The Ghosts of Lady Leonora Tankerville & Chillingham Castle - WIP

I’m pretty darn excited about what I’m working on now that the Binding of Saint Barbara is done (although there's still the production phase). I’ve had a story in my head for a while now about a Victorian/Gilded Age American heiress being married off to a seemingly boring English aristocrat and then being wooed by someone else via letter – a mystery man; a phantom! It's Downton Abbey meets Phantom of the Opera. All I needed was some history suitable for this - and yes this is a new tactic for me, coming up with the story and matching it to a history discovered later.

Now before I tell you about this history, a little backstory: If you’ve been following my blog/ newsletter for a while, you might recall a Halloween or two back, I tried to write a Gothic novella in a month. I succeeded, but the story was so rushed, I kind of put it to the side until I could figure out what to do with it. Well I was thinking of taking the parts of it that I like and meshing them with this new story. As you may remember, the main character in that novella was named Lorena.

Okay, back to the story of finding the history for my story.

Lady Leonora Tankerville, formerly
Leonora Sophie Van Marter
So I was looking through this awesome nonfiction book called To Marry an English Lord, which contains an appendix just listing American heiresses who married English nobility during the Gilded Age (it was kind of a trend in the nouveau riche circles). I was searching for someone who married around my desired time frame and someone who married an Earl and there she was: Leonora Sophie Van Marter. 

Her name is Leonora and my main character's name was Lorena! That seemed like a sign, so I looked up her history and whoa! It just so happens she lived in what is considered to be one of the most haunted castles in England!!!

Leonora Van Marter married Lord Ossultan who later became the Earl of Tankerville. His seat was Chillingham Castle in Northumberland. It wasn’t the man but the castle that really interested me. This place is dreary! 

Chillingham Castle is also in the middle of moorland and heath, which was something I had really wanted in the Gothic novella. It’s also a legitimately scary place—considered haunted with good reason!

It’s located near the Scotland border and was a strategic fortress during many horrific border feuds during the medieval period. It was a key location during the fighting with the Scottish army and William Wallace (i.e. Brave Hart) in the 1290s, and Wallace murdered the women and children of the aristocratic family (the Greys) seated in the castle at the time by burning them alive. It was also the location of countless horrific torturing and murdering of people for various reasons. Even members of the nobility (the Greys again) seated in this castle were horribly tortured and killed by each other when they split loyalties between the Lancastrians and Yorkists in the 1300s. Sir Ralph Grey (Lancastrian) actually ordered that his own son be draw and quartered alive along with various other family members.

The stories of hauntings and ghosts are numerous and include a blue flashing light that appeared before a spot in the wall, which turned out to have a young boy in blue clothing buried inside. Oh and the amount of times people have found bones buried in floors and walls all around the castle is insane! There’s tales of a woman walking out of the paintings and of another woman appearing inside a locked pantry asking for water (some believe she was poisoned). There are tons and tons of stories surrounding this castle, several of which were experienced by Leonora herself.

But here’s where things get really exciting for me as a novelist considering all of this for a story … I kept reading all of these ghost stories, and it turns out the person who wrote them all down for our modern-day reference was none other than Leonora Van Marter after she had become Lady Leonora Tankerville! 

And if you are a subscriber to my newsletter, you can read her writings yourself so if you haven't already, 
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A spectacularly interesting history, which of course is going to inspire and amazingly interesting story. =)  


  1. We are syncing, I think. I bought To Marry An English Lord recently, as well as The Husband Hunters by Anne de Courcy. My new series is about a fictional aristocratic family and one of the books will have an American heiress husband-hunting in it. My mystery man is not a phantom but an Anglicized French physician with a backstory going back several generations to the French Revolution. I wrote the first draft before I figured out the backstories and then found that French history and politics lined up very nicely.

    1. That's awesome!!! I'll have to check out that husband hunting book.


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