The Blue Lady

As told on #leedsstorytime on Twitter (@chrisnickson2)

Most folk around Leeds know Temple Newsam, the Tudor house on land that once belonged to the Knights Templar. Its history goes back to the time of the Saxons, and blood has seeped into the brickwork there. In 1622, for the princely sum of £12,000 it became the home of Sir Arthur Ingram, and the tale relates to his family. The Ingrams were rich. They had the freedom to travel from place to place. But Temple Newsam was home. The Ingrams were rich. They had the freedom to travel from place to place. But Temple Newsam was home. Mary Ingram was Sir Arthur’s granddaughter, and proud of the pearl necklace he’d given her. She wore it on a visit to York. Just 14, it was the most valuable thing she owned. Folk claimed it was the loveliest necklace in the North of England. On the journey home from York, the carriage was held up by a highwayman. He took the family’s money and jewels. Among them was Mary’s beloved necklace. It’s said that he tore it from her even as she begged him to leave it. Mary was inconsolable. Even at home, behind thick walls, with servants around, she never felt safe again. Fearful and frantic, she took to hiding anything she owned that was of value in case the man returned. She grew wan and quiet and ate less and less. Her mother worried about her and summoned the physician. But nothing helped. Day by day, week by week, Mary slowly disappeared into a world of her own, where secrets were all. She was wasting away. She’d hide things, then move them, lest someone else find them. No hiding place was ever secret enough. There are those who say she descended into madness. Some understood her fear. The one thing true is that none could help her. Mary Ingram was still only 14 when she died. The lovely, happy girl was little more than a shadow when her spirit left. Her family buried her and mourned. But as time passed, a strange thing happened at Temple Newsam. Folk said they’d seen Mary. It would be in the night, when servants worked late and candles guttered and threw shadows. But it was here, they insisted. Thin, pale, and dressed in a gown of deep, holy blue, she’d wander the halls and rooms of Temple Newsam. In vain she’d search for her treasures, hidden so well that they’d gone from her memory, never to be found. And over the years she’s been seen often, the Blue Lady as she’s become, still seeking and never finding, lost to the ages. Her portrait remains, over the fireplace in the Green Damask Room. And on some nights she walks, still searching forever…

Thinking About History And Richard III

I thought the news that researchers were able to say that the skeleton dug up in Leicester was ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that of Richard III was absolutely wonderful. All the buildup, the forensics, the DNA testing to connect him with a woman descended from the monarch’s sister. Remarkable that the results of an archaeological dig could command such international attention.

Now, 1485 and the Plantagenets and Tudors aren’t my period of history, nor do I corner myself with kings and queens. My business is much more with the common people. But it’s impossible not be fascinated by this body with its scoliosis and its battle wounds, under the ground for more than 500 years.

The legends about Richard paint him in a very dark light, the murderer of the princes in the tower, the man who lost out to Henry at Bosworth field, the last of the Plantaganets, but at this remove he’s just a fascination, another piece in the jigsaw puzzle that’s English history (mind you, I was amused by the comment from the person from the Richard III society after seeing the facial reconstruction, something along the lines of ‘Looking like that, he couldn’t have been a tyrant!). Yes, I’ll go to Leicester and see where Greyfriars stood, I’ll go through the exhibition in the museum and have a look in the cathedral to see where they’ll inter his remains. I’m a sucker for it in the same way that I go through old castles, abbeys, churches, museums and stately homes. They all open the window on the past a little wider. If I hadn’t gone to Temple Newsam in Leeds I wouldn’t have known there was a silversmith in Leeds who worked in the late 17th century and used the initial BB – grist for my fictional mill, so don’t be surprised if it shows up in a Richard Nottingham novel. At St. Mary’s in Whitby I discovered gravestones adorned with skulls and crossbones. Not pirates but mementos mori. If you have eyes to see, the past is there. With the skeleton of Richard III it’s simply writ in larger, bolder letters.