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My edition of Margaretta Greene’s novella The Secret Disclosed: A Legend of St Edmund’s Abbey has just been published, making this work available in print again for the first time in 158 years. The Secret Disclosed was originally published in 1861 and caused a local sensation in Bury St Edmunds, since many people believed it was a genuine account of events in the Middle Ages that explained the appearance of Bury’s notorious ‘Grey Lady’, a ghost reputed to haunt the Abbey Ruins. Greene claimed to have discovered a lost manuscript concealed in her home (built into the Abbey’s west front) which told the story of Maude Carew, a nun whose love for a monk of the Abbey led her to conspire with Queen Margaret of Anjou to poison Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester in St Saviour’s Hospital during the Bury Parliament of 1447. The novella even inspired a riot in 1862 as people attempted to see ghosts which, according to the story, would appear every year at eleven o’clock on the night of 24 February. The crowd turned ugly when the ghosts failed to appear.
While the story of Maude Carew was a fiction entirely confected by Margaretta Greene, Greene never claimed the story was true, and therefore it is somewhat unfair to characterise it as ‘fakelore’ (deliberately fabricated folklore). However, it does seem that the story gave rise to reports of Bury’s Grey Lady, and various more-or-less garbled re-tellings of Greene’s book have been accepted as history. In reality, it seems that the reception of The Secret Disclosed is an example of a literary artefact informing what has become a folkloric tradition that now has a life of its own; sightings of the Grey Lady continue to this day, in various locations around Bury. However, until now the story that gave rise to all this has not been accessible. My edition includes a thorough introduction to Margaretta Greene herself as well as the history behind the death of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, the archaeology of the west front of the Abbey and the literary context of the story. The book is thoroughly referenced and indexed, with a bibliography, and constitutes a thorough study of the novella as well as a critical edition of the text.