The Ghosts of Edinburgh Castle21st Oct 2021
By Stefanie Turpe, Mercat Storyteller
Visit Edinburgh Castle and you might see more than battlements, cannons, and chapels. Like every medieval fortress worth its salt, the ancient stronghold allegedly boasts a whole array of restless spirits that could make an appearance on your next visit.
The Grey Lady
Arguably the most tragic is a mysterious lady, dressed like a 16th-century noblewoman, who has been spotted around the older parts of the castle, sometimes just wandering about, other times weeping. Well, she would be, considering that she is associated with two equally unfortunate historical figures.
Some say that she might be Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, a woman accused of witchcraft by a vengeful King James V who took his grudge against her brother out on her. Even then everyone knew the accusations were baseless. But Janet Douglas was burned at the stake outside the castle on 17 July 1537, in front of her son. If that isn't enough to turn someone into a restless spirit, I'm not sure what would be.
Others speculate that the lady could be Marie de Guise, the Catholic mother and regent of Mary Queen of Scots. Marie de Guise found herself on the losing side of the Scottish Reformation. When she died in June 1560 her corpse was kept at the castle for months, wrapped in cloth and kept in a lead coffin to keep the smell at bay - before Protestant nobles finally allowed her remains to be shipped home to France.
The Castle's Unluckiest Prisoner
There have also been reports of a ghostly man who smells distinctly of manure and tries to push visitors over the castle’s battlements. The story goes that he was one of the many poor souls imprisoned in the castle's dark, damp, rat-infested dungeons. Desperate to escape, he crawled into a wheelbarrow full of muck, hoping to be taken out of the castle and emptied onto a nice soft dung heap. But the wheelbarrow was tipped over the battlements instead, and the poor man broke his neck on the jagged slopes of Castle Rock.
The Piper and the Drummer
Two of the castle’s best-known ghostly apparitions are soldiers. Legend has it that many years ago the entrance to an underground tunnel – perhaps an escape route in case of siege - was discovered in the depths of the fortress. A regimental bagpiper was persuaded to explore the tunnel, playing his pipes as he descended so his comrades above ground could follow his progress. But at the Tron Kirk – halfway down the Royal Mile – his underground piping stopped. Soldiers went down to look for the piper. But he was never seen again. The tunnel was sealed. And today people still claim to hear the faint sound of bagpipes underneath the cobbles of the Old Town.
Another military ghost seen on the castle’s battlements is that of a headless drummer. This grisly figure was first seen drumming a warning signal in 1650, just before the castle was attacked by Oliver Cromwell. Ever since then, the headless drummer has been considered a harbinger of danger.
Last but not least... the Ghostly Good Boy
Did you know that Edinburgh Castle has its own pet cemetery? Dogs that were regimental mascots or belonged to distinguished soldiers are buried there. According to some visitors, the ghost of a scruffy black dog has been seen wandering about. As far as I'm concerned, out of all the ghostly apparitions this is the one I would most like to meet. You can visit Edinburgh Castle on our Secrets of the Royal Mile tour - ghost sightings not guaranteed!