Updated: Aug 1
The story of the White Lady of Bohemia is unlike many ghost stories, this unidentified phantom cared for the young, warned the adults of impending danger, and prepared the dying for their upcoming fate.
Tiny Petr Vok was a very special baby. He was born in 1539, the sole heir and last in the line of the aristocratic Rozmberk family of South Bohemia. His father, Josta, was desperate that nothing should stop him from continuing a lineage that stretched back for centuries.
He hired a team of nannies to maintain a 24-hour watch over the boy at his home, Krumlov Castle, on the banks of the river Vltava. They were with him constantly, caring for him by day, sleeping in his room at night.
One night, one of the nannies woke with a startle. The room was strangely bright, glowing with moonlight. As she stared round it, she saw a curious, misty figure beside Petr's cradle. Speechless and shaking with fright, she watched the intruder, a woman in white, gazing down at the sleeping child. As the baby started to cry, the woman gently picked him up, cuddled and stroked him, kissed him, and tenderly placed him back in the crib. Then she disappeared.
Still shaking, the startled nanny woke her colleague and told her what she had seen. Gingerly, they crept to the cradle. Little Petr was sleeping peacefully, a smile between his pink cheeks.
The two nannies had heard the legend of the White Lady, a ghost said to haunt the castles of the Rozmberk family. They had dismissed it as folklore. The next night, they both stayed awake to see if the woman returned. The room was locked, the windows shut, but just after midnight they saw a pale light, and the phantom nanny appeared again. She rocked the cradle, caressed the child, then, seemingly satisfied that all was well, dissolved into a wall.
Each successive night, the two girls waited for the White Lady to appear. She never let them down. Content that she meant no harm, they took her for granted and did not bother to stay awake. Then one of the regular nannies fell ill, and a temporary replacement moved in. Nobody told her about the White Lady, and as she lay tossing and turning, unable to sleep, she saw the ghost arrive at her usual time. The next morning, she told one of the other girls what she had seen, and was told, "Don't worry, the White Lady takes care of Petr at night."
But the girl was worried. What would the master say if something happened to the boy? How could she explain that she had left him in the care of a ghost?
The next night, she again lay sleepless as the phantom appeared, walked to the cradle, and rocked it. When Petr started to cry, she picked him up. Then, the anxious nanny leapt from her bed and walked bravely to the figure.
She grabbed the child from her arms. The White Lady put up no resistance. She stood motionless, then turned to the girl and said sternly, "Do you know what you are doing, bold one? I am a relative of this newborn child, and it is my right to be with him. You will not see me here anymore." The ghost made a cross sign on the wall, then disappeared into it.
Petr grew up to inherit the castle when his father died. He was told the story of his mystery guardian and often discussed her with friends and relatives. One day he decided to check the wall where she had last been seen. Workmen began knocking a hole - and discovered a cache of coins and gems.
Who was the caring White Lady? There are two theories. A historian believed she was Lady Perchta, a Rozmberk who married an aristocrat called Jan Lichtenstein. But he proved cruel and merciless, and eventually, she left him and his selfish family, and fled to Krumlov. later she moved to Vienna, to live with her daughter, and died there in 1476. A portrait of her and her husband still hangs in the castle at Jindrichuv Hradec in South Bohemia, today part of Czechoslovakia.
Another theory is that the White Lady is Marketa, daughter of the Archduke Maidburce. She married Jindrich, from the Hradec castle family, but when he died in 1362, became a recluse at a convent in Krumlov. From time to time she visited her children and friends, wearing an all-white nun's habit.
Whoever she was, there are many documented sightings of her in the homes of Bohemian nobles. Apart from Krumlov, she was seen in castles at Telci, Bechyn, Terbon and Jindrichuv Hradec. The accounts of her are always the same: a woman of breeding, all in white, with a hood over her head. She was seen just before anything happy or sad was to happen - if the news was bad, she wore black gloves instead of white. Workmen renovating part of the Jindrichuv Hradec castle once spotted her at midday, at a window in a tower. They were startled because no one had been in the tower for years and the staircase had been destroyed by fire. They watched her for some time before she slowly faded from sight, as if moving across the room.
Servants at the castle often saw her in the corridors at night, sometimes with a bunch of keys hanging at her waist. Her face was always serious, but never frightening. As she flowed along landings, opening doors, some servants spoke to her. She would answer with a movement of her head or hand, or even with a few words.
The servants believed she was taking care of the families to whom she was related, looking after the young, warning the adults of danger, and preparing the dying for their fate.
In 1604, one of the Hradce family, a man called Jachym, fell suddenly ill, but nobody thought his condition could be fatal. Then, on a cold, snowy, January night, a priest at the castle woke with a start and thought he heard someone calling him. Dressing hurriedly, he opened his door and found a woman in white.
"Do not waste any time," she said in an urgent voice. "Follow me." The priest turned back to look for a light, but the woman took his lantern, breathed on the glass, and a flame flared up.
She led the way to the castle chapel, where the astonished priest found candles burning everywhere, as if in readiness for a Mass. The woman told him to collect everything he needed to perform the last rites. Still puzzled, he did as she directed, then followed her to Jachym's bedroom door.
Here both she and the light vanished, but by now the priest realised who she was. He went into the bedroom and found the servants asleep. On the sickbed, Jachym was clearly gravely ill and fighting for his life. The priest performed the last rites, and the master, the last of the Hradcer line, died in peace.
The caring nature of the ghost points to her being Marketa, as Sedlacek suggested. She was once supervising renovations to part of Jindrichuv Hradec castle, and to encourage workmen, she promised them all sweet pudding when they had finished - and every year after that.
When the work was complete, by the late autumn, Marketa kept her promise and prepared a great feast. But as the men and their families sat down at long tables in the castle courtyard, snow began to fall onto the sweet pudding. The following year, the hostess switched the date of the feast to early spring, and the tradition of feeding the poor on "Green Thursday" continued throughout her lifetime, and the lives of her successors, long into the 16th century.
Now you have read the story of the White Lady of Bohemia, make sure you read the true story about the Black Eyed Children of Cannock Chase.