to a clergyman, who told

Douch, who told Glanvil.

In Lilly's version the ghost had a habit of walking in Parker's room,

and finally bade him tell Buckingham to abstain from certain company,

"or else he will come to destruction, and that suddenly". Parker,

thinking he had dreamed, did nothing; the ghost reappeared, and

communicated a secret "which he (Buckingham) knows that none in the

world ever knew but myself and he". The duke, on hearing the story

from Parker, backed by the secret, was amazed, but did not alter his

conduct. On the third time the spectre produced the knife, but at

_this_ information the duke only laughed. Six weeks later he was

stabbed. Douch makes the whole affair pass immediately before the

assassination. "And Mr. Parker died soon after," as the ghost had

foretold to him.

Finally, Clarendon makes the appearances set in six months before

Felton slew the duke. The percipient, unnamed, was in bed. The

narrative now develops new features; the token given on the ghost's

third coming obviously concerns Buckingham's mother, the Countess, the

"one person more" who knew the secret communicated. The ghost

produces no knife from under his gown; no warning of Buckingham's

death by violence is mentioned. A note in the MS. avers that

Clarendon himself had papers bearing on the subject, and that he got

his information from Sir Ralph Freeman (who introduced the unnamed

percipient to the duke), and from some of Buckingham's servants, "who

were informed of much of it before the murder of the duke". Clarendon

adds that, in general, "no man looked on relations of that sort with

less reverence and consideration" than he did. This anecdote he

selects out of "many stories scattered abroad at the time" as "upon a

better foundation of credit". The percipient was an officer in the

king's wardrobe at Windsor, "of a good reputation for honesty and

discretion," and aged about fifty. He was bred at a school in Sir

George's parish, and as a boy was kindly treated by Sir George, "whom

afterwards he never saw". On first beholding the spectre in his room,

the seer recognised Sir George's costume, then antiquated. At last

the seer went to Sir Ralph Freeman, who introduced him to the duke on

a hunting morning at Lambeth Bridge. They talked earnestly apart,

observed by Sir Ralph, Clarendon's informant. The duke seemed

abstracted all day; left the field early, sought his mother, and after

a heated conference of which the sounds reached the ante-room, went

forth in visible trouble and anger, a thing never before seen in him

after talk with his mother. She was found "overwhelmed with tears and

in the highest agony imaginable". "It is a notorious truth" that,

when told of his murder, "she seemed not in the least degree


The following curious manuscript account of the affair is, after the

prefatory matter, the copy of a letter dated 1652. There is nothing

said of a ghostly knife, the name of the seer is not Parker, and in

its whole effect the story tallies with Clarendon's version, though

the narrator knows nothing of the scene with the Countess of