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Haunted by a Queen’s Broken Heart

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Most people get into paranormal investigation for their love and interest in the supernatural. For me, that was not the case. Although my family and I shared several unexplainable experiences, it was my love of history that pulled me in.

Paranormal investigation has brought me to historic locations across the United States and around the world. These locations opened my eyes to places and people I never knew existed. Many of their stories, which are stranger than any fiction, have left me amazed, horrified and even inspired. One of the stories that still comes to mind is a famous 12th century English castle, believed to be haunted by a queen’s broken heart.

Castle Rising Castle, built in 1140 AD, is located in the English countryside. This beautiful, old stone structure stands surrounded by a wall of dirt carpeted with grass and wild flowers. Inside its walls lay a labyrinth of rooms connected by narrow passageways and spiral staircases. It is within these passageways, staircases and rooms that people claim to see unexplainable shadow figures, and hear the sounds of footsteps and inconsolable sobbing. To get a better understanding of this supposed haunt, let’s take a look at the life of a previous resident who locals believe is responsible for the activity.

Queen Isabella of France was born to King Philip IV of France and Queen Joan I of Navarre in Paris around 1295. From the time Isabella was an infant, her father had promised her in marriage to King Edward II of England to resolve territorial conflicts between France and England.

As a child, following the death of her mother, Isabella was raised by the family’s nurse. Growing up in palaces around Paris, she was given a good education and developed a strong love for books covering topics such as history, astrology, geometry and romance. She grew to be known for her high level of intelligence, charm, diplomatic ways and beauty. However it was a rare talent she developed of rallying people to follow her that would eventually lead to the fall of her husband.

At the age of 12, on January 25, 1308, Isabella married King Edward II of England at Boulogne-sur-Mer. Their marriage was hardly a story of “happily ever after.” From the beginning of their marriage her husband King Edward was rumored to have questionable relationships with other men he had taken a particular liking to. In many ways he was known to have held these men in higher regard than he did Isabella. It was then up to this child bride to use her intelligence and diplomatic nature to find her place within the marriage and political arena.

Piers Gaveston — a soldier described as arrogant, reckless and headstrong — was the first of her husband’s favorites that Isabella was forced to contend with. Although Edward held Gaveston in his good graces, he was strongly disliked by the English barons and Isabella’s father King Philip IV of France. This led to his brief exile to Ireland. After his return to England, the baron’s dislike for Gaveston caused his execution in 1311 following Edward’s failed campaign against Scotland.

Having narrowly escaped capture by the Scots, and despite the civil war that broke out in England against Edward and Gaveston, Isabella stood by her husband. Turning to her family back in France, she wrote asking her uncles for their support of her husband while she worked to make allies of her own.

During this time of turmoil in England, Isabella gave birth to the future king Edward III and soon found herself once again second in her husband’s eyes.

While Edward looked to get revenge for Gaveston’s death, he found a new favorite and confidant in Hugh Despenser the younger.  Being the same age as Edward, Hugh Despenser also shared common enemies. As England struggled through famine, financial problems, continuous failed campaigns against Scotland led by Edward and his power struggle with the barons, Isabella tried, unsuccessfully, to work with Hugh Despenser. The barons who also disliked Hugh, reached out to Isabella asking her to publicly request that Edward exile him to prevent a war.

The Despenser’s exile was short lived. It wasn’t long before Edward formed a plan to bring back Hugh while defeating the barons. Together Edward and Hugh ruled and imposed a harsh revenge confiscating land, and imprisoning or executing their enemies along with punishing their enemies’ extended family members. They eventually turned their sights on Isabella, leaving her behind to fend for herself during one of Edward’s campaigns against the Scottish. They stripped her of her land and household, arrested and imprisoned her French staff. The custody of her children were given to the Despensers after she refused to take an oath of loyalty to them. Isabella, betrayed by her husband, now looked to take radical actions against him and Hugh Despenser the younger.

As tensions between England and France continued to rise, Isabella saw a chance to act. When Edward refused to pay homage to her brother, King Charles IV of France, her uncle began attacking and taking land under English control. Afraid to leave England — because he thought the barons would use the opportunity to rebel against him and the Despensers — he sent Isabella to France as an ambassador. To mend the tension created by Edward’s disrespect, Isabella agreed to a truce promising her son Edward III would come to France to pay homage in his father’s behalf.

With her son’s arrival, Isabella’s plan was put into action when she refused to return to England. Edward II began sending urgent messages to King Charles for the return of Isabella and his son Edward III, to which Charles responded that the “queen has come of her own will and may freely return if she wishes. But if she prefers to remain here, she is my sister and I refuse to expel her.”

Isabella and Edward’s marriage was clearly over. Dressing as a widow she publicly claimed that it was Hugh Despenser that destroyed their marriage. She then fell in love with Roger Mortimer.

Roger Mortimer was an English lord, husband and father of 12 who had been arrested and imprisoned at the Tower of London by Edward II. Following his escape from the Tower, he fled to France for safety where he was eventually introduced to Isabella. As Isabella worked to assemble a court she also promised her son in marriage to Philippa, daughter of count William I of Hainault, in exchange for a large dowry. With the dowry and a loan from her brother Charles, Isabella and Roger raised an army to defeat their common enemies, Edward II and the Despensers.

After setting sail from France with their army, Isabella and Roger landed in England with little resistance. As their army swept inland, it only continued to grow in size as others opposed to Edward II’s regime joined her forces. As word of Isabella’s success and advance reached Edward, he managed to flee to Wales.  After recovering her children from the Despensers, Edward and Hugh were finally captured.

As punishment, Hugh Despenser was dragged by a horse and presented to Isabella and Roger in front of a large crowd. He was then hanged, castrated and drawn and quartered, while his father Hugh Despenser the elder was captured, killed and fed to the local dogs. Most of Edward and Hugh’s major supporters were executed while those with a smaller role were pardoned. As for Edward II, he was deposed and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life only to die a sudden and mysterious death in which the possibility of Isabella and Roger’s involvement is still debated.

Following the arrest of Edward II, Prince Edward was confirmed as Edward III. Being far too young to lead the country, Isabella was appointed regent. Together, Isabella and Roger Mortimer ruled over England for four years. In those four years the pair became obsessed with accumulating wealth and land, while their former supporters began to question Isabella’s rule and Roger’s behavior.

Isabella’s son Edward III then married and became increasingly annoyed by Roger’s display of power. After working quietly to gather support, Edward III followed through with his plot to take control of England. Surprising Isabella and Roger at Nottingham Castle with 23 armed men, Edward III arrested Roger. Isabella begged her son to have mercy on her lover, and while she avoided execution, Roger was not so lucky. Though Edward III did show him some mercy — by not having him disemboweled or quartered.

After spending a short time under house arrest at Windsor Castle, Isabella moved into her own castle, Castle Rising. It is here that Isabella was reported to have suffered from fits of madness over the death of her love Roger Mortimer.

Isabella was promised in marriage to Edward II as an infant. She was a young woman who had a love for romance novels only to become a queen that was unloved and betrayed by her king. She then gave birth to a son who would grow to execute the only man she ever loved.

Could Queen Isabella be haunting the halls of Rising Castle, still mourning the death of Roger Mortimer? No one could really say for sure, but this is what some locals believe. Learning her story breathed life into what was otherwise just a beautiful stone shell, known as Rising Castle.

Despite Isabella’s flaws and the fact that history has dubbed her as the She-wolf of France, it was hard not to be impressed by her determination and accomplishments. It is also upsetting to think of her still roaming the halls of Rising Castle grieving, hundreds of years after Roger Mortimer’s death.

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The Mystery of Alice McCurdy

Alice McCurdy-Death Record

Anyone who has spent years researching their family history will tell you to be prepared for hidden surprises. The lives of our ancestors were just as complicated back then as our lives are today. I think most of us tend to forget they were living breathing people until we start uncovering their lives through the paper trail they left behind. Even after 20 years of research, uncovering my family’s secrets, I must admit that one of my ancestors left me speechless and feeling a little lost last night.

My 2nd great grandmother Alice McCurdy had been a bit of a mystery to me for many years. I knew she existed, she appeared on my great grandfather’s death certificate and I was able to find a marriage certificate for her and my 2nd great grandfather, Melville Williams. However, it wasn’t until the last couple of weeks that some new documents emerged, which helped fill in some missing pieces to her story.

About a week ago I had stumbled upon her death certificate online. I felt like I had hit the jackpot with that discovery since she had been a difficult one to track. From the death certificate I learned she was only 34 when she passed away… the same age I am now. To make matters worse, she left behind a husband and three young children, one of which was my great grandfather Robert Henry Williams.

I had figured she had died young over the years since she didn’t appear in the 1900 census living with her husband, children and parents, Henry Martin McCrudy and Frances Abby Hinds. Given the situation, I figured her parents must have moved in to help Melville with the children. It wasn’t until I got this missing puzzle piece (Alice’s death record) that I was able to learn she died of “Phthisis”, commonly known as Tuberculosis or “consumption”.

As most of us know today tuberculosis was a horrible infectious disease. Many people died from it since it was easily spread by air through the coughs and sneezes of an affected person. Tuberculosis victims would end up weak and gaunt, coughing up blood while suffering from night sweats and extreme weight loss. In many cases, those who were kind enough to care for infected victims ended up coming down with the disease themselves. This was the case for my great grandfather, Percy Leslie’s 16-year-old sister who came down with it after caring for an elderly neighbor who suffered from it.

Learning that this was how my 2nd great grandmother died, I felt horrible. What a terrible thing for the family to witness and for Alice, what a horrible end. At the same time, I felt so fortunate that the disease did not spread to the rest of the family. Had it spread, I would not be here today. Learning her cause of death also made me think back on the many TB hospitals I have visited over the years and the awful stories that came out of them. Did Alice end up in one of these hospitals? That is now on my list of things to research next.

Just as I was finally getting over this new bit of news surrounding Alice’s death, researching her father Henry Martin McCurdy let me in on another family secret.

A few weeks ago I decided to go back through my family tree as an attempt to fill in missing information and just to clean it up. I began writing outlines for each family member, double checking all the details and making more of a story out of the information I had gathered. After finishing up on Alice, I moved on to her father last night. Going through Henry’s information I saw that he married Frances Abby Hinds on January 6, 1864 in Boston, Massachusetts. Skipping ahead to the 1870 U.S. Federal Census I found Henry (age 31) and Frances (age 30) living in Pittston, Maine. Recording all the information I could gather on Henry, I then moved on to the 1880 U.S. Federal Census where I noticed… something just doesn’t add up.

In the 1880 census my 2nd great grandmother Alice makes her first appearance, however I realized that it said she was 13 years old. “Well, this can’t be right…” I thought. If she was 13 in the 1880 census, she should have appeared in the 1870 census with her parents. Knowing that an age being off on a census isn’t that uncommon, I figured I would take a closer look… and there it was…

Alice+McCurdy

Alice was adopted. Just like that, in a matter of seconds everything I thought I knew about my McCurdy branch was wrong. Two little letters left me with a million questions and a sick feeling in my stomach.

Who is Alice? Where did she come from and who were her birth parents? Why did they give her up? The only time I have dealt with adoption in my family the child was adopted by another family member… could this be the case with Alice? Then at least part of the tree I had for her would still be correct. However this all made me wonder, how many ancestors do we have hiding in our trees that were adopted and we have no idea? Entire sections of our tree would be wrong when it comes to tracing bloodlines. If it weren’t for me deciding to clean up my tree and this one document pointing out the adoption, I would have never known.

While I am now left feeling blindsided and facing a new roadblock with Alice, I can’t help but also feel very appreciative towards Henry Martin McCrudy and Francis Abby Hinds. They not only took in my second great grandmother, they took in her children after she passed away. As I said, the 1900 census showed Henry and Frances living in the house of Alice’s husband but the 1910 census showed the kids still living with Frances (who was then widowed) with their father no where to be found.

Last night I learned that it doesn’t matter how long you have been into genealogy or how much you think you know about your family, there is always room to be surprised.

 

 

Have you dealt with adoption in your family tree? Any advice on breaking through the dead end? Are you currently battling that road block? Keep an eye out for updates on Alice’s story as I attempt to find the names of Alice’s birth parents.