Mysteries at the Castle: Black Dinner Pictures

Tour a fortress in Scotland where a 15th-century power struggle came to a climax, an Italian villa that housed a mysterious manuscript and a New York estate that was home to a Secretary of State.
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In 15th-century Scotland, the 10-year-old King James ruled an unstable kingdom plagued by political tensions and rivalries, and a dinner party held at Edinburgh Castle was the legendary setting for an act so shocking and brutal that it still resonates in Scotland to this day.

Head to Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, for a tour of the ancient castle full of Scottish history. The stained glass windows seen here can be found in the Great Hall, which was completed in 1511 and is renowned for its beautiful Hammerbeam roof.

The stately Seward House in Auburn, NY, was the home of Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State and one of his closest advisors, William Seward. At the close of the Civil War in 1865, William Seward survived a grisly attack that may have been part of the same conspiracy that took President Lincoln’s life.

The Seward House is now home to the Seward House Museum, which documents the life of the Secretary of State. The house is preserved with the original furnishings, belongings and artwork that belonged to the Seward family.

When the Polish antiquarian Wilfred Voynich discovers a strange manuscript filled with cryptic words and images in the Villa Mondragone in Italy, he is convinced he has discovered a rare and valuable artifact.

Villa Mondragone is located about 12 miles southeast of Rome, and served as a temporary home for a few popes in the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s currently owned by the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

In the Western Massachusetts town of Great Barrington, the blue dolomite mansion known as Searles Castle was commissioned by the wealthy widow Mary Hopkins. The man she hired to create it was Edward Searles, a charming interior designer, who the widow Mary would eventually marry.

Searles Castle has 40 rooms, 36 fireplaces, 7 stories and even a dungeon-style basement. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has changed hands several times since Searles’ death in 1920.

About 35 miles from London, a country estate known as Danesfield House was a haven for British intelligence agents during World War II. It was here in 1943, that a young female analyst named Constance Babington Smith made a crucial discovery about the Nazi war machine, which would change the course of the conflict in Europe.

Once a country house and wartime military base, Danesfield House has found another life as a luxury hotel and spa, complete with a pool, first-class dining and an unparalleled garden.

Along the picturesque shoreline of Northeast Italy, Gradara Castle was the setting for a legendary episode from the 13th century, in which the beautiful Francesca Da Polenta was promised in marriage to the eldest son of the Malatesta clan. But when Francesca began a love affair with the brother of her new husband, the result was a tragedy immortalized in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

A fortress on a hill, Gradara Castle and the town surrounding it are enclosed by 2 city walls. But despite its imposing appearance, the castle and its grounds are open for guided tours and cultural events.