Not to be confused with Gray Ladies (which can appear white), White Ladies are a very western European type of spirit that traditionally inhabits castles and old manor homes. White Ladies are the spirits of noblewomen who have been murdered or committed terrible crimes of their own. Certain ghosts are called “white lady” but don’t fit the criteria (such as the White Lady of Arca in New York) – these are usually Gray Ladies instead. The Brown Lady of Raynham hall, one of the most famously photographed ghosts, is likely a White Lady and not a Gray Lady.
White Ladies are most often seen in Great Britain and France. In England, they are usually noble women who met a foul end. The spirit is then left to linger in the manor or castle and haunt the living. In France, they are most often seen on bridges, though they can also appear in castles. The bridge ghosts seem to beckon people to leap from the bridge to their deaths, possibly in a sort of ritual sacrifice.
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall fits the bill for being a White Lady. Her title comes from the brown brocade dress she wears. She is believed to be Lady Dorothy Walpole, who died in 1726. Lady Walpole was the sister of Britain’s first Prime Minister, and was carrying on and affair with Lord Wharton. In a story right out of a soap opera, her husband, who was furious with her adultery, and the Lady Wharton, conspired to trap Lady Walpole in Lady Wharton’s family home of Raynham Hall. The Lady invited Dorothy over for a few days, knowing that once her husband heard that she was entertaining his mistress, he would forbid the woman from leaving the estate. He did so, and she remained a prisoner for the next several years, eventually dying of smallpox. She never left the estate, never got to see her children again, and died alone.
Not long after, her spirit began to appear. She continues to haunt the hall to this day, appearing as a ghostly white apparition wearing the brown brocade dress she was buried in. In 1936, Captain Hubert C. Provand snapped the above photo of the Brown Lady. It was published in Country Life magazine in January of 1937. Since its first appearance, the photo has been examined and authenticated, and while some skeptics still believe it to be a trick, no one had definitively debunked the photo. It is one of the most famous images of a ghost ever caught on film.
While England and France are the home of most of the White Lady sitings, there are two White Ladies who also appear in Germany, where they are both known as the White Lady of the Hohenzollerns. These two ghosts appear in the various royal residences around Germany, usually as a death omen.
The first and most well known is the spirit of Agnes of Orlamonde, who murdered her two children circa 1300 AD. She killed her children to be able to marry King Albert of Nuremberg due to a misunderstanding. King Albert told her “four eyes stand between us”; he meant his parents who would not approve of Agnes, but she believed he meant her children, and so she killed them to be with her love. She herself was put to death for her crimes. She then appeared in 1598 to King Albert Frederick and drove him mad. She next appeared in 1619, rocking the cradle of Prince Albert, the son of King Sigismund, who died two weeks later. In 1628 she appeared and actually spoke, saying, “I wait to be judged”. She has appeared again in 1667, 1688, 1840 and 1887, each time as a harbinger of death.
The second ghost is Princess Bertha von Rosenberg. She was the widow of Margrave of Brandenburg, and attempted to worm her way into the bed of Baron Steyermark in 1451. Like Agnes of Orlamonde, she also had children who were in the way of her plans. She murdered them and tried to get into the Baron’s good graces by creating an annual donation to the poor. However, her deeds were found out. Some say she was buried alive for her crimes, and thus forced to walk the Earth for eternity. She often appeared around the time for the annual gifts to be given to the poor, perhaps believing if the tradition was maintained, she would one day be forgiven.