Black Dogs and Other Terrifying Warnings of Death

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Guest writer K.B. GODDARD ponders the legends of portents of death around the Spooky Isles

Black Dog

One theme that crops up continually in both folklore and fiction is death.

It is an inevitable part of the life cycle and it is something that still holds a fascination for many.

Although death is inevitable there are certain things about it that remain a mystery, such as what lies beyond and when and how we will meet our ends.

This fascination can be seen in many examples of local legends.

There are lots of examples to be found of encounters that are said to foretell death.

In Derbyshire, for instance, we have the legend of the Gabriel Hound (sometimes referred to in the plural) whose howl is said to be heard when someone is going to die. The hound is said to howl every night until the sick person’s eventual demise.

The idea of a supernatural hound foretelling a coming death can be seen in other local legends such as some of those concerning black shuck.

The idea of a supernatural hound foretelling a coming death can be seen in other local legends such as some of those concerning black shuck.


A classic example of the hound as a portent of death is The Hound of the Baskervilles.

However, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story the hound is said to do the despatching itself.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, the naturalist Stapleton suggests the ghostly howling may actually be coming from the booming of a bird, the bittern.

Likewise the Gabriel Hound’s cry has been attributed to the cries of geese or other birds.

The issue of whether or not the cry does in fact precede a death is not, however, addressed.

But one can’t help thinking that a goose as a herald of death is not nearly so dramatic and would probably be more comical than frightening.

In the case of The Hound of The Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s hound is only attached to one noble family.

But the idea of a family having their own supernatural herald is not confined to fiction.

There is a precedent in the case of the Irish Banshee.

Some of the ancient families of Ireland are said to have a banshee associated with them.

This fairy woman can be heard crying and lamenting when a member of the family is to die.

This goes on night after night until the person passes away and sometimes for a while after.

But what of more specific prophecies, one off visitations to individuals?

To return to Derbyshire, there is a local legend telling of just such a visitation. How much truth there is in the story we may never know.

This visitation involves the elder brother of King Henry VIII, Prince Arthur.

Arthur was also the first husband of Catherine of Aragon, who later married Henry it was Arthur’s marriage to Catherine that was to play a pivotal role in his brother’s reign.

It is said that the young prince made frequent visits to the household of Sir Henry Vernon at Haddon Hall.

On one such visit, Arthur had been out walking in the surrounding area and stopped to rest at a stone cross. Here he encountered the vision of a pale faced woman who told him that his marriage was imminent but that his betrothed would be the bride and widow of a royal boy.

Prince Arthur died four months after his marriage to Catherine.

Whether any of these folk tales and legend have any truth to them or not, it certainly seems that the mysteries surrounding death hold an enduring fascination for many.

K.B. GODDARD is a Derbyshire-based writer specialising in Victorian style ghost stories. She has published two short story collections so far and has plans for a third. Her work has also been featured on horror fiction site Shadows at the Door and on The Wicked Library podcast. She loves history, mythology, Sherlock Holmes and old ghost stories. Not necessarily in that order.
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