The evidence for and against Katherine Ferrers being the Wicked Lady

The evidence for and against Katherine Ferrers being the Wicked Lady

Katherine Ferrers - the Wicked LadyThese pages on Katherine Ferrers and the legend of the Wicked Lady form the basis for a longer essay now available as an eBook for just US$0.99 (see below). For ease or reading it has been split into four chapters.

Introduction – early life and background to the legend

Katherine Ferrers and the English Civil War

The Wicked Lady in English folklore

Evidence for and against Katherine Ferrers

Continued from English folklore:

There is certainly a mystery surrounding Katherine’s death.

The only extant portrait (above) portrays a very young girl, at age 14. Possibly at the time of her marriage to Thomas Fanshawe. Understandably during the Civil War years of 1643 to 1660 archive material is patchy. In the mid seventeenth century premature and early death was not uncommon; there was little hospital care for women with difficult births. Her death may have been from natural causes, possibly childbirth, perhaps a fatal miscarriage – husband Thomas did not marry again until 1665 and had four children, the first became the 3rd Viscount Fanshawe.

It is said that her ghost walks far and wide over Nomansland Common; it haunts the hidden staircase at Markyate Cell and she can be heard riding all over the countryside. Her horse is black with white blazes, or in other versions, ghostly white. She has been seen swinging from the sycamore tree below which lies the treasure she stole. Though her body is buried in Ware she is a much travelled and troubled spirit; it is the stuff of folklore.

There is nothing to connect Katherine with the crime of highway robbery. She was born into a wealthy family and married into another. By an accident of birth she found herself in the middle of a Civil War in which family fortunes were lost and family life ruined. The Fanshawe’s were rewarded by Charles II with the title of Viscount Fanshawe; father and son both represented Hertford in Parliament. Katherine on the other hand, found herself the target for unspeakable crimes. History has not served her well. I think it is time to let her rest in peace – as Lady Katherine Ferrers.

A shortened version of this article was published in Hertfordshire Countryside July 2002. Then in 2003 I was contacted by the current Fanshawe family who forwarded me the copy of Katherine’s portrait. They also referred me to a family history written by Herbert Fanshawe in 1927 but which draws heavily on Lady Ann’s memoirs.

He states that ‘she died at the age of 26 in June, 1660, immediately after Lady Fanshawe had been with her at her lodging in the Strand on the occasion of the celebration of the return of King Charles II to his capital on the 29 of May.’

Katherine’s husband was imprisoned by Cromwell in 1659 following the Booth uprising in the North and not released until February 1660. At the most, four months is a short pregnancy for a child to have survived in those times. Legend says she was shot and died from loss of blood at Markyate Cell. Possibly not. Possibly from a miscarriage which has been discussed above.

I have since been contacted by the curator of the Valence House Museum who was able to confirm that in 2003 when Robin Fanshawe contacted me the painting was still in the hands of the Devonshire branch of the family. However, in 2004 the portrait came to Valence House Museum to join the other 48 Fanshawe portraits given in 1963. There are portraits of her husband Thomas and her step-father Simon. Portraits of many of the Fanshawe’s are held at the Valence House Museum.

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