In southern Poland, nestled between miles and miles of remote Polish villages, is a petite fairy-tale town called Nowy Wiśnicz. As you drive through this pleasant little community and turn your head to the left, you’ll see a beautiful baroque-style palace perched high atop a hill, surrounded by acres of trees.
This is Wiśnicz Castle. Gazing upon it, you experience a romantic break from reality, a feeling that the modern world doesn’t exist and that any second you might be witness to a knight riding down the rode or a peasant working in the field.
The castle has a long and interesting past filled with numerous legends and tales. It would be an injustice to cover them all in one blog post. Instead, today I am focusing on perhaps the most mysterious one—the White Lady of Castle Wiśnicz.
In the 16th century, the castle was home to a powerful Polish noble family who often entertained important guests and visitors—among them was the powerful Polish Queen, Bona Sforza. Everyone feared Queen Bona. In European history, she is known as one of the most calculating and conniving female monarchs, one who would stop at nothing to get her way.
Bona was also something of a daredevil. One of Castle Wiśnicz’s towers is encircled by a very narrow, unfenced terrace where guards would stand on watch duty. It was believed that the reason for making the terrace so narrow was to discourage the guards from falling asleep on the job because they would fear falling off the tower. Bona, herself, was unafraid, as she would supposedly ride around this narrow terrace on horseback.
When someone upset her at the castle or didn’t follow orders, Bona would inflict a cruel punishment on them. She would bring the person to be punished atop the narrow tower and force him to watch her ride around it three times. She would then command the victim to do the same. However, a different horse would be brought in, one that had been fed alcohol. The victim would get on the drunken horse and attempt to ride around the tower. No one ever succeeded. They all fell from the tower to their deaths, much to Bona’s satisfaction.
Supposedly, Bona’s most evil deed was inflicted on her daughter-in-law. The Queen’s son, Sigismund II Augustus, had fallen in love with the beautiful Barbara Radziwiłł and married her. They were to be king and queen. This aroused the anger of many important people in Poland, including Bona, who opposed the marriage because it was politically incorrect at the time. The young couple had married for love, without regard for the marriage’s political consequences.
Supposedly, Bona took matters into her own hands to stop the marriage—permanently. She had the beautiful Barbara unknowingly drink poisoned wine at Wiśnicz Castle. The young queen died in agony. The worst part of it, no one ever proved or disproved that the girl had been poisoned.
From that time, people have claimed to see a beautiful woman, completely white, walking through the castle and on the grounds. It’s said that this woman is the young Queen Barbara, haunting the castle out of sadness that her marriage was so tragically cut short.
As for Bona, it’s said she could not escape punishment in the afterlife for all her crimes. In the dead of night, especially when there’s a storm, people claim to see a woman in white riding around the castle’s tower. It’s believed this phantom is Bona’s spirit, forced to ride around the tower for her sins, just as she did in life.
When I was a young child visiting Wiśnicz Castle, I would always be afraid of staying there past dusk. One time, it was getting dark, and I was walking through the forest path away from the castle. I was feeling relieved at no longer being on the castle grounds when I thought I heard a strange sound mysteriously echoing from behind me. The sound could have been anything, or nothing. After all, it’s a surreal, dreamlike experience being in a forest near a medieval castle at dusk. Still, I’m pretty sure it sounded a lot like….horse hooves.