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Legend of the Mistletoe Bough
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Legend of the Mistletoe Bough

The Legend of the Mistletoe Bough is a ghost story which has been associated with many mansions and stately homes in England.

The tale tells how a new bride, playing a game of hide-and-seek during her wedding breakfast, hid in a chest in an attic and was unable to escape. She was not discovered by her family and friends, and suffocated. The body was allegedly found many years later in the locked chest.

Notable claimants for the story's location, some still displaying the chest, include Bramshill House and Marwell Hall in Hampshire, Castle Horneck in Cornwall, Basildon Grotto in Berkshire, Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, Exton Hall in Rutland, Brockdish Hall in Norfolk and Bawdrip Rectory in Somerset.

The tale first appeared in print in the form of a poem by Samuel Rogers entitled Ginerva, in his book 'Italy' published in 1823. In notes on this work, Rogers states The story is, I believe, founded on fact; though the time and the place are uncertain. Many old houses lay claim to it. [1]

The popularity of the tale was greatly increased when it appeared as a song in the 1830s entitled 'The Mistletoe Bough' written by T.H. Bayley and Sir Henry Bishop. The song proved very popular. In 1859, its 'solemn chanting' was referred to as a 'national occurrence at Christmas'[2] in English households, and by 1862 the song was referred to as 'one of the most popular songs ever written', 'which must be known by heart by many readers'.[3]

Further works inspired by the song include a play of the same name by Charles A Somerset first produced in 1835. A short story, 'Ginevra or The Old Oak Chest: A Christmas Story' by Susan E Wallace published in 1887 and another short story "The Romance of Certain Old Clothes" by Henry James published in 1868. The song is also played in Thomas Hardy's A Laodicean, after the scene involving the capture of George Somerset's handkerchief from the tower.

The story of the Mistletoe Bough is recounted in the 1948 Alfred Hitchcock film Rope, where it is described as being the favorite tale of the main character, Brandon Shaw. Unbeknownst to the story teller, the body of his murdered son had been hidden by Shaw in the chest in front of which they are standing.

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