I visited Muncaster Castle in the beautiful Lake District of England a few years ago and the haunting face in this painting stayed with me long after my visit. Meet Thomas Skelton. He was a court jester and trusted servant of the Pennington family. Here is the story that haunted my visit (from The Witching Hour)
“Known for sitting beneath an old chestnut tree outside the front entrance of the castle, Tom Skelton was often asked for directions. This position also gave him opportunity to witness the comings and goings of people to and from the castle, which is how he allegedly spotted Pennington’s daughter Helwise sneak off with a local carpenter.
When Skelton told his master what he’d seen, he’d been ordered by Sir William Pennington to get rid of the carpenter. Only one method of disposal would work for Tom. The fool got the carpenter drunk on cider one evening and, for a somewhat poetic lark, he used the carpenter’s own tools– mallet and broad chisel– to decapitate the poor, love-struck man. Tom is rumored to have said, “When the lazy dolt wakes up, he’ll have trouble finding his head.”
Skelton then presented his lord with the head of the carpenter, but it is unclear from historical records how the Sir William Pennington reacted. Ghostly footsteps and what sounds like the thunk of a body being drug up one particular set of stairs add an element of reality to this Muncaster legend.”
It was once thought that Thomas Skelton was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Tom Fool but history places any meeting between the two after King Lear was written.
Have you been to Muncaster Castle? Were you haunted by Thomas Skelton…? I’d love to hear all about it!