I am particulary interested in this story because the Pengersick Castle is near to where my great–grandfather lived, and I believe he knew about the legend.
In the parish of Breage are the ruins of Pengersick Castle which in 1890 had only fragments and a portion of the tower standing. Some of the upper rooms were fallen in and in a state of decay. The lower oak panels are curiously carved but time and the elements have almost effaced the designs. One panel remains legible, called Perseverance and contain the following lines:
What thing is harder than the rock?
What softer is than water clear?
Yet wyll the same, with often droppe,
The hard rock perce as doth a spere.
Even so, nothing so hard to attayne,
But may be hadde, with labour and payne.
These ruins stand on the ruins of a much older castle and in it lived, during the dark ages, a very wicked man. This man while fighting in a foreign land forgot his wife at home and courted a king's daughter who is supposed to have given him a magic sword which ensured victory in every battle to its owner. This man deceived and left this woman but she followed him to his home by the Mount with her son in her arms.
She met the man in his home and upbraided him; he, in a fit of rage, threw them both into the sea. The lady drowned but she was turned into a white hare which continually haunted this old lord, but the boy was picked up by a passing ship.
The lord's wife afterwards died and he married again, this time to a very wicked woman reputed to be a witch. She was cruel to her step–son who lived with his father in the castle.
One night a violent storm arose in Mount's Bay and the young man went down to the water to see if any ships were in distress. He found an exhausted sailor on the beach who had been washed in by the waves. He had his servants carry the sailor home and put in his own bed. When the sailor revived and was cleaned up, they were astounded at the resemblance to each other and they became good friends.
Together the two young men went to Marazion (about four miles west of St. Breage) to see if they could find the ship the stranger had fallen from into the sea. The ship was found safe in the harbor. The captain, who the sailor had always thought of as his father, told them for the first time how when he was an infant he was resued from drowning in the same bay as he had nearly drowned the night before. Thus, they discovered they were brothers, the sailor being the son who had been cast into the bay for dead.
A few days later, the two went hunting and came upon a white hare who guided them to discover the miraculous sword that had disappeared with the drowning of the mother. These two brothers sailed away from Cornwall to the land of the of the strange princess mother where the Cornish man studied astrology and other occult sciences under a celebrated master there.
After some time, the old lord of Pengersick met his death while riding his horse one morning when a white hare suddenly appeared in front of the horse, startling him, so that the horse ran madly with its rider into the sea where both were drowned.
The young heir, now married to a learned princess himself, returned when news of the death of his father reached him, leaving his brother behind. The young heir and his wife liverd at the castle of Pengersick happily for several generations because the young man had discovered an elixir of life which, had they so wished, would have kept the couple alive to the present day.(See Bottrell.)
In addition to being well versed in occult lore, Pengersick's wife was a fine musician; she could with her harp charm and subdue evil spirits, and compel the fish in Mount's Bay, also the mermaids who then dwelt there, to come out of the sea.
Another account of the old lord's death says that he and a party of his friends were dining in his yacht around a silver table when she went down, and all on board perished. This happened off Cudden Point, which juts into the sea just opposite Pengersick. Children living there formerly used to go down to the beach at low water to try and find this silver table. (A ship laden with bullion is reported to have been lost here in the time of Queen Elizabeth.)"The present castle,"one tradition says,"was built in the reign of Henry VIII. by a merchant who had acquired immense wealth beyond the seas, and who loaded an ass with gold, and broke its back. He sold the castle to a Mr. Milliton, who, having slain a man, shut himself up in it to escape punishment."
Another legend says that Sir William Milliton built it, and, soon after its completion, married a very rich but extremely ugly and shrewish woman, of whom he tried by various ways to rid himself but in vain. One day, after a desperate quarrel, he begged her forgiveness, and asked her, in proof of having pardoned him, to sup with him that evening in a room overlooking the sea. She agreed; and at the conclusion of the feast they pledged each other in goblets of rich wine. Then Sir William's looks altered, and, in a fierce voice, he said,"Woman, now prepare for death! You have but a short time to live, as the wine that you have just drunk was poisoned."Then we die together,"she answered,"for I had my suspicions, and mixed the contents of the goblets." Up to this time the moon, which was at its full, had been shining brightly through the open windows, for it was a warm summer night, when suddenly a frightful storm of thunder and lightning arose, the winds lashed the waves to fury, and the moon was darkened. The servants, alarmed by this, and the unearthly fiendish yells that came from the banqueting hall, rushed upstairs, and there found the bodies of their master and mistress dead on the floor; and through the open window they saw, by the light of the moon which for a moment shone through a rift in the clouds, their souls borne away on the wings of a demon in the shape of a bird.>
(Courtney, Cornish Feasts and Folklore, pages 86–88.)
Pengersick Castle is listed in the Castellarium Anglicanum as an extant castle as follows:
Square 'pele–tower', attached to a modern house, but built for attachment to an original one. Basement looped for guns. Very early 16th century.
(King, Castellarium Anglicanum, page 75.)
Near Germoe, but nearer the sea, is the very fine remnant of a castle, Pengersick. It was erected in the reign of Henry VIII. by a certain man of the name of Millaton, probably of Millaton in Bride–stowe, Devon. He had committed a murder, and to escape justice he fled his native county and concealed himself in the dip of the land facing the sea at Pengersick, where he constructed a tower amply provided with means of defence. The basement is furnished with loopholes for firing upon anyone approaching, and above the door is a shoot for melted lead. The whole building is beautifully constructed.
Here Millaton remained in concealment till he died, never leaving his tower for more than a brief stroll. The land had not been purchased in his own name, but in that of his son Job, who, after his death, was made Governor of S. Michael's Mount Job had a son, William, who was made Sheriff of Cornwall in 1565, and he married Honor, daughter of Sir William Godolphin of Godolphin.
According to a local legend, William Millaton and his wife Honor lived a cat–and–dog life. They hated each other with a deadly hate, and at length each severally resolved that this incompatible union must come to an end.
William Millaton said to his wife,"Honor, we have lived in wretchedness too long. Let us resolve on a reconciliation, forget the past, and begin a new life."
"Most certainly do I agree thereto,"said she.
"And,"continued William,"as a pledge of our reunion, let us have a feast together to–night"
So a banquet was spread in Pengersick Castle for them twain and none others.
And when they had well eaten, then William Millaton said,"Let us drink to our reunion."
"I will drink if you will drink," said she.
Then he drained his glass, and after that, she drained hers.
With a bitter laugh she* said,"William, you have but three minutes to live. Your cup was poisoned."
"And you,"retorted he,"have but five, for yours is poisoned."
"It is well,"said Honor;"I am content. I shall have two minutes in which to triumph over your dead carcass, and to spurn it with my foot."
On the death of this William, the estate passed to his six sisters, who married into the families of Erisy, Lanyon, Trefusis, Arundell, Bonython, and Abbot of Hartland.
(Baring–Gould, A Book of the West, Volume I, pages 289–291.)
THIS castellated building for it does not now admit of being called a castle, notwithstanding its embattled turrets and its machicolated gate is situated in a hollow running down to Pengerswick Cove, in the Mount's Bay, where there never could have been anything to defend; and certainly there is nothing to induce any one to incur the cost of such a building.
Mr Milliton, in the reign of Henry VIII., slew in the streets of London a man in a drunken brawl. He fled, and went to sea. It is not known to what part of the world he went, but we are told that he became excessively rich; so rich, indeed, that"when he loaded his ass with his gold, the weight was so great as to break the poor animal's back." Returning to his country, and not daring to appear in any of the large towns, he bought the manor of Pengerswick, and built this castle, to defend himself, in the event of his being approached by any of the officers of the law.
A miserable man, Milliton is said to have lived in a secret chamber in this tower, and to have been visited only by his most trusted friends. Deeply deploring the crime that had condemned him to seclusion from the world, he spent his dreary hours in ornamenting his dwelling. His own story is supposed to be told in the painting of an overladen ass in one room, with a black–letter legend, importing that a miser is like an ass loaded with riches, who, without attending to his golden burden, feeds on thistles. There is also a carving of water wearing a hollow in a stone, and under it the word" Perseverance." Of the death of Milliton we have no account.
There is very little doubt but that Pengerswick Castle is very much older than the time of Milliton; indeed tradition informs us that he purchased the place. The legends previously given, and others in my possession, refer to a much earlier period. The castle was, it is said, surrounded by trees; but John Hals, who inherited the property, had all the timber cut down and sold.
(Hunt, Popular Romances of the West of England, Second Series, pages 449–450.)