Dunstanburgh Castle is now a ruined castle situated on a remote headland in Northumberland. It is associated with many myths and legends and a spooky folktale concerning a good knight who becomes caught up in an endless search for a beautiful woman he once found asleep on a crystal plinth deep within the castle.
Although long ruined Dunstanburgh Castle is steeped in history and was once a garrison against the threat from Scotland and was fought over during the Wars of the Roses. It was built by Earl Thomas of Lancaster early in the 1300s who was one of the richest men in England, very influential and for a few years after the Scottish defeated Edward at Bannockburn the effective ruler of England. He was one of the leaders of the barons in their opposition to King Edward II, who was also his first cousin and had served at his coronation.
Edward had a friend named Piers Gaveston who was a great favorite of his and this had caused resentment among some of the barons, including Thomas. They had plotted together and had him executed which understandably angered the king. Thomas was involved in many other intrigues and Edward was out for revenge which he eventually got. After leading a failed rebellion against Edward, Thomas was captured, tried and executed.
Maybe because of its history, remote location and the imposing look of its ruins a number of legends have grown up around the castle. There is a long-standing local tradition that there is a network of tunnels running from the castle to some of the villages and hamlets nearby. The tunnels were said to run to a number of cellars and barns where there were trap doors that let unknown men travel to and from the castle unseen.
The Legend of Sir Guy the Seeker
Perhaps the strangest legend about the castle is the story of Sir Guy the Seeker. A similar legend is found in other parts of Great Britain and M.G. Lewis in 1809 published a poem called Sir Guy, the Seeker, a poem based on the legend. According to the legend, in the days when knights were virtuous and chivalrous there was a good knight named Sir Guy. One evening he happened to be traveling nearby and as the sun was going down a storm began to brew in the darkening sky. On hearing the rumble of thunder and as the rain began falling in torrents he looked around for shelter. In the distance, he saw the jagged ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle black against the sky and decide to seek shelter there.
As he approached the ruins he realized they stood on a high cliff with their backs to the sea but could not see a path that led up to it. With no way up and the rain lashing down he looked around for alternative shelter and found a cave. He entered and took off his sodden cloak and jacket. Inside it was dark and as his eyes grew accustomed he saw a softly glimmering light floating slowly towards him from down a passageway. As the light came nearer it changed its appearance to form the terrifying figure of an ugly old warlock. “Follow if you dare ad you will find beauty beyond belief!,” growled the warlock.
Although Sir Guy was alarmed at the apparition he was also intrigued and not without courage and followed the warlock along miles of dark damp passageways deep beneath the ground. There were many twists and turns and steps that went up and steps that ran down but at last, they came out in the very heart of Dunstanburgh Castle. As he followed the warlock into the courtyard the night was dark and somber. Looking around he saw an army of knights and cavalry asleep on the ground.
The Sleeper on the Crystal Plinth
Towards the center of the courtyard he saw a crystal plinth and reposed upon it seemingly fast asleep was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. All around the plinth the most horrific images of skulls, skeletons, snakes and monsters were depicted. To the left of the maiden lying alongside her was an ancient calling horn. On the other side lay a sword. The warlock beckoned Sir Guy over to the plinth and said, “The fate of the sleeper is in your hands. You must choose either the horn or the sword to awaken her. Choose now!”
The Choice of Sir Guy
Sir Guy had no idea which to chose and paced up and down trying to make his mind up. At last, he went to the plinth picked up the horn and gave it a mighty blow. The sound echoed around the courtyard and the knights awoke from slumber. Drawing their swords they rushed at Sir Guy who expected death instantly as they struck at him. Instead, the blades passed straight through him without marking or cutting his flesh and then he awoke outside the cave soaked through with the warlock standing over him saying, “Shame on you Sir Guy for choosing the horn. A warrior would have chosen the sword!” And then turned and vanished into the cave.
The Ghost of Sir Guy
From that day forward the legend says that Sir Guy lived a cursed life. He became obsessed with the beautiful woman sleeping on the crystal plinth. To try and mollify the shame he felt he spent the rest of his life searching the dark tunnels below Dunstanburgh Castle for her. He never found her and was said to have died still searching for her. The ghost of Sir Guy is said to be still wandering the ruins of the forlorn castle forever seeking out the sleeper on the crystal plinth in the hope of finding and rescuing her.
© 20/03/2017 zteve t evans
References, Attributions and Further Reading
Copyright March 20th, 2017 zteve t evans
- Dunstanburgh Castle and the Legend of Sir Guy the Seeker
- Robbins Library Digital Projects – › Camelot Project › Sir Guy the Seeker from: Romantic Tales, vol. i (Pp. 291 – 307) – 1809
- Dunstanburgh Castle – Wikipedia
- Great Castles – Legends – The Ghosts of Dunstanburgh Castle
- Pixabay – Dunstanburgh Castle by – tpsdave – CC0 Public Domain