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John Dragfoot Sage – The Most Evil Ghost In Britain

John Sage, the jailer of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, England, was one of the most evil and brutal men to have ever lived.



John Dragfoot Sage
Photo: Shutterstock/Clint Pavenu

Chillingham Castle is full of ghosts, including that of John Dragfoot Sage. This spectre is considered the most-evil ghost in all of Britain. Here’s everything you need to know about why this ghost is so terrifying. One of the most vicious torturers and executioners in British history was John Sage, the jailer of Chillingham Castle in Northumberland, England.

Sage lived during a time when the wealthy and powerful were largely above the law and could do as they pleased with whomever they wanted for any reason or for no reason at all. This all gave Sage license to indulge his darkest desires as long as he did it under the auspices of a royal warrant.

Chillingham Castle - John Dragfoot Sage

Chillingham Castle (Shutterstock)

John Dragfoot Sage – A Brutal Soldier

By all accounts, Sage was originally a handsome but brutal soldier who had risen through the ranks of King Edward I (Longshanks) army to the rank of lieutenant.  He hated his men; he hated his horse and he hated not being more powerful himself. Most of all he hated William Wallace and the Scots that had rebelled north of the English border.

King Edward, also known as the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ had marched his army north hoping to engage in full battle with Wallace but instead faced a never-ending series of hit and run attacks from the Scots that demoralised his army and frustrated his efforts.

During one of these attacks, John Sage was injured in the leg, and it soon became clear that he would never lead men into battle again.  Some say he begged King Edward for another role, some say Edward saw and opportunity to get back at the Scots but either way, John Sage – now known as ‘Dragfoot’ was made chief jailer, interrogator, and torturer at Chillingham Castle.

John Dragfoot Sage as a Knight

John Sage as a Knight (SSPL)

Hatred of the Scots

Due to his injury, his hatred of the Scots had matured into a deep and evil loathing that needed an outlet and, as the torturer at the castle, he found it.

King Edward needed to find the rebel Leader William Wallace and John Dragfoot needed revenge – it was a match made in hell and sealed by the devil himself.  Soon a stream of Scottish soldiers and unfortunate villagers were being sent to Chillingham to be questioned regarding the whereabouts of Wallace.

Sage was mainly employed by Edward between 1296 and 1299. Tasked with torturing and killing Scottish prisoners held at Chillingham Castle he reportedly took his job very seriously. He used many methods for brutalizing his victims but burning them alive seems to have been his preferred choice.  He even wore a hood made from the blackened skin of his victims. The horrifying smell drove some waiting prisoners mad with fear, while others went insane from suffering such prolonged exposure slow fire.  The question was always the same – where’s William Wallace? When there was nothing more to be learned Sage would personally choke his victims to death taking a vile and twisted satisfaction in feeling the life leave their bodies.

Body Count

According to some accounts, around 50 Scottish prisoners were sent to Chillingham Castle every week to be questioned.  These included women and children.  If this is true, then 200 or more victims a month is a staggering number and would have kept ‘Dragfoot’ busy day and night.  He certainly had the all the torture equipment he needed – some of which he’d invented himself.

The dungeon was said to have had a stretching rack, spiked drum, iron maiden, the infamous expanding metal pears, devil claws, the mangler and a chair of nails. However, Sage’s favourite device was the cage, a metal enclosure shaped like a person that pinned the victim tightly inside while he slowly cooked them over an open fire.  There’s no doubt that his brutality went far beyond just torture, and he is said to have used the opportunity to also satisfy his carnal needs with deviant practices that included sadistic choking.  These disgusting practices would eventually be his undoing.

Defeat of the Scots

In July of 1298 King Edward I finally located William Wallace and his army and engaged the Scots at the Battle of Falkirk. English archers eventually broke up the Scottish formations and Edward’s cavalry swept in and destroyed what was left.  Although Wallace escaped, the Scottish rebellion was over.

Fed up with the War, King Edward returned south and the supply of victims for John Dragfoot dwindled away.  In fact orders came through to release the remaining prisoners.  Dragfoot followed his orders and released them into the courtyard where he’d already prepared a massive bonfire.  With nowhere to go but the courtyard, the prisoners all died a slow death.  As anyone who has been to a real English bonfire will know – anywhere closer that 30ft to the fire and you’ll cook.

Prior to the burning, the children of the prisoners had been herded into the gallery room where they’d had to watch the slow and agonising death of their parents and older siblings.  Finally, Dragfoot executed them one-by-one using a small axe that is still on display in the castle.  All the bodies were then tossed into the fire for cremation and the stench was said to be noticed over ten miles away at Bamburgh Castle on the coast

John Dragfoot Sage in his Torture Chamber (Shutterstock Derivative)

The Downfall of John Dragfoot Sage

The Border Reivers were a band of cattle thieves, outlaws and raiders that operated in the disputed lands between Scotland and England.  They were made up of both English and Scottish rogues, deserters, exiles, and displaced peasants.  Most of the time they had no real loyalty to either side.  At the time however there was said to be an alliance between the reivers and King Edward.

According to some accounts Mary Charlton, the daughter of a powerful reiver chief, was staying at Chillingham castle.  Some say she was a hostage to ensure her father’s loyalty while others say she was a guest staying there for her own protection.  Either way it wasn’t long before she was having an affair with Sage.  Apparently, they were having rough sex on the stretching-rack in the dungeon when autoerotic asphyxiation went to far and Sage choked her to death.

There was no hiding the crime and her powerful father, chief of the Charlton family demand King Edward hand over Sage for Justice.  King Edward couldn’t have cared less about Sage and agreed.  The torturer of Chillingham castle was captured and ironically tortured with his own equipment.  Finally, he was taken and publicly hanged with a short rope.  This meant he would slowly choke to death rather than a quick end via a broken neck.

A huge crowd turned out to see the execution of the ‘Butcher of Chillingham Castle’. It seems that many of his victims’ relatives were in the crowd, and they all rushed forward while he was still half alive and cut at his naked body removing fingers, toes, genitals, ears, and nose.  After all was done, what was left Dragfoot’s body was thrown into a cesspit.

A Ghost that Lives On

The story goes that he haunts the Castle and sometimes further away searching for his missing body parts and can’t join his master in Hell until he finds them all.  He also tries to find more victims to choke to death.

In fact, several guests at the Castle have felt as though they were being strangled by an unseen entity. This tends to happen near the dungeons. If the tales are to be believed, Dragfoot was one of the worst sadists and most prolific killers in history justifiably earning the title of The Most Evil Ghost in Britain.