Philobiblon: Catherine Bowen and the Gower Ghost

Monday, October 17, 2005

Catherine Bowen and the Gower Ghost

Since I'm in Wales, might as well go back to a couple more centuries, to 1655, and the case of a "Gower ghost", which I learnt about at an IHR seminar.

Except ghost is not quite the right word, since the haunting was by the spirit of a living man, Henry Bowen, husband of the target of the apparition, Catherine, so it should be called, I learnt, a spectre.

He had been a colonel in Cromwell's New Model Army, but was becoming increasingly extreme in his religion, heading towards antinomianism, and, it seems, having effectively left Catherine and moved to County Cork in Ireland, while she lived in a very isolated house at Llanrhidian, in what seems to have been a largely female household. (The place is pronounced nothing like it looks - my phonetic attempt was "Flanellen" - but I'm probably very bad at hearing Welsh.)

An account of the haunting was not printed until 1691, in the last of the 135 (!) books of Richard Baxter, a text designed to prove the "certainty of the world of spirits".

The paper was mostly concerned with the complicated religious politics and politics politics around the case, but I of course found the gender aspects fascinating. Sadly no account by Catherine survives - only two independent clerical male accounts.

They indicate that over several nights the spectre of Henry did all of the usual "ghostly" things, but going even further "manhandled" the women present - leaving bruises (but did not get into full stream when male ministers were present) and tried to get Catherine into bed with it. (A Freudian might make something of this.)

I'm rather tempted, however, to see it as a neat way to finally rid yourself of an unwanted husband. (I asked and was told they never lived together again.)

I could find nothing of the story on the net; an account was apparently written by the novelist Elizabeth Bowen in 1942 (Bowen's Court), but this, based on family tradition, was dismissed as of little value.


Blogger Ronnie Smartt said...

Sounds like the correct pronunciation for Llanelen/LLanellan, the "lost village and the name of the Bowens' Gower hous. I think you misjudge Elizabeth Bowen. Her account, in "Bowen's Court", is based on Baxter and other contemporary sources, and discusses the story intelligently. Colonel Bowen was of course an ancestor. She is not a bad novelist, either.


10/18/2005 05:03:00 pm  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

The conclusion about Elizabeth Bowen was the lecturer's, not my own. He said she presented Henry as though his politics had been those of her own generation of Anglo-Irish gentry, when he was actually quite a radical. I haven't read the book so can't comment - it's gone on my "one of these days" list, but it is a very long list!

10/19/2005 01:09:00 am  

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