The Ghost Keeper of York

HONOUR AMONGST THIEVES

Back in Elizabethan times, there were periods when poor folk had great difficulty in finding paid employment. Some of the more unscrupulous citizens would turn to a life of crime in order to fill their bellies. No master-criminals were these - instead, they became cutpurses and street robbers. Anything that was quick and easy. Two such villains were a couple of young Brothers who had fallen upon hard times and had determined that they would not stay in such a position.

One dark foggy evening, the two loitered menacingly in the shadows at Minster gate, not too far from their lodgings at St. William’s College. Unlike previous robberies, they had planned this one by observing the habits of a wealthy Priest who was in the employ of York Minster. It would be easy: the man foolishly carried valuables about his person and was usually drunk. As the Priest came around a corner, the two sprang their trap, one grabbing both his arms and the other fumbling for his purse. Unfortunately for them, the Clergyman was stronger than they ever expected and managed to back the younger of the Brothers into a wall, winding him. At this point, the older of the two panicked, drew out a knife and slit the poor man’s throat. As the Priest’s life blood ebbed from him, the siblings ran off, carrying the purse and a variety of other treasures with them.

When they got home, they were surprised to find what a valuable haul they had acquired - coin, jewelry and a few gold items. However, the younger Brother refused to become excited by their good fortune. He had never anticipated that anyone would be seriously hurt by their actions, let alone killed. Plagued by his conscience, he became silent and morose, locking himself in a room along with most of the spoils of their crime. The Elder then started to become rattled. He had heard stories of criminals reneging on their friends and relatives, confessing their misdeeds in the hope of a better sentence. Instead, he decided to take the initiative and get in first. The next day, he went to the local Constable and claimed that it was his younger brother who, alone, had committed the murder. The premises were raided, the valuables were found and the young Brother was immediately hauled off, tried and hanged. Yet all the while he never learned that his older sibling had betrayed him and took the secret of the Elder’s villainy to the grave.

And so the remaining Brother was free and clear. Or was he? Now it was his turn to feel overcome with remorse. He quickly spent what little was left of the valuables on drink and gambling, subsequently spending his time stepping incessantly back and forth in his meagre apartment. With little income and next to no food, it didn’t take long for the man to waste away, miserable and alone.

The upper floor of the St. William’s College building is nowadays witness to the Elder’s anguish. He has been seen many times wandering to and fro in the corridors and rooms there - all that is left of a self-broken man.