Blickling Hall, that sumptuous estate in Norfolk, is supposedly haunted by Anne Boleyn, the queen beheaded by her ghastly husband, Henry VIII. In reality, she never lived at Blickling Hall, but the home did belong to her family. Queen Anne is said to appear each year on the anniversary of her tragic death. The conservators of the castle often laugh about the ghost, they are much more interested in discussing the fabulous collection in their care, in particular the portrait of Elizabeth I, the pearl of the collection. The portrait had been sent to the National Gallery in London for restoration. The restorers had only recently completed the work, the portrait looked like new. It was on its way back to Blickling Hall, the truck was to arrive that very evening. The conservators were overjoyed, as the portrait was a major tourist attraction.
At dinner time, the telephone rang. It was the truck driver, there had been a minor accident. He was at the garage where the repairs were expected to take some time, perhaps it would be better to drop the painting off the following day he wondered. The conservators protested, he should bring the painting that evening, it didn’t matter how late, they would wait for him. They spent the evening in the castle library, chatting around a bottle of old port wine. They hadn’t realized that midnight had rung and that the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death had arrived. Towards one o’clock in the morning, the driver arrived with a large package. The conservators hurriedly unwrapped it, with caution, but anxious to see the restoration all the same. It was perfect. The likeness of Queen Elizabeth, until then obscured under layers of varnish, appeared now in all its splendor. They rejoiced and thanked the driver for coming so late at night and wished him a safe return.
As the driver was leaving, one of the conservators stopped him, “Sir, you have forgotten the receipt. We must sign for it.”
“It is already signed,” the driver replied.
“By who?” demanded the conservators quite stupefied, as they were the only two around.
“By the woman that opened the door.”
They asked the driver to describe the woman.
“She wore a long grey robe, a headdress with a black veil upon her head.”
The conservators were taken aback. One of the two grabbed the driver by the arm and led him into the grand gallery of the castle. They stopped in front of a portrait.
“Yes, that is her,” the driver said, “She is the one who signed the receipt.
The conservators trembled. It was a portrait of Anne Boleyn. She had appeared on the anniversary of her execution to sign the receipt for the portrait of her daughter, Queen Elizabeth. The conservators demanded to see the receipt. There was no signature, but the driver protested, assuring the two men that the woman in the portrait had signed the receipt.
This story was told to me by the woman who was running the small boutique in the castle when I had the opportunity to visit with my godson Cosmas.