|Bloody Mary Tudor, Painting by Master John, 1544|
Sir John Baker had a respectable career as a Tudor politician of some standing. Also, he was (maybe less respectably by today's standards) a dedicated hunter of heretics in Canterbury during the reign of Mary Tudor. He came to be known as Sir John "Bloody" Baker and for good reason. Sir John earned his reputation as the English Bluebeard several times over. (It should be noted that the French Bluebeard cut the throats of his wives.)
This ignoble Lord lived beneath the glorious towers and turrets of Sissinghurst Castle in the English county of Kent. One day, he callously murdered his current mistress because, he said, she no longer pleased him. Immediately, he became betrothed to a new, more attractive and possibly younger lady. This was the way of many Lords in those days, when young ladies were expendable like torn doublets and hose.
Bluebeard: A Shocking Encounter with a Killer
This young lady decided to meet with her lover, Sir John, and catch him unawares. Full of girlish excitement, she took her friend along with her. The two young women chanced upon Sir John near the staircase, and to their consternation, he was carrying a long, thin bundle along an upstairs hallway. What could possibly be hidden inside that bundle? Maybe it was instinct, but the young betrothed woman was scared and she grabbed her friend's hand and tried to drag her to a place to hide under the stairs.
The girls could hardly stifle their terror as a hand, already stiffened through rigor mortis,thrashed against the spindles of the bannister, becoming trapped between them. Local knowledge supports two separate accounts for what happened next. In one, Sir John hacked off the arm with his sword so that it fell into his lover's lap. The second account claims he severed the trapped finger with his dagger. Either way, it was a very bloody business.
Retribution Triumphs and Bluebeard is Put to Death
Sir John suffered from probably the most extreme case of arrogance among the upper classes in Tudor times. He wasn't even the slightest bit bothered, but strode on his way, assuming that a servant would clear up the bloody mess. But he was to suffer for his evildoing. We are not sure how he was caught, but caught he was!
Bluebeard's Ghost Haunts the Pest House
So Sir John "Bloody" Baker was arrested. He was tried and hanged. It is claimed his ghost now haunts the Pest House nearby. The Pest House was once an old plague hospital and was built in 1369. Sir John's house is claimed to be connected to the Pest House by a secret tunnel. Sometimes, this evil ghost has a female figure beside him who is thought to be one of his unfortunate victims, maybe even his betrothed - although it would be nice to think she escaped from his clutches both in life and death - and found a more gentle lover.
Haunted Kent, Janet Cameron, Amberley Publishing, 2005.