Front cover of a 1992 graphic novel adaptation of "The Musgrave Ritual".

"The Musgrave Ritual" (also known as "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual" is a Sherlock Holmes short story by the British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the May 1893 edition of the magazine The Strand. It would be republished in December of the same year in the anthology The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes.

Although the story is presented as having been written by Dr. John Watson, unusually for a Sherlock Holmes story, the main narrator of "The Musgrave Ritual" is not Dr. Watson but Holmes himself.[1] The story begins with Dr. Watson complaining about the untidy habits of his housemate Sherlock Holmes and asking Holmes to do some tidying up. Holmes returns from his bedroom with a large metal box, ostensibly to put some papers related to his past cases in it. The box contains documents relating to Holmes' early cases from the time before he met Watson. Inside the large metal box, Holmes finds a smaller wooden box which contains a piece of paper, an old key, a wooden peg attached to some string and some old rusty coins. Holmes explains that those objects are the only reminders he has of the Case of the Musgrave Ritual. Watson wants to hear about the case and Holmes, happy to avoid having to tidy up, is pleased to tell him about it.

Reginald Musgrave, who knew Holmes at university, hires him to investigate the disappearance of his butler Richard Brunton and his maid Rachel Howells. The butler disappeared shortly after he was found reading a copy of the Musgrave Ritual, a series of questions and answers that members of the Musgrave family have long recited when they reach adulthood but which are generally considered to be meaningless. Holmes deduces that Brunton discovered the hidden meaning behind the Musgrave Ritual and that, if he can do the same, he will solve the mystery of the two servants' disappearance.

Two short stories by Edgar Allan Poe, "The Gold-Bug" and "The Cask of Amontillado", probably served as inspiration for the tale.

"The Musgrave Ritual" is included in a list of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's twelve favorite Sherlock Holmes stories which the author compiled for The Strand magazine in 1927[2] and in a list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories which were voted for by readers of The Baker Street Journal in 1959.[3] There have been numerous adaptations of the story to other media.


Sherlock Holmes has recently moved to London and begun working as a consulting detective. He is visited by Reginald Musgrave, whom he knew at university four years earlier. Musgrave tells Holmes that he wants him to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his butler Richard Brunton and his maid Rachel Howells.

Musgrave discovers Brunton in the library. 1893 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Brunton, a former schoolteacher and a very intelligent and talented man, had been in the service of the Musgraves for twenty years. He had had several lovers, especially since his wife died. He had been engaged to the maid Rachel Howells but had recently broken off the engagement and turned his attentions towards the gamekeeper's daughter. At two o'clock in the morning on a night when he could not sleep, Reginald Musgrave was surprised to find Brunton in the library, examining a map and a piece of paper which he took from a drawer. Horrified to see his servant going through his private papers, Musgrave told Brunton that he was fired. Brunton begged to be allowed to stay for a month but Musgrave would only allow him to stay for another week.

For two days, Brunton continued to go about his duties. On the third day, Rachel Howells, who had recently suffered from a serious illness, told Musgrave that Brunton had gone. She then began to laugh hysterically. Most of Brunton's possessions, including his money and his boots, were found to still be in his room, only his slippers and the black suit which he usually wore were found to be missing.

Musgrave decided that the pale-looking and hysterical Rachel Howells had not yet fully recovered from her illness and hired a nurse to watch over her. After three days, Rachel Howells escaped through her bedroom window while her nurse was asleep. Her footprints were found leading to the edge of a deep lake. The lake was dragged. Rachel's body was not found but a linen bag containing "a mass of old rusted and discolored metal and several dull-colored pieces of pebble or glass' was retrieved from the waters.

Holmes asks what was on the piece of paper that Brunton was reading in the library. Musgrave tells him that it was a series of questions and answers known as the Musgrave Ritual. It has long been a tradition for members of his family to recite it when they reach adulthood but it appears to be meaningless. Musgrave produces the piece of paper and reads:

"Whose was it?"
"His who is gone."
"Who shall have it?"
"He who will come."
"What was the month?"
"The sixth from the first."[4]
"Where was the sun?"
"Over the oak."
"Where was the shadow?"
"Under the elm"
"How was it stepped?"
"North by ten and by ten, east by five and by five, south by two and by two, west by one and so under."
"What shall we give for it?"
"All that is ours."
"Why shall we give it?"
"For the sake of the truth".

Musgrave adds that the original document was written in mid 17th century spelling. he thinks that it is likely that Brunton saw the paper before because no attempt was ever made to conceal it. Holmes declares that Brunton, unlike several generations of Musgraves, realized that there was a hidden meaning behind the Ritual. He is also confident that figuring out the meaning of the Ritual will solve the mystery of the disappearances of Brunton and Rachel Howells.

Holmes and Musgrave see the oak. 1893 illustration by Sidney Paget.

Holmes and Musgrave travel to Hurlstone, Musgrave's home in Sussex. Before entering the building, Holmes notices an oak which appears to be old enough to have been around at the time when the Ritual was first written. He asks if there is an elm. Musgrave tells him that there was one but it was cut down after it was struck by lightning ten years ago. However, Musgrave knows where the elm once stood and, thanks to mathematical exercises which his old tutor made him do, knows that it was sixty-four feet tall. He also says that Brunton recently asked him how tall the tree was. With the aid of two fishing rods, some wooden pegs and some string, when the sun is just above the oak tree, Holmes and Musgrave calculate how long the elm's shadow once was. Holmes also sees signs that Brunton recently did the same thing. With the aid of a compass, they then walk according to the directions given in the Ritual. Holmes is disappointed to find that they lead to some paving stones which Brunton has obviously not dug up. Musgrave reminds him that the Ritual includes the words "and under" and says that there is a cellar beneath the paving stones.

Holmes and Musgrave discover Brunton's dead body. 1893 illustration by Sidney Paget.

The cellar is normally used for storing wood. Holmes can see that some of the wood has recently been moved away to reveal a stone trapdoor. A scarf, which Musgrave, recognizes as Brunton's, is tied around the ring which serves as the stone door's handle. Having called in the local police for assistance, Holmes is just able to lift the heavy stone door open with the help of a strong policeman. Underneath, the dead body of Brunton is found. His arms are around an old wooden chest, partially eaten by woodworm and partially covered in fungus, which is open with a key in the lock. The chest is empty except for some rusty old coins. An examination of Brunton's body shows no sign of violence.

Holmes deduces that, because he could not open the heavy stone door by himself, Brunton turned to his former lover Rachel Howells for help. They used a piece of wood to prop the door open, Brunton went below and passed the contents of the chest up to the maid. Holmes does not know if Rachel Howells deliberately removed the piece of wood to trap the man who had wronged her beneath the stone floor or if she simply allowed him to remain there when he got trapped by accident.

1636 portrait of King Charles I of England by Sir Anthony van Dyck.

Musgrave tells Holmes that the coins found in the chest are from the time of King Charles I.[5] He says that his ancestors were supporters of Charles I during the English Civil War and that one of them accompanied King Charles II into exile. Holmes asks to see the linen bag which was retrieved from the lake. After examining its contents, he declares that they are the remains of King Charles I's crown,[6] which was hidden by Royalists after the king was beheaded. Holmes adds that the lines of the Musgrave Ritual "Whose was it?"/"His who is gone" refer to the executed King Charles I and that "Who shall have it?"/"He who will come" refer to his son King Charles II, whom Royalists expected to one day return to the throne. When asked why the crown was never returned to Charles II, Holmes speculates that the Musgrave who created the Ritual died before explaining its true meaning to anyone else in the family.

Holmes says that, after lengthy negotiations with the government, the Musgraves were allowed to keep the crown. He believes that Rachel Howells threw the linen bag into the lake in an attempt to cover up all of her involvement in the crime. She was never seen again and Holmes believes that she escaped abroad.


A French-British silent film adaptation of the story, known in English as The Musgrave Ritual and in French as Le Rituel des Musgraves or Le Trésor des Musgarves, was released in 1912. The film was directed by Georges Tréville, who also stars as Holmes.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes.

The 1943 Hollywood movie Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Watson, is a loose adaptation of "The Musgrave Ritual". The action takes place during World War II, an ongoing conflict at the time at which the film was made. Musgrave Manor (as the house is called in the movie) has been partially converted into a home for convalescing soldiers where Dr. Watson works as a volunteer. Dr. Sexton, another doctor working at the Manor, discovers the secret of the Musgrave Ritual. He murders brothers Geoffrey and Phillip Musgrave and plans to marry their sister Sally Musgrave in order to gain possession of the treasure. He exploits Brunton the butler's hatred for his masters before murdering him also. The text of the Ritual in the film is completely different from the one in the original short story. In the film, the Ritual gives instructions for a chess game to be played out on the black-and-white tiled floor of Musgrave Manor, the buried treasure being hidden beneath the tile reached at the end of the game. The buried treasure is not the crown of Charles I but a deed granting the Musgraves a significant area of land. Sally Musgrave would become one of the richest people in England if she claimed the land. However, when she finds out that the land is already occupied by houses and factories, she chooses to burn the deed instead.

"The Musgrave Ritual" is the title of the tenth episode of the BBC TV series Sherlock Holmes, starring Peter Cushing, which first aired in the United Kingdom on November 25, 2013. The episode is now lost.

Wax models of Holmes and Musgrave from the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Baker Street, London.

The story was adapted as the sixteenth episode of the Granada TV series The Return of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett, which first aired on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on July 30, 1986. In the episode, Holmes and Watson are invited to pay a social visit to Holmes' old acquaintance Reginald Musgrave. They arrive before the disappearance of Brunton and Rachel Howells. In a nod to the original story, Holmes carries a box with him which contains documents relating to his early cases from the time before he met Watson, saying that he plans to look over them during his stay with Musgrave. Another difference from the original short story is that the oak referred to in the Ritual turns out not to be a real tree but a weather vane in the shape of one. In the final scene of the episode, after Holmes and Watson have left, it is revealed that Rachel Howells has not escaped, as Holmes believes, but has drowned in the lake.

The ninth and tenth episodes of the Russian TV series Sherlock Holmes, which both first aired on the channel Russia 1 on November 25, 2013, are loosely based on "The Musgarve Ritual". The action is moved from Sussex to Scotland. The Musgraves have been feuding for centuries with the Staffords. In order to search for the crown and sword of King Charles I, which are rumored to be hidden in the Musgraves' castle, Sir Samuel Stafford adopts the alias Brunton and manages to get hired as a butler by Reginald Musgrave's illegitimate half-brother Tom. Five years later, Reginald Musgrave returns from America to claim his inheritance. He plans to renovate and modernize the castle. Stafford knows that he will have to act quickly in order to locate the hidden treasures. In his nightly searches, he is sometimes mistaken for a ghost. When the maid Rachel begins to talk of the ghostly "Man in Black", Holmes realizes that she is in danger and helps her to fake her own disappearance.

"The Musgrave Ritual" was adapted as an episode of the American radio series The CBS Radio Mystery Theater which first aired on August 31, 1981. A BBC radio adaptation, starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson, was made as part of the series of adaptations of all fifty-six Sherlock Holmes short stories and all four novels that were made by the BBC between 1989 and 1998.

As a deliberate homage to "The Musgrave Ritual", T.S. Eliot's 1935 verse play Murder in the Cathedral includes the following exchange between Archbishop Thomas Becket and a personification of temptation:

Thomas: Who shall have it?
Tempter: He who will come.
Thomas: What shall be the month?
Tempter: The last from the first.

See also


  1. This is also the case in the 1893 story "The Adventure of the Gloria Scott" which, like "The Musgrave Ritual", deals with events which happened before Holmes met Watson.
  2. In the list of his twelve favorite Sherlock Holmes stories which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle compiled for The Strand in 1927, he ranked "The Musgrave Ritual" as the eleventh best, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Dancing Men", "The Final Problem", "A Scandal in Bohemia", "The Adventure of the Empty House", "The Five Orange Pips", "The Adventure of the Second Stain", "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot" and "The Adventure of the Priory School".
  3. In the list of the ten best Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Baker Street Journal in 1959, "The Musgrave Ritual" is ranked as number six, following "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", "The Red-Headed League", "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle", "Silver Blaze" and "A Scandal in Bohemia".
  4. The lines "What was the month?"/"The sixth from the first" were added when the story was published in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. They did not appear when it was first published in The Strand. They were added because the shadow of a tree would be longer in the winter than in the summer.
  5. Charles I became King of England, Scotland and Ireland on March 27, 1625. He was unpopular with many strict Protestants (especially Puritans and Calvinists) who considered him to be too Catholic. Charles firmly believed that he had been personally selected by God to be king, which he believed gave him the right to govern his kingdom in any way he chose. Many of his practices (such as levying taxes without the approval of Parliament) made him unpopular with his subjects who accused him of behaving too much like an absolute monarch. Charles' refusal to accept a constitutional monarchy led to the start of the English Civil War in 1642. The Royalist troops of Charles I were defeated by the Parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell in 1648. King Charles was executed as a traitor on January 30, 1649. Afterwards, Great Britain became a republic, called the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, with Oliver Cromwell and then briefly his son Richard Cromwell as its head of state. On May 29, 1660, the monarchy was restored under Charles I's son, King Charles II, who had escaped to exile in France during the Civil War.
  6. The crown of King Charles I, the St Edward's Crown which may have been six hundred years old, was destroyed during the English Civil War on Oliver Cromwell's orders. A replacement was made for the coronation of Charles II. It has been used, although not always worn by the monarch due to its great weight, in the coronation ceremony of every British king and queen since.

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