Poppi Castle and the Murderous Madam Matilda

Poppi Castle and the Murderous Madam Matilda

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Poppi Castle is a medieval castle overlooking the Casentino Valley in the province of Arezzo in the Italian region of Tuscany. This castle is said to have been built around the second half of the 13 th century AD, though some sources claim that references to Poppi Castle can be found in documents dating back to the end of the 12 th century BC. Today, Poppi Castle is commonly considered to be one of Tuscany’s best preserved castles .

Poppi Castle was built by the Guidi family, and remained in their possession until the 15 th century. The Guidis were a feudal family that is said to date back to the 10 th century, and were in control of the Casentino Valley. Apart from Poppi Castle, the Guidi family had other strongholds in the Casentino Valley, as well as in regions further up north. A popular legend is that using a system of lights and mirrors, the Guidis could send a message from Poppi to the French border in less than 8 hours.

Castle Layout

The original core of the castle was its high square tower. This structure dominated, and still does even today, the rest of the castle, as well as the underlying valley. However, that the present tower is a reconstruction of the original, as restoration work had to be carried after it was damaged by a lightning strike. The original tower was higher, and had machicolations (an additional defensive mechanism, from which stones and boiling liquids could be dropped on attackers via openings in the floor) on its top. According to legend, this impressive structure was used as a model for the construction of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.

A view of Poppi Castle. Photo source: ( CC BY 2.0 )

Around the tower is a walled enclosure, from which the other parts of the castle developed. There are only two gates that allow access into Poppi Castle. The main gate is reached by ascending a steep ramp of access, and is situated on the side towards the valley and the suburb of Ponte a Poppi, the town’s ancient market place. The other gate is located on the side towards the town square.

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The castle also possesses a keep, which contains, from lowest to highest floor: a jail, a deposit and a residential area. The keep was once separated from the tower (connected only by a drawbridge on the highest floor), so as to make it more difficult for attackers to occupy both structures. Today, the keep and the tower are linked by a curtain wall.

Poppi Castle Viewed from the north. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Infamous Residents

One of Poppi Castle’s most infamous residents is said to have been a woman by the name of Matilda / Matelda. According to some sources, Matilda was the wife of an elderly Count Guidi, whilst others claim that she was a daughter of that ruling family. In any case, Matilda was unhappy with her marriage, and sought the company of the young men from the town. After inviting one of them to the castle, she would spend the night with him. Before the sun rose, however, she would send the man home.

Poppi Castle from Andrea Mignolo | Blinking City on Vimeo.

Matilda is said to have used the back door, so as to avoid being caught in adultery. To ensure that her reputation was not soiled, she would silence her lovers, for good. Unbeknownst to them, the path shown to them by Matilda contained a trapdoor, which sent the lovers falling to their deaths. The disappearance of young men soon raised the suspicion of the townspeople. In the end, an angry mob stormed the castle, caught Matilda, had her walled up in the tower, and left to die. According to some sources, the ghost of Matilda still haunts the castle.

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End of the Guidis Rule

In 1440, the Guidi family lost Poppi Castle, which fell into the hands of the Republic of Florence. It is recorded that the Guidi family had supported Milan during one of their conflicts with Florence. When the Milanese were defeated by the Florentines, the Guidi family was forced to surrender. Poppi Castle was seized by the Florentines, and the Guidis were exiled, thus bringing an end to their rule in the Casentino Valley.

View of Gothic tower and merlons at Castle of Poppi ( CC BY 2.0 )

The Castle of Wolfenbach

The Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) is the most famous novel [1] written by the English Gothic novelist Eliza Parsons. First published in two volumes in 1793, it is among the seven "horrid novels" recommended by the character Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey and an important early work in the genre, predating Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and Monk Lewis's The Monk.

Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.

Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?

I will read you their names directly here they are, in my pocketbook. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.

Yes, pretty well but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 6

Jane Austen names The Castle of Wolfenbach in her novel Northanger Abbey to portray the Gothic novel as forming around a society of its own, giving evidence of readership and cross-class and cross-gender interest in the Gothic novel. [2] It contains the standard gothic tropes of the blameless damsel in distress, the centrality of a huge, gloomy, ancient building to the plot, the discovery of scandalous family secrets, and a final confrontation between forces of good and evil. Its resolutely anti-Catholic, pro–English Protestant sentiment is also a feature of the genre.

The Legend Of The Beautiful Lady Matilda In Poppi Castle

If you decide to spend a fabulous holiday to Tuscany and would like to add some intriguing visitor attractions to your tour plans, a visit to Poppi Castle in Casentino valley would be an excellent day trip.

You could learn all about the haunting legend of a pretty yet terrible maiden called Matilda. Visitors wishing to stay in the Casentino valley for a few days have a wealth of excellent farmhouses available for them where they can easily commute to the infamous Poppi castle to learn of its colourful history!

She was the most beautiful woman in the land, desired by all men but she was married at a young age to the most powerful man in Poppi. He was part of the ‘Guidi’ who ruled Tuscany with an iron fist. He was an old man who spent much of his time away on military business. Matilda felt no love for her elderly husband as he was stern of heart and couldn’t satisfy her needs. She was envious of the common people whom she looked upon from her castle, who were free to marry who they wished and seemed to lead such carefree lives.

She began sending for eligible young bachelors to come to the castle to do some repair work or provide entertainment for her. They would readily do anything she requested as all quickly fell in love with the beautiful Matilda. She basked in this abundant affection and each evening chose one of these men to come to her chamber to spend the night.
The following morning, before sunrise, she ushered them out a back door to avoid being caught in her adultery. But these men were never to leave the castle again alive. They walked across a trapdoor which gave away beneath them where they fell to a bloody death among sharp razor blades and broken glass!

Matilda delighted in her monstrous plans of luring men to enjoy a night of passion with her before meeting a gruesome death but soon the townspeople began noticing the growing numbers of men who mysteriously ‘disappeared’ after working in Poppi castle for a period of time. Rumours of Matilda’s wicked ways spread like wildfire across the land and one ending for this legend tells that the townspeople stormed into the castle in huge numbers, captured Matilda and trapped her in a tower of the castle. They built up all the doors and left her to die a slow death for her sins.

Today, many people living in Poppi have claimed to have seen the ghost of Matilda, as beautiful as the legend describes and dressed in white. She is said to often stand at the window of the tower she was trapped in, now called ‘Torre dei Diavoli’ meaning ‘Tower of Devils’.

Tourists would thoroughly enjoy the fascinating tour that Poppi Castle offers where they can walk around the rooms where this harrowing tale was woven so many years ago.

This is only one of the legends described in a famous Italian documentary about the legends of Tuscany. You can buy the dvd of which one episode is dedicated to the Beautiful Matelda of Poppi castle via this link.

A related article describes these legends and others that have enriched Tuscany’s history and could help you plan a holiday here with a difference!


The castle began as a late 11th-century ringwork. A rectangular stone keep and the main curtain wall were added by the Normans in the 12th century, under the de Turberville family. The three-storey keep was primarily a defensive structure. [3]

Extensive reworking took place in the 14th century, when a domestic range was attached to the keep by the middle gatehouse. New stone vaults replaced the earlier timber floors. The central octagonal pier for the vaults is still prominent among the castle ruins. An adjoining chapel wing with a tall east window was added to the first floor at the eastern end of the domestic range in the 15th century.

Thomas de la Bere died as a minor on 28 October 1414, following which the lordship reverted to Sarah de Turberville, the youngest sister of Richard de Turberville, who had apparently produced male progeny from her marriage to William Gamage. There was in the few years following Sir Lawrence Berkerolles's death much general reshuffling of property interests in Glamorgan, for example with the Stradling family. Sarah's marriage to Sir William Gamage of Roggiett, Gwent, brought the lordship into the Gamage family, where it remained until 1584. The Gamage succession was not, however, easily achieved for in September 1412, that is to say whilst the supposed true heir the minor Thomas de la Bere was still alive, William Gamage assisted by Sir Gilbert Denys (d. 1422) of Siston, Gloucestershire, and formerly of Waterton-by-Ewenny, [4] in Coity lordship, besieged Coity for a month, trying to oust Lady Joan Verney, wife of Sir Richard Verney and daughter of Margaret de Turberville, from the Castle. Joan, it seems, had taken up residence to assert her own claim to Coity in the confusion following Berkerolles's death. As she was a female, a widow, and without a son, clearly her claim was deemed tenuous or rather completely spurious. [ original research? ] [ citation needed ] The entry in the Patent Rolls is:

Westminster Sept. 16, 1412. Commission to William Newport, Chivaler, Rees ap Thomas, John Organ, William Sparenore, Richard Delabere and Robert Wytney on information that Gilbert Denys, Chivaler, and William Gamedge, with no moderate multitude of armed men have gone to the castle of Coytif in Wales and besiege it and purpose to expel Joan, late the wife of Richard Vernon, Chivaler, from her possession of it, to go as quietly as they can to the castle and raise the siege, cause proclamation to be made that no one under pain of forfeiture shall besiege it, but those who pretend right and title in it shall sue according to law and custom. Arrest and imprison all who oppose them and certify thereon to the King in Chancery. By K.

The king had, therefore, given a commission to his local tenants-in-chief to raise the siege and gave another commission a month later to John Grendour for the same purpose. [5] [ original research? ] Denys and Gamage ended up in the Tower of London for having taken the law into their own hands, from 19 November 1412 until 3 June 1413, being released after the death of Henry IV. [6] Their action, however, proved successful in enforcing the Gamage claim to Coity. Denys's eldest daughter Joan was the wife of a certain Thomas Gamage, [7] possibly brother of William. Another of Denys's daughters, Matilda, by his 2nd. wife, married another Thomas Gamage, son or grandson of William and Sarah, and thereby became Lady of Coity on her husband's succession, producing a son and heir John Gamage. [8]

During the 16th century, Coity Castle, by then owned by the Gamage family, underwent a complete remodelling of the living quarters, including the addition of a storey, new windows, and two chimney stacks. The principal chambers lay on the upper floors. The range of domestic apartments comprised a central first-floor hall set above a vaulted undercroft, from which it was reached by a grand spiral stair. To the west were ground-floor service rooms, probably including a kitchen, with ovens. The base of a ruined large malting kiln remains. On the far side of the range, a tower projecting from the curtain wall contained latrines. The second floor housed private apartments. [9]

The Gamage family held Coity until the death of John Gamage in 1584. [10] The castle was abandoned around the 17th century. [ citation needed ] The castle was sold in the 18th century to the Edwins of Llanharry. Through the Edwins, the Coity lordship passed to the Earls of Dunraven. [11]

The castle ruins are now in the care of Cadw.

Great Western Railway Castle Class steam locomotive number 5035 was named Coity Castle. [12]

The Legends, History And Ghosts Of Poppi Castle

We have talked about Poppi Castle before but only to discuss the grisly legend of Matilda, the most beautiful woman in the area that was married off young to an old powerful man from the Guidi family, who ruled Tuscany with an iron fist.

None too fond of her husband and jealous of the freedom of the common people, she began sending for eligible young bachelors to come to Poppi Castle to do repairs or entertain her. Each evening, she would choose one of these men to come to her chamber to spend the night and the following morning, to avoid having her adultery discovered, she pushed them through a trapdoor where they fell to a bloody death among razor blades and broken glass. When the number of missing young men began to be noticed, rumours of Matilda spread and, legend says, the townspeople stormed the castle. Matilda was trapped in a tower of the castle and the door was bricked up, leaving her to starve to death.

Today, she is said to haunt the castle and many sightings of a beautiful ghost have been reported over the years. However, there is much more to the castle, beyond this gruesome tale. First mentioned in 1169, when it belonged to the Abbey of San Fidele de Strumi, it passed to the Conti Guidi in the 1190s.

Documentation of the castle tends to relate to the end of the twelfth century but analysis of the foundations suggest that there was an earlier structure on the site and that the current building dates to the thirteenth century. It is said to have been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, which he is thought to have modelled on Poppi Castle.

As with such buildings, it was added to and altered over the years, up to the 19th century when lightning damage necessitated re-modelling but there have not been serious modifications since this time.

One of the main attractions of the castle is the Guidi Chapel, which is covered in frescos by Taddeo Gaddi, who was a pupil of Giotto. However, the history of the castle is also important – the real as well as the legendary – two famous Tuscan battles involved the castle the Battle of Campaldino and the Battle of Anghiari.

Poppi itself is considered one of “The most beautiful villages in Italy” and is located in the heart of the Casentino, a valley famous for nature, art and history, and food and wine tourism. Just find a vacation rental in Casentino and come explore this fascinating gem for yourself.


The Guidi family descended from Lombards settled in Tuscany in the mid 10th century. [2] Guidi family legend stated that the progenitor of the family, Tegrimo Guidi, prestended Lady Engelrada, the daughter of Duke Martino of Ravenna, with a stag he had killed. This gesture won her favour and the two were married, increasing Tegrimo's influence among the nobles of Emilia-Romagna. [2] [3]

By 960 Guido Guidi, son of Tegrimo, had acquired property in the vally of Sieve, granted to him by Oberto, son of Hugh, Margrave of Tuscany. [2] Guido also expanded the family control over the town of Pistoia. In Pistoia the family owned a number of houses with a tower close to the city walls commanding the gateway. As a result, the entrance to the town came to be known as Porta Guidi. [2]

Guido's son, Giovanni Guidi, resided as a monk in Florence. in 1035 he accused several ecclesiastics of simony, and was forced to flee the city as a result. He sought refuge in the hermitage of Acqua Bella. Here, he helped turn the hermitage into a prominent monastery. [2]

Guido Guidi's second son, also named Guido, lived in open enmity with the church and came into conflict with Peter Damian following the death of his father in 1010. [2] in 1043, Guido acquired the town of Empoli from Pisa. Guido also robbed the Abbey of Florence of gold, jewels, and artifacts.

Guido also had a son named Guido. Unlike his father, Guido was on good terms with the clergy and was influenced by the reform movement of Florence led by Giovanni Gualberto. [2] [4] Guido returned the gold and jewels looted from the Abbey of Florence by his father and paid for the construction of a hospital within the city. [2] Guido sided with Matilda of Tuscany during the Investiture Controversy. [2] Guido's two sons, Guido and Tegrimo left Italy for Palestine during the First Crusade, however both were imprisoned in 1097 for unspecified reasons. Their father was forced to raise money in order to pay the ransom for their release in May 1099. [2] Later in 1099 Matilda of Tuscany formally adopted Guido's son, Guido, granting him the title of marquis. By 1102 Guido the younger had assumed the position as head of the family. By 1109 he lent his support to the town of Faenza in their revolt against Etelberto, Bishop of Ravenna, who traditionally held the right to appoint a count to the town. [2] Guido's aid led to Etelberto lifting his siege of the town.

By now the nearby city of Florence had increased tremendously in size and influence as a result of the conflict in Tuscany during the Investiture Controversy. [2] The city did not submit to the rule of Matilda's successor, Rabodo, marquis of Tuscany, and instead favoured self rule as a republic. The growing power of Florence directly threatened the power of the Guidi counts in the outskirts of the city and the in the surrounding rural areas. [2]

Members of the Guidi family became political leaders and magistrates in the rural communities they ruled over, whilst others became military chiefs in the conflicts of central Italy. [5] However there is no evidence to suggest that any member of the Guidi family became a professional condottiere.

By the early thirteenth century the lordships of the Guidi counts dotted the Apennines between Romagna and Tuscany, from the Mugello to the Casentino, and other lordships subject to them lay in the lower Valdarno west of Florence (Empoli and other castellanies), the upper Valdarno, the Pratomagno and the Val d'Ambra. [5]

The mid thirteenth century saw hostility directed towards the Guidi family from the Republic of Florence, which saw the rural lordships of the Guidi as a block to Florentine ambitions of regional hegemony. [5]

By the fourteenth century the powers of the rural Guidi lordships had progressively been eroded by the Florentines. The last bastion of Guidi power in central Italy, the Poppi Castle, was surrendered to Florence in 1440. [5] [6] [7]

More Bits To Pencil Into A Spooky Itinerary In Tuscany

This week, given the time of year, we have been talking about the spookier side of Tuscany. While Autumn is a wonderful time to plan a trip to Tuscany, as the seasonal foods, beautifully colourful landscape, and smaller crowds are all enticing, there is also a rich history that has resulted in a rather large ghost population that makes it all the more intriguing as an October holiday destination. Read on to learn more about Tuscany's spookiest spots. if you dare.

3. Poppi Castle's Ghastly Tales of Murder And Ghosts

Poppi Castle is a beautiful building located in Casentino, a valley famous for nature, art and history, and food and wine tourism, but underneath the charming exterior is a bloody history.

One of the previous residents, and the most infamous, was a young woman named Matilda, who was most beautiful woman in the area at the time and was forced into a marriage with an old and powerful man from the Guidi family, the ruling family at the time. Matilda, greatly displeased at this turn of events and jealous of the freedom that the common people had, began sending for eligible young bachelors, under the guise of having them do repairs or entertain her. She would then choose one of these men to come to her chamber and then the next day she would dispose of the evidence of her indiscretions by pushing them through a trapdoor into a hole filled with razor blades and broken glass.

Eventually, the number of missing young men began to be noticed and the townspeople stormed the castle, trapping Matilda in a tower of the castle, bricking up the door, and leaving her to starve to death. As you can imagine, tales of hauntings abound and for those interested in the horrific and ghoulish things in life, finding a vacation rental in Casentino and coming to explore this fascinating gem is a must.

4. The Ghost of Palazzo Vecchio

There are lots of reasons to find a luxury villa in Florence and spend time in this wonderful city. One spooky reason is the ghost that haunts Palazzo Vecchio. It is said that there are actually many ghosts in the Palazzo Vecchio, but the most famous is that of Baldaccio d’Anghiari, a medieval nobleman and brave warrior who was betrayed, wrongly accused of treason and killed inside the Palazzo Vecchio in 1441. Since then, he has haunted this building in Florence, appearing as an irate man, and has been spotted many times. The most famous sighting of Baldaccio happened in 2001 when a young couple taking photos outside the Palazzo Vecchio noticed the translucent face of an angry, ghostly man staring out the window of the building. Experts declared it to be genuine but debate around what kind of effect might have caused it or if it was actually a ghost continues.

There are even more fascinating and spooky spots to be explored around Tuscany so be sure to continue on to the rest of this series.


Each episode includes dramatic recreations featuring actors re-telling the most mysterious, secret and strange stories and legends from a castle's history. These stories have occurred either inside the fortifications or near the many famous and even infamous castles in Europe and America.

Season Episodes Originally aired DVD and Blu-ray release date
Season premiere Season finale Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
1 5 [1] January 19, 2014 February 23, 2014 N/A N/A N/A
2 13 January 2, 2015 March 27, 2015 N/A N/A N/A
3 13 January 8, 2016 March 31, 2016 N/A N/A N/A

Season 1 (2014) Edit

Ep. # Title Original air date
1.1"Real Frankenstein Mummy Curse Man in the Iron Mask [2] "January 19, 2014 ( 2014-01-19 )
In the series premiere, a scandalous affair between a British government minister, a showgirl, and a Soviet spy begins at Cliveden House in Taplow, England. Frankenstein Castle, now in ruins on a rocky hilltop in Darmstadt, Germany is the home of scientist, Johann Konrad Dippel who conducted experiments to bring the dead back to life and was the inspiration behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Highclere Castle in Hampshire, one of the most famous country manor houses in England holds Egyptian treasure when after the home's owner, the fifth Earl of Caranrvon is cursed when he unearths the long-buried tomb of Tutankhamun. The legend of the Man in the Iron Mask's place of imprisonment is revealed at the foreboding Fort Royal on the island of Île Sainte-Marguerite apart of the Lérins Islands, a half a mile from France's coast off Cannes. A visit to Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Massachusetts where inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. and psychic medium Eileen Garrett experimented with a Faraday Cage proving if ESP exists.
1.2"Crown Jewels Heist Marquis de Sade Enigma of Kaspar Hauser"January 26, 2014 ( 2014-01-26 )
The Tower of London in London, England, built in 1066 as a royal residence is where the crown jewels are securely kept until an attempt by Irish rebel Thomas Blood who tried to steal the regalia in 1671. The Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City is still home of the ghost of Eliza Jumel who is believed to have let her wine merchant husband die by bleeding to death in their home in 1832. The Château de Miolans, an impenetrable bastion in St. Pierre d’Albigny in the South of France is where the French aristocrat-turned writer Marquis de Sade was imprisoned after an out of control party in 1772 landed him an attempted murder charge. The Karlsruhe Palace in Karlsruhe, Germany erected in 1706 kept a centuries-old secret about a mysterious teenage boy, Kaspar Hauser who was found claiming to have spent his life locked in a windowless room there. With his passion for fast cars, William Vanderbilt's idea to build a raceway while at his Spanish-style mansion, Eagle’s Nest in Centerport, New York paves the way for America’s modern age. A plot to kill the protestant Queen Elizabeth I is hatched by Catholic conspirators in the secret passageways of Thrumpton Hall, a 16th-century country manor in Nottinghamshire, England.
1.3"Hound of the Baskervilles Lord Gordon-Gordon Escape from Colditz"February 9, 2014 ( 2014-02-09 )
Cromer Hall, a British manor house on a moor inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write his classic novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles of his Sherlock Holmes stories. When Scottish aristocrat Lord Gordon-Gordon gets a share in the Erie Railroad, it results in a scandal from a scheme by Wall Street robber baron Jay Gould, and owner of a castle known as Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, New York. An escape attempt by British captain Pat Reid unfolds inside the stone walls of Colditz Castle in Colditz, Germany that served as a Nazi-run POW camp during World War II. Berkeley Castle in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia was built by Colonel Samuel Taylor Suit for his young bride, who after his death, was believed to be involved in her lovers' deaths. In 1885, the history of Tour Magdala, a remote citadel in the medieval village of Rennes-le-Château becomes a treasure hunter's dream when a priest, Bérenger Saunière finds parchments from Blanche of Castile's hidden 8th century gold. Marble House, a neoclassical mansion in Newport, Rhode Island set the stage of a famous mother-daughter conflict of the Gilded Age when social-climber, Alva Erskine Smith locks her daughter in her room when she refuses an arranged marriage.
1.4"The Tichborne Claimant Washington Resurrection Loch Ness Hoax"February 16, 2014 ( 2014-02-16 )
Castello di Malaspina in Fosdinovo, Italy becomes a tomb for Bianca Malaspina, an albino girl who defied her noble parents when she fell in love with a stable boy, causing them to brick her up alive in the dungeon. Upton House in Poole, England was a part of an inheritance dispute when a man from Wagga Wagga, Australia, claimed to be English aristocrat Roger Tichborne, the family's sole heir who drowned in a shipwreck 10 years prior. On Friday the 13th, December 1799, George Washington falls ill, and after doctors try to treat him with bloodletting, he passes away the next day in his home, Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Virginia, however, Dr. William Thornton proposes a radical procedure to reanimate him. When French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is exiled on the small island of Elba, 7 miles off Italy's coast, his plans to escape are born in his 17th century manor, Villa dei Mulini. Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster date back to the 6th century when Irish missionary Saint Columba spotted the creature on Loch Ness near Urquhart Castle in Inverness, Scotland. Washington Times-Herald owner, Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson makes Mount Airy Mansion in Upper Marlboro, Maryland her home after fleeing her womanizing husband.
1.5"The Black Dinner Voynich Manuscript Seward Attack"February 23, 2014 ( 2014-02-23 )
In 1440, the boy king, James II takes revenge on the rebellious Earl of Douglas for wanting his throne by inviting him to a banquet at Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland, later known as the "Black Dinner", inspiring one of the most brutal scenes in the Game of Thrones. When a wealthy widow of railroad millionaire Mark Hopkins falls ill and dies after marrying Edward Searles, the designer of Searles Castle in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the community believes he poisoned her for money. Gradara Castle in Gradara, Italy was at the center of two warring families—the Malatestas and the Polentas—who married off their beautiful daughter Francesca to the ugly Giovanni Malatesta, starting a tragic tale of love between her and his brother, Paolo. Danesfield House in Marlow, England was the headquarters of the British CIU where RAF officer Constance Babington Smith discovered an aerial recon photo of Nazi V-1's, causing Operation Crossbow during[World War II. After an attempt on his life by conspiritor Lewis Powell in the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, Secretary of State William Seward retires at his beloved home, today called the Seward House Museum in Auburn, New York. Villa Mondragone in Rome, Italy is the site where the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript began when antique book dealer Wilfrid Voynich discovered an ancient book written in a cryptic cipher in 1912.

Season 2 (2015) Edit

Note: Episodes in this season aired under the changed title name Mysteries at the Castle.


The opening lines of the World War I poem "In Flanders Fields" refer to poppies growing among the graves of war victims in a region of Belgium. The poem is written from the point of view of the fallen soldiers and in its last verse, the soldiers call on the living to continue the conflict. [6] The poem was written by Canadian physician John McCrae on 3 May 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend and fellow soldier the day before. The poem was first published on 8 December 1915 in the London-based magazine Punch.

Moina Michael, who had taken leave from her professorship at the University of Georgia to be a volunteer worker for the American YMCA Overseas War Secretaries Organization, was inspired by the poem. She published a poem of her own called "We Shall Keep the Faith" in 1918. [7] In tribute to McCrae's poem, she vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who fought in and assisted with the war. [8] At a November 1918 YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' conference, she appeared with a silk poppy pinned to her coat and distributed twenty-five more poppies to attendees. She then campaigned to have the poppy adopted as a national symbol of remembrance.

At its conference in 1920, the National American Legion adopted the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance. [8] Frenchwoman Madame Guérin [1] was invited to address American Legion delegates at their 1920 Cleveland Convention about 'Inter-Allied Poppy Day.' After the convention, the American Legion too adopted the poppy as its memorial flower and committed to support Madame Guérin in her planned U.S. Poppy Day. It was also following this event that the American Legion christened Madame Guérin as "The Poppy Lady from France." Madame Guérin successfully organized the U.S.'s first nationwide Poppy Day during the week before Memorial Day in May 1921 using silk poppies made by the widows and children of the devastated regions of France. [1]

When the American Legion stopped using the poppy symbol in favor of the daisy, Veterans of Foreign Wars' members supported Madame Guérin instead. Using French-made poppies purchased through her, the V.F.W. organized the first veterans' Poppy Day Drive in the US, for the 1922 Memorial Day. [1] In 1924, the Veterans of Foreign Wars patented the Buddy Poppy. [9]

Madame Guérin's ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea was also adopted by military veterans' groups in parts of the British Empire. After the 1921 Memorial Day in the US, Madame Guérin traveled to Canada. After she addressed the Great War Veteran Association on 4 July, the group also adopted the poppy emblem as well as ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ concept. They were the first veterans of the British Empire (predecessor of the Commonwealth of Nations) to do so. [1]

Madame Guérin sent Colonel Moffat (ex-American Red Cross) to Australia and New Zealand (and probably South Africa) afterwards as her representative. She then traveled to Great Britain, where she informed Field Marshal Douglas Haig and the Royal British Legion about her idea. Because it was an underfunded organization, Madame Guérin paid for the British remembrance poppies herself and the British Legion reimbursed her after the first British Remembrance Day Poppy Day on 11 November 1921. [1]

James Fox notes that all of the countries which adopted the Remembrance Poppy were victors of World War I. [6]

An early reference to war and poppies in Flanders is found in the book The Scottish Soldiers of Fortune by James Grant. The Scots in Holland and Flanders: At Neerwinden, in 1693, the brigade again suffered heavy loss, and William was compelled again to give way before the white-coated infantry of France with the loss of 10,000 men. "During many months after," wrote the Earl of Perth to his sister (as quoted by Macaulay), "the ground was strewn with skulls and bones of horses and men, and with fragments of hats, shoes, saddles, and holsters. The next summer the soil, fertilised by 20,000 corpses, broke forth into millions of scarlet poppies." [10]

Remembrance poppies are mostly used in the Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, all of which are realms of the Commonwealth of Nations—to commemorate the servicemen and women killed in conflict. They are used to a much lesser extent in the United States.

Australia Edit

In Australia, the Flanders Poppy (remembrance poppies) has been used since 1921 to commemorate Australian soldiers who died in war. On Remembrance Day (11 November) and Anzac Day (25 April) they are laid at war memorials and are sold by the Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) to raise funds. [11] Military folklore indicates that the vivid red of the poppies symbolize their comrades' blood soaking into the battleground. [12]

Canada Edit

In Canada, the poppy is the official symbol of remembrance. It was adopted as such in 1921 and it is to be worn during the two weeks leading up to 11 November. The Royal Canadian Legion, which has trademarked the image, [13] suggests that poppies be worn on the left lapel, or as near the heart as possible. [14]

Until 1996, poppies were made by disabled veterans in Canada, but they have since been made by a private contractor. [15] The Canadian poppies consist of two pieces of molded plastic covered with flocking with a pin for fastening to clothing. The poppies were initially made with a black centre. From 1980 to 2002, the centres were changed to green. Current designs are black only this change confused those unfamiliar with the original design. [16] In 2007, poppy stickers were introduced for children, the elderly, and healthcare and food industry workers. [17]

Canada also issues a cast metal "Canada Remembers" pin featuring a gold maple leaf and two poppies, one representing the fallen and the other representing those who remained on the home front. [18]

Following the 2000 installation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, where the national Remembrance Service is held, a new tradition began of attendees laying their poppies on the tomb at the end of the service. While not part of the official program, the act has become widely practiced elsewhere in the country, with others leaving cut flowers, photographs, or letters as well.

Since introduction to Canada in 1949, the Remembrance Poppy and Armistice Day commemorations have largely displaced Newfoundland's own commemorative floral emblem, the forget-me-not, as well as the province's Memorial Day held on 1 July. Although in recent years the forget-me-not has had somewhat of a resurgence in Newfoundland's military commemorations, [19] [20] the Remembrance Poppy remains more common.

New Zealand Edit

In New Zealand, Remembrance Poppies are most often worn on Anzac Day (April 25) to commemorate New Zealand soldiers who died in war. They are also worn on Remembrance Day, and are sold by the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association (RSA) to raise funds. The RSA planned to hold its first Poppy Day appeal around the time of Armistice Day 1921, as other countries were doing, but the ship carrying the poppies from France arrived in New Zealand too late. The association therefore waited until Anzac Day 1922. This first Poppy Day appeal was a success. Most of the money raised went to needy soldiers and their families, while the rest went to the French Children's League to help relieve suffering in war-ravaged areas of northern France.

The popularity of Poppy Day grew and there were record collections during World War II. By 1945, 750,000 poppies were distributed nationwide, an amount equal to half the country's population. [21]

United Kingdom Edit

In the United Kingdom, Remembrance Poppies are sold by The Royal British Legion (RBL). This is a charity providing financial, social, political, and emotional support to those who have served or who are currently serving in the British Armed Forces and their dependents. They are sold on the streets by volunteers in the weeks before Remembrance Day. The Remembrance Poppy is the trademark of The Royal British Legion. [22] [23] The RBL states, "The red poppy is our registered mark and its only lawful use is to raise funds for the Poppy Appeal," [24] its yearly fundraising drive in the weeks before Remembrance Day. The organization says these poppies are "worn to commemorate the sacrifices of our Armed Forces and to show support to those still serving today." [25] Other poppy merchandise is sold throughout the year as part of ongoing fundraising. [26]

In England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the poppies typically have two red paper petals mounted on a green plastic stem with a single green paper leaf and a prominent black plastic central boss. The stem has an additional branch used as a pin to anchor the poppy in the lapel or buttonhole. In Scotland, the poppies are curled and have four petals with no leaf. The yearly sale of poppies is a major source of income for the RBL in the UK. The poppy has no fixed price it is sold for a donation or the price may be suggested by the seller. The black plastic centre of the poppy was marked "Haig Fund" until 1994 but is now marked "Poppy Appeal." [27] A team of about 50 people—primarily disabled former British military personnel—work year round to make millions of poppies at the Poppy Factory in Richmond. [28] Scottish poppies are made in the Lady Haig's Poppy Factory in Edinburgh.

For years after World War I, poppies were worn only on Remembrance Day. [29] Today the RBL's "Poppy Appeal" has a higher profile than other charity appeals in the UK. [29] The pins are widespread from late October until mid-November every year and are worn by the general public, politicians, the Royal Family and other public figures. It has become common to see large poppies on buses, tube trains and airplanes, as well as on lampposts, billboards, public buildings, and landmarks. Many newspapers and magazines show a poppy on their cover page, and some social network users add poppies to their avatars. [ citation needed ] Each year, an official Poppy Appeal single has been released. [30] Remembrance Poppy sellers are found on streets and at numerous public events such as concerts, fairs, marathons and competitions. Other awareness raising events have initiated. For example, in 2011, a Second World War aeroplane dropped 6,000 poppies over the town of Yeovil in Somerset. [31] In 2014, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, a public art installation was created in the dry moat of the Tower of London by covering it with 888,246 ceramic poppies – one for each soldier of the British Empire killed in World War I.

There has been growing controversy over the Poppy Appeal. Some—including British Army veterans—have argued that the Poppy Appeal has become excessive, and that it is being used to marshal support for British military activities and that poppy wearing has become compulsory for public figures. [5] [32] Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow described it as "poppy fascism". [33] Columnist Dan O'Neill wrote that "presenters and politicians seem to compete in a race to be first – poppies start sprouting in mid-October while the absence of a poppy is interpreted as absence of concern for the war dead, almost as an unpatriotic act of treachery." [34] Likewise, Jonathan Bartley of the religious think-tank Ekklesia said "Public figures in Britain are urged, indeed in many cases, required, to wear . the red poppy, almost as an article of faith. There is a political correctness about the red poppy." [35] Journalist Robert Fisk complained that the poppy has become a seasonal "fashion accessory" and that people were "ostentatiously wearing a poppy for social or work-related reasons, to look patriotic when it suited them." [36] Some far-right groups have used the poppy as a symbol of militant British nationalism, while some Muslims have begun to reject it as a symbol of Western imperialism. [6]

In 1997 and again in 2000 the Royal British Legion registered the Poppy under Intellectual Property Rights [37] and Trade Mark. [38]

Northern Ireland Edit

The Royal British Legion also holds a yearly poppy appeal in Northern Ireland and in 2009 raised more than £1m. [39] The wearing of poppies in Northern Ireland is controversial. [6] It is seen by many as a political symbol [6] [40] and a symbol of Britishness, [6] [41] [42] representing support for the British Army. [40] The poppy has long been the preserve of the unionist/loyalist community. [6] [41] Loyalist paramilitaries (such as the UVF and UDA) have also used poppies to commemorate their own members who were killed in The Troubles. [43]

Most Irish nationalists/republicans, and Irish Catholics, choose not to wear poppies [40] they regard the Poppy Appeal as supporting soldiers who killed Irish civilians (for example on Bloody Sunday) and who colluded with illegal loyalist paramilitaries (for example the Glenanne gang) during The Troubles. [6] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] Irish nationalist groups, and victims' groups, have urged the BBC to end its policy that all presenters must wear poppies. They argue that it breaches impartiality and points out that political symbols are banned in workplaces in Northern Ireland. They also say that the BBC, as a publicly funded body, should broadly reflect the whole community. [46] [49] Likewise, the director of Relatives for Justice has condemned the wearing of poppies by police officers in Catholic neighbourhoods, calling it "repugnant and offensive to the vast majority of people within our community, given the role of the British Army". [45] In the Irish Independent, it was claimed that "substantial amounts" of money raised from selling poppies are used "to build monuments to insane or inane generals or build old boys' clubs for the war elite". [47] On Remembrance Day 2010 the SDLP’s Margaret Ritchie was the first leader of a nationalist party to wear one. [50]

Republic of Ireland Edit

During World War I, all of Ireland was part of the United Kingdom and about 200,000 Irishmen fought in the British Army (see Ireland and World War I). Furthermore some 70,000 citizens of the then independent state of Ireland served in the British armed services during World War II. [51]

Republic of Ireland citizens continue to enlist to this day. [52] [53] [54] The RBL has a branch in the Republic and holds a yearly Poppy Appeal and wreath-laying ceremony at St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, which the President of Ireland has attended. [55]

The Republic has its own National Day of Commemoration for all Irish people who died in war. As in other non-Commonwealth countries, poppies are not often worn and are not part of the main commemorations. [56] [57] This is largely a consequence of the historic deployment of British forces against Irish independence during the War of Independence. More recent factors are the controversies involving British armed forces that arose during the Troubles.

In 2017, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wore a "shamrock poppy" in the Dáil, the first Taoiseach to do so. [58]

Elsewhere Edit

In the United States, the Veterans of Foreign Wars conducted the first nationwide distribution of remembrance poppies before Memorial Day in 1922. [59] Today, the American Legion Auxiliary distributes crepe-paper poppies in exchange for donations around Memorial Day and Veterans Day. [60] [61] [62]

In Hong Kong—which was formerly a British colony—the poppy is worn by some participants on Remembrance Sunday each year. [63] [64] It is not generally worn by the public, although The Royal British Legion's Hong Kong and China Branch sells poppies to the public in a few places in Hong Kong only. [65]

Since 2014, Ukrainians have worn the poppy as a symbol of the Victory over Nazism and commemoration of the victims of World War II. It has largely replaced the Ribbon of Saint George, which became associated with pro-Russian separatists and Russian military aggression. A poppy logo was designed by Serhiy Mishakin and contains the text: "1939-1945 Never Again". [66]

In parts of Pakistan, the 'Great War Company' hold a private ceremony each 11 November where red poppies are worn, by descendants of World War I veterans from the old British Indian Army. [67]

In Albania, government representatives, including Prime Minister Edi Rama, wore the Remembrance Poppy during the commemoration ceremonies for the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Albania. [68]

White poppies Edit

Some people choose to wear white poppies as an alternative to the red poppy. The white poppy and white poppy wreaths were introduced by Britain's Co-operative Women's Guild in 1933. [69] Today, white poppies are sold by Peace Pledge Union or may be home-made. [27] The white poppy may be worn alone or alongside the red poppy. According to the Peace Pledge Union, it symbolises remembrance of all casualties of war including civilian casualties, and non-British casualties, to stand for peace, and not to glamorise war. [70] Some women in the 1930s lost their jobs for wearing white poppies, and today the controversy remains where white poppies are criticised for detracting from the meaning and the funds of the red poppy. [71]

Purple poppies Edit

To commemorate animal victims of war, Animal Aid in Britain has issued a purple remembrance poppy, which can be worn alongside the traditional red one, as a reminder that both humans and animals have been – and continue to be – victims of war. [72] [73] Recently, the purple poppy was replaced by a purple paw symbol that can be worn all year round. This was because people saw the poppy as implying animals had given their lives as heroes in the service of human beings. Animal Aid regards animals of having their lives taken by the abuse of humans in war, not given by the animals as could be the case with people who have the capacity to decide for themselves. [74]

Black poppies Edit

On Remembrance Sunday 1999, a Merseyside group protesting against sanctions and war on Iraq laid a wreath of black poppies on the cenotaph in Liverpool. [75] In 2014 the black poppy was embraced as an anti-war symbol by the Stop the War Coalition which reported 'anti militarists' in Glasgow distributing 16,000 black poppies in memory of World War I conscientious objectors. [76]

Khadi poppies Edit

Introduced in the 2018 Centenary year by Jitesh Gadhia and The Royal British Legion, the khadi poppy is intended to represent specific gratitude for the contribution of 1.5 million people from undivided India, as well as Commonwealth nations more generally, to the First World War. These poppies are identical to the Legion red poppy except the petals are made of khadi, a spun cotton cloth popularised by Mahatma Gandhi on his spinning wheel. [77] Jitesh Gadhia has stated that "the khadi poppy is a hugely symbolic and highly appropriate gesture to recognise the outsized contribution of Indian soldiers during WWI." [78] On the poppy's role to reach out to ethnic minority communities whose ancestors participated in the war effort, he said that "our identity is our destiny – and so the current generation of Asians should know that their fathers and grandfathers didn't just come to Britain as immigrants. Our ancestors fought for this country and for freedom and democracy – even though they lived in a colony at the time. British Asians should be proud of the role that their forebears played in shaping the destiny of the world." [ citation needed ]

It has been worn by British Prime Minister Theresa May, and by cricketers Joe Root and Virat Kohli before a test match between England and India in September 2018. [79] [80]

Rainbow poppies Edit

In 2019, a listing appeared on eBay in the United Kingdom selling rainbow poppies.

The Royal British Legion confirmed that the Rainbow Poppy was not an officially endorsed product. While the eBay listing stated that the money raised by sales of the rainbow poppy would "go towards helping charity", it was not clear which charities would benefit from sales. [81] This led to widespread criticism online, with some accusing the seller of "hijacking" the poppy appeal. Brexit Party candidate Nicholas Goulding argued the poppy was "not for political controversy". Supporters of the poppy responded by tweeting Goulding examples of famous LGBTQ people who had played a significant role in previous conflicts, such as Alan Turing. [82]

The listing was subsequently removed by the original user, due to negative feedback. [83]

In 1993, The Royal British Legion complained that Cannon Fodder, a video game with an anti-war message, had planned to use a poppy on its cover. The Legion, along with some politicians, called it "offensive to millions" and "monstrous". The publisher was forced to change the cover before the game was released.

In 2010 a group of British Army veterans issued an open letter complaining that the Poppy Appeal had become excessive and garish, that it was being used to marshal support behind British military campaigns, and that people were being pressured into wearing poppies. [5] In 2014, the group protested by holding an alternative remembrance service: they walked to The Cenotaph under the banner "Never Again" with a wreath of white poppies to acknowledge civilians killed in war. Their tops bore the message "War is Organised Murder", a quote from Harry Patch, the last survivor of World War I. [84] [85]

A 2010 Remembrance Day ceremony in London was disrupted by members of the Muslims Against Crusades group, who were protesting against the British Army presence in Afghanistan and Iraq. They burnt large poppies and chanted "British soldiers burn in hell" during the two-minute silence. Two of the men were arrested and charged for threatening behavior. One was convicted and fined £50. [86] The same group planned to hold another protest in 2011, but was banned by the Home Secretary the day before the planned protest. [87] In 2014, a campaign was begun to encourage Muslim women to wear poppy hijabs. Some criticised it as a "shrouded loyalty test" which implied that Muslims needed to prove their loyalty to Britain. [88] [89] [90]

In November 2011 people were arrested in Northern Ireland after a picture of two youths burning a poppy was posted on Facebook. The picture was reported to police by a member of the RBL. [91] The following year, a young Canterbury man was arrested for allegedly posting a picture of a burning poppy on Facebook, on suspicion of an offence under the Malicious Communications Act. [92]

British Prime Minister David Cameron rejected a request from Chinese officials to remove his poppy during his visit to Beijing on Remembrance Day in 2010. The poppy was deemed offensive because it was mistakenly assumed to be connected with First and Second Opium Wars of the 19th century. [93]

In 2012 there was controversy when The Northern Whig public house in Belfast refused entry to a man wearing a remembrance poppy. [94] Although the owners apologised, the customer took the matter to court, supported by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI). [95] The case was significant for the decision supporting the view of the ECNI that "The poppy, although not directly linked to a specific religious belief or political opinion, would historically have been associated to a greater extent with the Protestant or unionist community in Northern Ireland". [96]

In the media Edit

In the British media, public figures have been attacked for not wearing poppies. British journalist and newsreader Charlene White has faced racist and sexist abuse for not wearing a poppy on-screen. She explained "I prefer to be neutral and impartial on screen so that one of those charities doesn't feel less favoured than another". [97] Newsreader Jon Snow does not wear a poppy on-screen for similar reasons. He too was criticised and he condemned what he saw as "poppy fascism". [98] Well-known war-time journalist Robert Fisk published in November 2011 a personal account about the shifting nature of wearing a poppy, titled "Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?". [99] While all newsreaders in the UK are expected to wear the remembrance poppy, those on the BBC's international news service are told not to. The BBC say this is because the symbol is not widely recognised overseas. The Royal British Legion condemned this, insisting that the poppy is the "international symbol of remembrance". [100]

Fabrizio De André, an Italian songwriter known for his sympathies towards anarchism, left-libertarianism and pacifism, featured red poppies in his song, 'Piero's war', about the death of a soldier, inspired the poem 'Le Dormeur du val' of Arthur Rimbaud: 'You sleep buried in a field of wheat it is neither the rose nor the tulip who watch over you from the shadow of ditches, but it is a thousand red poppies'.

In a November 2020 episode of Jeremy Vine, activist Femi Oluwole questioned why BBC presenters were still permitted to wear poppies, following new impartiality guidance warning against "virtue signalling, no matter how worthy the cause", which had previously prevented staff from expressing support for Black Lives Matter and LGBT rights. [101]

In sport Edit

In the run-up to Remembrance Day, it has become common for UK football teams to play with artificial poppies sewn to their shirts, at the request of the Royal British Legion. This has caused some controversy.

At a Celtic v Aberdeen match in November 2010, a group of Celtic supporters, called the Green Brigade, unfurled a large banner in protest at the team wearing poppies. In a statement, it said: "Our group and many within the Celtic support do not recognise the British Armed Forces as heroes, nor their role in many conflicts as one worthy of our remembrance". It gave Operation Banner (Northern Ireland), the Afghanistan War and the Iraq War as examples. [102]

Northern Irish–born footballer James McClean, who has played for several English teams, has received death threats and abuse since 2012 for refusing to wear a poppy on his shirt during matches. [103] McClean said he does not wear one because the Poppy Appeal supports British soldiers who served in Northern Ireland, and believes it would disrespect those killed in his hometown on Bloody Sunday. [104]

In November 2011, it was proposed that the England football team should wear poppies on their shirts in a match against Spain. FIFA turned down the proposal their decision was attacked by Prince William. [105] FIFA subsequently allowed the English, Scottish and Welsh teams to wear poppies on black armbands. [106]

On 11 November 2017, the third day of the Women's Test match held at North Sydney Oval as part of the Women's Ashes 2017–18, both the Australian and the English team players wore poppies to mark 99 years since the end of World War I. [107]

During the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, the England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland football teams were fined for displaying the poppy during matches. FIFA rules forbid the display of "political or religious symbols". [108] [109] [110] The decision was strongly criticised by Prime Minister Theresa May, and the Welsh and English football associations appealed against the fine, with the English Football Association threatening to bring the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. [110] [111] [112]

In November 2018, Manchester United's Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matić refused to wear a poppy on his shirt for a match against Bournemouth. [113] After the match, Matić was castigated and got threats by a number of people via social networks for not respecting servicemen who have died in war. [114] Matić stated that he will not wear a poppy because his village of Vrelo was hit by the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. [113]

In ice hockey, players and coaches traditionally wear a poppy, with players often featuring a poppy decal on their helmets. Even outside Canada and the Commonwealth (especially in the United States), hockey clubs will often feature the poppy in November because of the sport's Canadian heritage and the typical presence of Canadian team members. [115]

Royal Scandals Through The Centuries

Some royal scandals resound through history, cropping up like mushrooms whenever the subject of kingly misbehavior is raised—Henry VIII throwing over his wife and his church for the nubile charms of Anne Boleyn, Edward VIII renouncing his throne for an American divorcée with hip bones that could cut glass. Then there are the famous scandals that are not actually scandals at all—Catherine the Great did not, in fact, have intercourse with a horse—and some that really ought to be better known. Here are a few.

The Queen of Denmark and the Royal Physician

Poor Caroline Matilda! As a teenaged British princess, she was married off sight unseen to King Christian VII of Denmark—a perfectly nice young man except for his violent temper and fits of madness. In spite of Caroline Matilda’s warm charm and natural beauty, the royal marriage deteriorated swiftly along with the king’s mental state. His bouts of insanity were treated by a German doctor named Johann Struensee whose influence stabilized the monarch’s erratic behavior. The doctor believed that an improved relationship with his wife would also help the king, and he encouraged Christian to behave more kindly towards the queen. Isolated and unhappy in Denmark and at the mercy of a factional and gossipy court, Caroline Matilda was grateful for the doctor’s help and just as susceptible as her husband to Struensee’s calm authority. The physician and the queen became lovers, and together they worked to enact liberal reforms in the king’s name with Struensee eventually acquiring enough power to issue more than a thousand cabinet orders. Furious at the reforms, a conservative cabal plotted to overthrow the lovers in the king’s name. Struensee was executed, and Caroline Matilda was divorced from her husband and separated from her beloved children—one of whom was most likely Struensee’s. Thanks to the intervention of her brother, King George III of England, she was sent into exile in Germany rather than imprisoned in Denmark. In her genteel captivity, she amused herself with a tiny theatre, books, and charitable endeavors before dying suddenly of scarlet fever in 1775. She was 23.

The Tour de Nesle Affair

In 1314, King Philip IV of France was feeling rather good about his dynasty. His daughter, Isabelle, was Queen of England, and his three sons were neatly married off to a trio of noblewomen who were related to one another and ready to produce the next generation of French princes. Queen Isabelle, eager to welcome her sisters-in-law to the family, made them each a present of distinctive and costly embroidered purses. To Isabelle’s surprise, during the next family reunion, she spotted the purses hanging from the belts of a pair of brothers, knights at her father’s court at a time when prowess at arms made rock stars out of men who knew how to handle a lance. Wise to what this royal regifting meant, Isabelle hurried off to tell her father, and the king promptly set spies to watch his daughters-in-law. Within weeks, the trio of princesses were caught in flagrante with their lovers at a decrepit old Parisian fortress called the Tour de Nesle. The lovers were tortured in ways that would make any character on Game of Thrones shudder and finally executed—which must have come as a bit of a relief after all the castrating and flaying and oil-boiling. The princesses were imprisoned underground in dank, filthy dungeons, with their heads shaved and their children disinherited. The king himself died shortly afterwards. Within a generation, King Philip’s dynasty was destroyed, and the French throne passed to a distant cousin. The disagreement over who ought to inherit the crown sparked the Hundred Years’ War between England and France, plunging much of Western Europe into armed conflict that would last for the better part of a century, and all because of a trio of misbehaving princesses. In a delicious twist, it is said that the wreckage of King Philip’s dynasty is due to a curse laid upon him by Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Templars, burned to death on bogus charges of heresy and witchcraft on the king’s orders earlier in 1314.

The Duke of Cumberland’s Midnight Intruder

Queen Victoria’s uncles were notorious for their exploits and excesses—drinking, gambling, seductions, and secret marriages—but none was as reviled as the Duke of Cumberland. In an age when character was supposedly mirrored by appearance, his sinister scar and violent temper marked him in public opinion as deeply malevolent. He was the least popular of King George III’s sons, and his reputation was not improved by the rumor that he had raped more than one noblewoman and impregnated his own sister, Princess Sophia. His infamy was sealed on a dark spring night in 1810. In the early hours, he suddenly leapt out of bed, screaming for his servants that he had been attacked, struck violently in the head several times. Claiming to be suspicious that his valet, Joseph Sellis, had not responded to his shouts, he dispatched his staff to search for the man. They found Sellis’s door bolted from the inside. After forcing the lock, they discovered Sellis, tucked in bed and nearly decapitated from a slash of a straight razor. Cumberland claimed—and an inquest agreed—that the valet committed suicide, but most people believed Sellis had been attacked by Cumberland. The public speculated about motives for the attack, each more sensational than the last and culminating in the explanation that Sellis was slashed after fighting off the duke’s attempt to rape him. True or not, it was a sordid story that followed Cumberland for the rest of his life, and there were fears upon Victoria’s accession to the throne that her uncle, heir presumptive until she bore her own child, would murder her to gain the crown. Part of the outpouring of jubilation at the birth of Queen Victoria’s eldest child was no doubt due to the fact that the villainous Cumberland was no longer first in the line of succession and had moved to Germany, never to return. (In 1830, another verdict of suicide was returned with another member of Cumberland’s household was found with a slashed throat. Nothing was ever proven against the duke, but it seems fair to suggest he was at the very least deeply unlucky.)

The Affair of the Poisons

Witchcraft! Poison! Sex! This scandal has it ALL. During the reign of Louis XIV, poison was having a heyday, providing a tidy path to inheritance and influence, but it came as a tremendous shock when the news broke that black magic rituals were being employed by those closest to the king himself. The scandal began with the arrest and execution of the Marquise de Brinvilliers, a noblewoman who murdered her father and brothers after trying out her poisons on the poor patients of the local charity hospital. The sensational story sparked rumors of other such crimes. A suspected forger and murderer claimed to have evidence that poison was rife at the court of the Sun King, and investigations were begun. It was discovered that the king’s chief mistress, the Marquise de Montespan, was implicated as a favored client of Catherine Monvoison, a Parisian supplier of powders and potions intended to secure the king’s affections. There were whispers of sex rituals and rites involving dead infants, news that horrified Louis. Monvoison—whose name, quite delightfully, means “my neighbor”—was burned at the stake and hundreds of others were implicated. Many died as a result of torture or suicide during the investigation, 36 were executed, and even those who escaped punishment were left with ruined reputations and lives in tatters. Madame de Montespan, who allegedly allowed a satanic priest to say a Black Mass over her naked body in a love rite to bind the Louis to her forever, was the mother of several of the king’s beloved illegitimate children and therefore too close to the monarch to be arrested and tried for her possible crimes. Instead, she quietly retired to a convent and a solemn life of contemplation and penance.

Princess Sophia Dorothea of Celle and the Case of the Missing Count

Beautiful and charismatic, Sophia Dorothea, daughter of the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, was betrothed to her first cousin, George, a man so revolting his own subjects referred to him as “Pig Snout.” But George was potentially heir to two thrones, and the duke agreed to the match, gambling on winning a crown for his enchanting daughter. Unfortunately, Sophia Dorothea did not see the value in the arrangement and promptly fainted upon learning of the betrothal in 1682. The marriage went rapidly downhill from there, with frequent loud scenes and violent arguments—the last ending with George throttling Sophia Dorothea until servants intervened to save her life. Little wonder that when the dashing and handsome Count von Königsmarck arrived from Sweden, the bored and restless Sophia Dorothea found him irresistible. Upon first arriving at court, he had dallied briefly with George’s mistress, Countess Platen, but he soon had eyes only for the princess, embarking upon a torrid affair that was as indiscreet as it was passionate. Together, the lovers plotted to run away and make a new life for themselves far beyond the reach of her unlovely and vindictive husband. To Sophia Dorothea’s despair, the very night Königsmarck was supposed to carry her off, he failed to keep the assignation, disappearing from court entirely. Courtiers whispered that Countess Platen allegedly took her revenge by having the count attacked before he could elope with the princess, but she was never charged and no evidence was ever produced, least of all a corpse. But there were new floorboards hastily laid in the gallery outside Sophia Dorothea’s bedchamber, and no one ever saw Königsmarck again…Enraged by the scandal, George divorced Sophia Dorothea, separated her from her children, and had her imprisoned in a tiny castle on a lake. He went on to become King George I of England, leaving his scorned wife behind.

Princess Charlotte of Prussia’s Burn Book

Kaiser Wilhelm was problematic from birth. Militant, bombastic, and rude, this eldest grandson of Queen Victoria eventually plunged Europe into World War I simply because he liked playing military games—but his younger sister was not much better. Wayward, willful, and frequently malicious, Charly was often admonished to behave better in letters from her grandmother but to no avail, and there is good reason to believe that she may have been at the center of an outrageous scandal in the heart of her brother’s court. The German imperial court was lavish and snobby and given to extravagant debauchery. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, courtiers were terrorized for four years by accusatory notes detailing their misdeeds—some complete with pornographic sketches. Duels were fought, lives lost, and reputations shredded as a result of the letters that spilled all of the juicy details—everything from mate-swapping to full orgies. One male court official—Kotze—was arrested for sending the letters but released when authorities determined they were the work of a woman. Suspicion immediately fell upon Princess Charly. Some believed she had written the notes others said her diary had been stolen and fallen into the wrong hands. There were even those who suggested Charly had hosted an evening of debauchery with the purpose of deliberately gathering blackmail material. In any event, the Kotze Affair remained a murky blot upon her reputation, the whispers following her until her death shortly after the first world war.

Marie Antoinette and the Dress That Shocked a Nation

The French queen’s most famous scandal is the affair of the diamond necklace, an outrageous fraud perpetrated by jewel thieves using her name, but a previous incident was perhaps even more damaging to the royal prestige. In 1783, Marie Antoinette was painted by the artist Élisabeth Vigée leBrun wearing a gaulle rather than formal court dress. A gaulle was a light, minimally structured gown of layers of cotton muslin with gently gathered sleeves, a rounded neck, and a wide, soft fabric sash—much more comfortable than the rigid, restrictive court attire—and suitable for the queen’s relaxed country pursuits at her private retreat on the grounds of Versailles. Unfortunately, the gaulle, for all its comfort and simplicity, resembled the chemise, a shift worn as an underlayer to protect expensive clothing from body odor and sweat. It might have been cool and practical and comfortable, but the choice of costume made it look like the Queen of France had been painted in her underwear. When the painting was displayed publicly, it was as deeply shocking to the French as if Queen Elizabeth II had been photographed in her Rigby and Peller corset. Not only was the queen shown stripped of the trappings of royalty, she was harshly criticized for not boosting the French luxury goods market by wearing costly domestic silks and trimmings. Cotton, associated with the slave trade and grown by the British in India and in the West Indies, was viewed as an English fabric, a deeply disloyal choice for a French queen. The uproar was immediate and deafening. The painting was swiftly taken down, but the damage had been done. Marie Antoinette was fair game for all manner of vicious attacks because she had permitted herself to be shown as human—and distinctly less than royal. The mystique of monarchy had been shattered once and for all, and within a decade, she would perish on the guillotine wearing another plain white cotton dress…Ironically, the gaulle became a fashionable garment for revolutionaries, signaling a rejection of the excesses of the nobility and a devotion to the principles of simplicity and authenticity.

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