Alnwick Castle (G-B) : The mysterious case of the (alleged) Alnwick zombie
The mysterious case of the (alleged) Alnwick zombie
Famous for Time Team and Blackadder, Tony Robinson tells Kate Whiting why he has been researching ...
...“The first references to belief in staking the undead to stop them rising again are in the 12th Century, near the border with Scotland,” says Robinson.
“There’s a story that this rather dodgy bloke thought his wife was having an affair, so he crept up into the rafters of Alnwick Castle to spy on her and, sure enough, saw her having a bit of hanky-panky and slipped out of the rafters, crashed to the floor and died, whereupon he was buried.
“But then he broke out of the confines of his coffin at night and went into Alnwick breathing pestilence and spraying blood at people, before disappearing back into the grave. Eventually the local villagers ripped up the earth and plunged a stake into him.”
Even more weirdly, Robinson discovered that up until the early 1800s, anyone could request permission from a magistrate to open up the coffin of someone who had committed suicide and stake them so they couldn’t rise again.
“There’s documented evidence of at least seven cases of that,” he insists.
No wonder Hollywood seems to be obsessed with zombies, but where did this belief come from?
According to Robinson, the answer is two-fold. Firstly, that people in the Middle Ages were surrounded with icons of Christ having risen from the dead. Secondly, and more gruesomely, the biological phenomenon that makes corpses appear to be living long after burial.
“We buried a number of pigs at a scientific establishment and opened them up again after three weeks,” says Robinson.
“After death, the skin is all bloated because of the chemical reactions going on inside, and yet lots of areas of the body have actually shrunk, so it looks as though the hair and nails have grown.”
Another experiment involved asking a group of non-superstitious students to stab pictures of their loved ones with a knife. All refused apart from one who poked at his dad’s stomach because he worried he was overweight.
Robinson observes: “It’s very old, this notion that by harming something that is close to a person, you’re actually threatening the real person.”
The presenter denies he’s superstitious but admits he avoids walking under ladders. And while we’ve been chatting on the phone, his new wife, Louise, has apparently saluted a magpie.
“If you look at every superstition, they’re either about fending off evil or imbuing yourself with more power,” he says.