Earlier, I set the background to Sir Fulke Greville’s murder, but it may be surprising to hear that the tale of Sir Fulke’s ghost is actually less than one hundred years old.
Not even Frances Evelyn ‘Daisy’, Countess of Warwick, mentioned Sir Fulke’s ghost in her own books on the castle. This is despite her describing several in printed text, including the spirit of Guy of Warwick and the elusive ‘Grey Lady’. Even in her husband’s book, Memories of Sixty Years (1917), recounts several ghostly tales known to his family at Warwick Castle without even one single mention of Sir Fulke. If Daisy was never one to shy away from a good story, why did she leave this one out?
The history of tourism
The ghost of Sir Fulke has more to do with the history of tourism than the history of Warwick Castle itself. Indeed, the first recorded mention of Sir Fulke’s ghost was made in 1920s-30s during the ownership of the financially strained Charles Fulke Greville (1911-1984), 7th Earl of Warwick.1,2 It was during the interwar period that saw the beginnings of ghost tourism, increased no doubt by the trauma and depression of the First World War, and was even reflected in Noël Coward’s hit song The Stately Homes of England (1938). It is no coincidence perhaps that the rooms of the Watergate Tower were renamed ‘Fulke Greville’s Study’ in this very decade.
This story was then routinely revived in the 1960s by his son David, Lord Brooke, especially in the press and magazines promoting visitors to the castle.3 It is perhaps no coincidence that these ghostly tales coincided with the sale of Sir Fulke Greville’s manuscripts to the British Library in 1968, and when scholars reignited interest in Greville’s life, poetry and writings (Joan Rees’s seminal book on Sir Fulke was published in 1971, for example). It was during the ownership of Lord Brooke in 1973 that the rooms of the Watergate Tower, suitably re-named the ‘Ghost Tower’, were opened to the public for the first time. The atmospheric oak panelling of these rooms, which lends them a Jacobean flavour, was installed in the 18th century and re-arranged in its present condition during the 1850s-1860s due to work undertaken by architect Anthony Salvin. The eventual installation of Sir Fulke’s portrait and seventeenth century furniture in these rooms would complete this vision, a relic to accompany the miracle of his ghost. Needless to say, a documentary report published in 1996 concluded that “Although little trace of Fulke Greville’s alterations survive in the tower, … it is unlikely that he ever lived in it…”4
More recent representations
More recently Sir Fulke’s tragic death was turned into an actor-based attraction at the castle by its next owners the Tussauds Group in 2004. A man described as ‘America’s top extreme scream director’, Lynton V Harris, was employed to devise a 6-8 minute attraction in which visitors would be entertained by lighting effects and actors in makeup. Wildly successful both with audiences and the accounting department, the show’s narrative was equally successful at reducing our poet’s story to its gruesome end, not to mention brushing over the fact that this horrific act occurred nearly one hundred miles away.
Fulke Greville’s singular painted portrait now rests in a dark corner of the castle, competing for attention with wax portraits of Henry VIII and his wives. Despite this, Greville’s spectacular tomb in St Mary’s Church survives as the most evocative and haunting expression of his life as Trophaeum Peccati or ‘Sin’s Trophy’.
1 Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, 28 May 1927, Lea Fields wrote that ‘I sensed the ghosts of dead Earls of Warwick…’ and gave an unspecific long list of names, including ‘Fulk Greville.’
2 The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 152, 1933.
3 This was possibly under advice given to Brooke by the entertainment consultant Graham Cook.
4 M.D Booth and Nicholas Palmer, Warwick Castle Watergate Tower: A documentary and pictorial survey, Warwickshire Museum 1996, p.6.