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Weird Norfolk: The legend of the mistletoe bride

PUBLISHED: 11:59 22 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:05 07 March 2018

The mistletoe bride climbed into an oak chest which would become her tomb. Picture: Wikipedia

The mistletoe bride climbed into an oak chest which would become her tomb. Picture: Wikipedia

Wikipedia

Was Brockdish Hall the backdrop for a tragic tale which saw a Christmas bride entombed in a chest for 50 long and lonely years?

It’s a chilling story for a winter’s night: a Christmas wedding, a flirtatious game that ends in tragedy, a skeleton found in a forgotten attic wearing a long white gown.

The Mistletoe Bough is, essentially, a horror story, but thanks to a popular poem written by Thomas Haynes Bayly in the 1830s, became a song which was regularly sung at Christmas time in Victorian households – the Victorians did love to cast a shadow over even the most joyous of occasions.

Bayly’s poem tells the story of a wedding held in a grand hall decked with holly and mistletoe, a Baron’s daughter marrying a Lord in a lavish ceremony filled with feasting and dancing.

“’I’m weary of dancing now,’ she cried, ‘here, tarry a moment, I’ll hide, I’ll hide. And Lovell, be sure you’re the first to trace, the clue to my secret hiding place. Away she ran and her friends began each tower to search and each nook to scan. And young Lovell cried ‘oh, where do you hide? I’m lonesome without you, my own fair bride.”

Many grand houses across the land have laid claim to the Mistletoe Bride, including Brockdish Hall six miles east of Diss in Norfolk, which was built in the 17th century in Elizabethan style with distinctive stepped gables. It stands close to the site of a far earlier moated manor house which had served the parish since medieval times.

Back to the poem, and the new bride has disappeared without a trace…

“They sought her that night and they sought her next day and they sought her in vain while a week passed away; in the highest, the lowest, the loneliest spot, Young Lovell sought wildly, but found her not. And years flew by and their grief at last, was told as a sorrowful tale long past.”

At around the time when the Mistletoe Bough was set, it was common for rich merchants to offer a marriage chest, or cassone, as part of a bride’s dowry – the intricate chests, often ornately carved or painted, were given to couples on their wedding night. There is one such painted chest from the mid-15th century at Blickling Hall, somewhat coffin-like in appearance.

Was it such a chest that the mischievous young bride clambered into, little realising that when she shut the heavy oak lid she was imprisoning herself in what would become her tomb?

In a remote corner of the hall, she waited to be found. And she waited. And waited. Realising that no one was coming, she decided to relinquish her clever hiding place, at which point she realised that a hidden spring in the chest’s lid had effectively locked it firmly shut. Her screams for help fell on deaf ears, muffled by the thick wood, her fingernails tore at the wood in vain.

Some believe her new husband believed that she had developed cold feet about their union and, on the pretext of playing a game, had escaped into the night. Lovell, the poem recalls, continued to pine for his lost wife even as he grew old, weeping for “his fairy bride”.

Fifty years had passed and then, finally, the mystery was solved.

“At length an oak chest, that had long lain hid, was found in the castle — they raised the lid and a skeleton form lay mouldering there in the bridal wreath of that lady fair!”

Some say the skeleton was found clasping a sprig of mistletoe, perhaps to claim a kiss from her new husband.

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