The Death Of Lord Lyttelton: The Ghost In White Who Appeared To Warn The Lord Of His Deadly Fate
In 1779 Lord Lyttelton claimed to have seen an apparition of a woman dressed in all white, the ghost is said to have told him that he would die in three days, to the horror of his friends and housekeepers, he died in three days.
Thomas the second Lord Lyttelton, was as noted for his loose life as his father had been for his upright one. Even after seemingly repenting and marrying, in his twenties, he soon deserted his wife for a barmaid whom he took off to Paris. In 1779, at the age of thirty-five, not the least of the scandals current against him was his association with three sisters named Amphlett, who lived near his country residence.
In November 1779, Lord Lyttelton had just returned from Ireland, where he had left one of the sisters, when, at his home in Hill Street, Berkely Square, he suffered a number of suffocating fits.
One night he had an appalling vision. As he lay in bed he was wakened out of his sleep by the noise of a bird fluttering at the window. The room then seemed to fill with light, and he saw in the recess of the window a female figure robed in white. It was an apparition of the mother of the girl he had seduced, Mrs Amphlett, who had recently died.
Badly shocked, he called out "what do you want?"
"I have come to warn you of your death," the apparition replied. She pointed to the clock on the mantlepiece, which showed the time as midnight, and said solemnly that on this hour, three days later, he would die. Then she vanished, leaving the room again in darkness.
Lord Lyttelton immediately called his manservant, and in a sweat of fear, told the astonished man in detail what he had just seen. In the morning he was noticeably agitated, and to several people who asked the cause, he similarly described the visit of the apparition.
By the third day - Saturday, November 27 - Lyttelton was seen to have grown very thoughtful, and although the matter was obviously still weighing heavily on his mind he attempted to make light of it. At breakfast, to which he entertained several guests, including the other two sisters with who his name had been linked, he remarked that he felt very well and, "If I live over tonight I shall have jockeyed the ghost, for this is the third day." Afterwards, while out walking with a cousin who was also a guest, they passed a graveyard, and, running his eye over the gravestones, Lyttelton suddenly commented on the number of "vulgar fellows" who died at thirty-five, his own age, adding, "But you and I, who are gentlemen, shall live to a good old age."
Later that morning Lord Lyttelton and his guest set out for his country house, Pitt Place, near Epsom, where they had not long arrived before he had another of his suffocating fits. But he was well enough to dine with his friends at five o'clock, and again he joked about the apparition, asking why they looked so grave and assuring them, "I am as well as ever I was in my life, and I shall bilk the ghost!"
By a friendly trick, the clocks throughout the house, and the watches of the whole party, including Lyttelton's own, were put forward half an hour. The evening passed agreeably, no further mention being made of the ghostly warning, and Lyttelton seemed to have recovered his usual gaiety. Around eleven o'clock he retired to his bedroom, and soon afterwards undressed and got into bed.
His uneasiness had now very plainly returned. He kept looking at his watch and ordered his valet to close the curtains at the foot of his bed. When it was within a minute or two ofF midnight by his watch he asked to look at the valet's watch and seemed pleased to find that it nearly kept time with his own. He then put both watches to his ear, to satisfy himself that they were going. As the minutes ticked by he waited, and when it had gone a quarter-past twelve by the watches, he said in a matter-of-fact voice to his valet, "This mysterious lady is not a true prophetess I find."
When it was close to twelve-thirty - the real hour of midnight - he told his valet, "Come, I'll wait no longer. Get me my medicine. I'll take it and try to sleep."
The valet duly brought his lordship's dose of rhubarb and mint water, which, not having a spoon at hand, he began to stir with a toothpick. Lyttelton, seeing this, scolded him and sent him away for a teaspoon. The valet returned after a minute or two with a spoon to find Lyttelton in a fit, with his chin, because of his elevation off the pillow, resting hard on his neck. Instead of trying to relieve him, the valet ran for help, and when he returned with an alarmed party of guests, Lord Lyttelton was dead.
Among the company at Pitt Place earlier that day was Miles Peter Andrews, a close friend of Lord Lyttelton. Andrews, having business at the Dartford powder mills, some thirty miles away, in which he was a partner, left Pitt Place early, though not before he was satisfied that his friend was restored to his usual good spirits. Andrews had given such little thought to the "ghostly warning" that he did not even remember the time it was predicted the event would take place. He had been half an hour in bed at the house of his partner at the mills, when suddenly the curtains at the foot of the bed were pulled open to disclose Lord Lyttelton standing there, dressed in nightclothes and a nightcap.
Andrews, bewildered at Lyttelton's unexpected appearance, looked at him scarcely believing his eyes. Then, recovering, he began to reproach the peer for coming down to Dartford Mills without warning, as there was no accommodation for him. "However," said Andrews, "I'll get up and see what can be done." He turned to the other side of the bed and rang the bell.
On turning back he found that Lyttelton had left the room. When his servant came in, he asked, "Where is Lord Lyttelton?" The puzzled servant replied that he had not seen anything of his lordship since they had left Pitt Place earlier that day. "You fool!" said Andrews angrily. "He was here this very moment at my bedside."
The servant, however, persisted that it was not possible. Andrews, convinced now that Lyttelton must be up to some trickery, dressed himself and with the servants searched every part of the house and garden, but no Lord Lyttelton could be found.
Still, Andrews believed that Lyttelton had played a trick on him, until at four o'clock on that same day, a message arrived informing him of his peer's death, and the circumstances of it. It was plain now that the figure he had seen at the foot of the bed could not have been of flesh and blood. The shock of this was so great that he fell into a dead faint.
Lord Lyttelton's death, on November 27, 1779, was attributed to a fit. There was no post-mortem examination of his body, which lay in state for some days at Hill Street before burial. Throughout the years since many attempts have been made to explain away the whole uncanny story, even a suggestion that Lyttelton took poison, and invented the story of the ghostly warning to deceive his friends. However, though accounts of the coming of the apparition have differed a little in the retelling (and also gathered some embellishments along the way) they agree in all essential particulars. The family, and Lyttelton's many friends, who heard the story personally from him, never doubted it in the least. Nor could any of the circumstantial evidence be broken, or the testimony of immediate witnesses, including the valet who was present with Lyttelton in the last hours of his life. Also beyond doubt was the story of Mr Andrews, always told by him "reluctantly and with an evidently solemn conviction of the truth". This friend of Lyttelton's, after his dreadful shock, "was not his own man again for three years".
In 1780, the year following her son's death, there hung in a prominent position in the drawing-room of the Dowager Lady Lyttelton, at her house in Portugal Street, Grosvenor Square, a picture she herself executed. It showed a bird, a dove, at a window, while a woman in white stood at the foot of the bed giving warning to Lord Lyttelton of his coming death. Every part of the picture was faithfully designed by the dowager after the description given by her son's valet, to whom he had told all the circumstances of his grim night visitor immediately after the ghost had appeared. The Terrifying True Story Of The Ghosts That Have Plagued The Homes Of The British Royal Family.