- Lady Van Tassel
Lady Mary Van Tassel is a fictional character played by British actress
Miranda Richardsonin Tim Burton’s 1999 gothic horror film"Sleepy Hollow".
*Full Name: Lady Mary Van Tassel, "nee" Preston (real name Archer)
*Died: December 1799
It is 1799, and in a few months it will be the turn of the new century.
Ichabod Crane, a New Yorkconstable, has been ordered by his superiors to investigate a series of beheadings in Sleepy Hollow, an isolated North American farming community, adjacent to the Hudson River. For Crane, this is his chance to use his new-fangled theories and scientific tools which will, hopefully, help him to solve the crime and identify the murderer.
On his arrival on
Halloween, Crane is greeted by the eccentric chief citizen Baltus Van Tassel, his welcoming daughter Katrina Van Tassel, and the restrained Lady Van Tassel, all of whom are present a party held in their manor to try and distract the villagers’ from the gruesome happenings in Sleepy Hollow. Crane is invited to stay in the Van Tassel Manor. The villagers, among them Baltus; Doctor Thomas Lancaster, Reverend Steenwyck, Notary James Hardenbrook and Magistrate Samuel Philipse, believe the "man" behind these murders is in fact the restless ghost of the grim Headless Horseman, a ruthless Hessian mercenarysent to Sleepy Hollow to "keep Americans under the yoke of England". He famously butchered his victims.
Lady Van Tassel is a very attractive woman, and is much younger than her husband. We learn from ‘The Van Tassel Family Tree’ (shown in a book, in the film) that her maiden name was Preston, and this is never disputed, or even discussed in the film until the conclusion.
Lady Van Tassel, apart from a few brief reaction shots with no
dialogue, mainly lurks in the background for the first part of the film, and does not reappear until after Crane has been stabbed with the Horseman’s sword. Slicing an apple with a knife, Lady Van Tassel tells Crane that the servant girl, Sarah (who had made a few short appearances) had left Sleepy Hollow in fear, following in the footsteps of ‘so many others’.
When Crane hears footsteps downstairs in the manor, he decides to follow but is taken aback by what he sees. Peering through a gap in the trees, Crane is bewildered when he sees Lady Van Tassel in a compromising situation with Reverend Steenwyck. She then pulls a knife from her side and slices her hand. The next day, Lady Van Tassel confronts Crane in the kitchen, begging him not to tell Baltus what he saw through the trees. The conversation is sharply interrupted by the emergence of Baltus, with news of the Notary’s suicide. By this point in the film, Magistrate Philipse has been decapitated by the Horseman. When Baltus notices the cut on Lady Van Tassel’s hand, she promptly lies by saying she was ‘careless with the kitchen knife’.
arrowrootflowers just outside the Western Woods to help heal her wound, Lady Van Tassel is crept upon by the Horseman, his sword unsheathed and ready to strike. Baltus, horror stricken, rides speedily to the church (where a meeting is being held to determine if Crane should go back to New York), to tell his daughter that Lady Van Tassel has been killed. When the Horseman appears at the church window, the congregation are in peril and frantically try to avoid the Horseman’s axe. When Doctor Lancaster loses his nerve and is just about to tell Baltus the truth about the murders, Reverend Steenwyck strikes him cold by pounding him on the head with a heavy cross. Baltus subsequently shoots Steenwyck in a mad rage, and later gets stabbed in the stomach by a wooden stake by the Horseman, dragged through the glass window and then decapitated.
By this point in the film, Crane suspects Katrina, as she is the only member of the Van Tassel clan left alive, but on his exit from Sleepy Hollow after seeing Lady Van Tassel’s body being dragged off a cart, he notices that the pink circles Katrina drew on the floor in his bedroom and in the church before are not of dark magic but good; he storms into the late Doctor Lancaster’s house to see Lady Van Tassel’s body. Observing that the cut on her hand had not healed, Crane realizes that the body is not Lady Van Tassel’s, and he jumps into the horse-and-carriage waiting outside.
Meanwhile, at the Van Tassel manor, Katrina is sitting in an armchair motionless. Moments later, she is startled by a shadow behind her and stands to face Lady Van Tassel who punctually spits ‘You look as if you’ve seen a ghost’. Now with grim, sarcastic humour, Lady Van Tassel is revealed as the cause of all the murders. After summoning the horseman from the grave, this time to kill Katrina, she begins to tell her stepdaughter everything, starting with the fact that she used the servant girl Sarah’s body (Lady Van Tassel killed her herself) as her own to disguise the fact she wasn’t really dead.
Lady Van Tassel reveals that her real name is Mary Archer, and that she, her mother and younger sister were evicted from their small cottage by their landlord, Peter Van Garrett after her father’s death. They were then rendered
homelessbecause her mother was suspected of witchcraft. After her mother’s death, she and her sister crossed paths with the Headless Horseman while collecting firewood in their refuge in the Western Woods. On that day, she offered her soulto Satan, and swore she would make herself mistress of all that Peter Van Garrett had. She disguised herself as a sick nurse, murdering Baltus’ first wife, and, within months, becoming his second in 1797.
With the Horseman's help, Van Tassel got
revengeagainst all those who she felt had wronged her: Peter Van Garrett; his son Dirk; Van Garrett's secret wife, Emily Winship; their unborn child; his loyal servant Jonathan Masbath; Magistrate Philipse, who gave him the protection of the law; the Killians, who knew of Winship’s secret; and Notary Hardenbrook, who concealed the marriage documents and Van Garrett’s will leaving everything to Winship. She also managed to keep Reverend Steenwyck quiet by having sex with him, make Magistrate Philipse drunk enough to follow her instructions, and Doctor Lancaster with blackmail; Van Tassel knew he was having an affair with the servant girl, Sarah. Magistrate Philipse clued Crane about Widow Winship's child after Jonathan Masbeth's, so the Horseman was sent to kill him the other night. Notary Hardenkbrook was too scared to tell anyone what he knew. Van Tassel also killed her sister, the Western Woods Crone (who helped Crane find the Horseman’s resting place beneath the roots of The Tree of the Dead.)
After chasing the Horseman on Crane and Katrina’s tails, she reappeared, only to be knocked out with a wooden log. She is later taken by the Horseman who kisses her making her bleed and then goes with her back to his grave with Lady Van Tassel's arm left hovering from a crevice in the tree, sometime in December 1799, days before the turn of the century.
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