Poor Little William Hoby & his Ghostly Mum

Bisham Abbey

I love a good ghost story, especially one that may just be true.  One that sticks in my mind is that of naughty William Hoby and his even naughtier mum, Lady Elizabeth Hoby.  If anything, it’s a story that will make you think twice about not doing your homework…


Back in the 1500s, Sir Thomas and Lady Elizabeth Hoby lived with their children at the grand Bisham Abbey on the banks of the River Thames.  Poor old Sir Tom died, leaving Lady Elizabeth alone to bring up the children.  Being a proper lady and good chum of Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Elizabeth wanted the very best for her children and took personal charge of their education.  She was a pretty cold, unfeeling mother and a very strict teacher; a bad combination for little William Hoby.  William was the Hoby’s youngest son, and though he tried, he simply wasn’t very bright or willing to learn.  He often made mistakes and blotted his schoolbooks.  None of this went down wellwith his mum, who shouted at him and beat him on a regular basis.

One day, William did everything wrong.  Lady Elizabeth was already in a bad mood, but the sight of her son’s messy work tipped her over the edge.  Particularly nasty versions of the story suggest that she beat him severely, led him to a cold tower room and tied him to a chair, insisting that he copy out his work again and again until he got it right.  Lady Elizabeth then left William alone and locked the door behind her.

A few hours later, Lady Elizabeth received a message from her buddy Queen Liz, summoning her to some kind of exciting happening at Windsor Palace.  Off she went, without a second thought for the little boy she had left on his own.  Can you see where this is going now?!…

liz hoby
Lady Elizabeth Hoby


Later that week, Lady Elizabeth returned home and asked where William was.  She probably assumed he was still sulking or lazing around somewhere.  Her house staff looked blankly at her and said that having not seen him, they assumed he had gone away with her to Windsor.   The penny dropped.  Lady Elizabeth dashed up to the cold tower room, but her poor boy was dead.

Filled with sorrow and sadness for her actions, Lady Elizabeth never forgave herself for the death of her son.  She died in 1609, but her ghost – the grey lady of Bisham Abbey – has been seen numerous times since.  She is often seen wandering the grounds, wringing her hands in remorse.  She has also been seen in the house itself, sometimes materialising from her large portrait that still hangs in the hall.

In the 1800s, building renovations at Bisham Abbey uncovered several 17th century schoolbooks, some of which were terribly blotted and riddled with corrections by a strict teacher.  Could these be the books of poor little William?


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