It’s hard to decide where to begin when it comes to Glamis Castle, so notorious for it’s ghosts and dark legends. Alone, it’s history makes for very impressive reading. It is also a very important place to the British Royal Family as it is the family home of the late Queen Mother and birth place of the Queen’s younger sister, the late Margaret Rose.
Glamis is the official seat of the Earls of Strathmore, the Bowes-Lyons, who have held it since 1372 when King Robert II of Scotland granted the lands to Sir John Lyon. The original castle was demolished and replaced in in the 1400s. Since then it has been added to and remodelled to suit the fashions of the times, the current style dating back to restorations carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, spent a lot of her childhood in Glamis, and it remained important to her. It’s mistakenly believed that she was born there in 1900, but the truth is, it’s not clear where she was born! Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the ninth child of Claude and Nina Bowes-Lyon. When Elizabeth was four, her father became the 14 Earl of Strathmore. Throughout her childhood at Glamis, Elizabeth and her younger brother David enjoyed playing pranks around the castle. During the First World War, she got involved in the care of injured soldiers, when Glamis Castle was used as a military hospital. In 1916, a fire broke out, and the teenage Elizabeth played a huge role in alerting the authorities and getting Glamis’ treasures to safety; not surprising when you consider the highs and lows she encountered as the Duchess of York and later Queen! She gave birth to her younger daughter, the current Queen’s late sister, Princess Margaret at Glamis during a stormy night in August 1930.
Glamis’ royal connections go farther back, however, forming an important part of the Castle’s mythology. It’s thought that King Malcolm II of Scotland was murdered at Glamis, long before the current castle was built. This particular tale forms the basis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the cursed Scottish Play, albeit with liberal use of artistic license. Maybe Shakespeare was inspired by the story of the bloodstain left on the stone floor of Malcolm’s room as a result of his brutal death. Peter Underwood states, “No amount of scrubbing and cleaning would remove it, so in the end the whole floor was boarded over!”
When it comes to ghost stories and dark history, Glamis is a veritable pick n mix. The Queen Mother was believed to have seen a few ghosts herself. In fact, some of the rooms associated with her have spooky tales attached. For instance, the Queen Mother’s Bathroom was formerly a bedroom where no one could get a peaceful night’s sleep. And the ghost of a little boy has been seen in the Queen Mother’s Sitting Room, believed to be a young servant treated badly two centuries ago. A tongueless woman looks out from a barred window, or runs across the Castle park pointing to her bloody mouth.
Some bedrooms have strange, inexplicable rings worn into the stone floor, which are now covered by fitted cupboards. They are kept full, as Peter Underwood notes. A White Lady flits about the place, and was once encountered at the same time by three separate people. There is a room called The Hangman’s Chamber, believed to be the room where a butler hung himself.
Children down the centuries have run screaming to their parents after seeing the wraith of a giant man with a beard bear down upon them after bedtime at Glamis. It seems that this is the ghost of Earl Beardie. This is either Alexander Lyon, 2nd Earl of Glamis, or Alexandar Linsday, 4th Earl of Crawford. The gist of the story is that one Sabbath day, the Earl Beardie wanted to play cards, but was refused. He went in a huff, declaring, “Well, I’ll play with the Devil himself”. Then a mysterious figure suddenly appeared and began to play. It is said that the stranger was Satan. The end result was that the Earl lost his soul to the Devil and will continue to play that card game again Auld Nick until doomsday. The old part of the Castle where the game was (and is!) supposed to happen was locked off, but servants and others have reported hearing the sounds of an ongoing card game, the rattle of dice, cursing and stomping coming from that area.
Lady Janet Douglas, was the widow of the 6th Lord Glamis. She was burnt at the stake for witchcraft by James V. She was a well liked woman of good character, but had the misfortune of being in a family that was hated by James V, who persecuted many of her relatives. In 1528, Janet was summoned by James V for treason. Her husband, John Lyon, 6th Lord Glamis, died that year, leading to her being accused of poisoning him. Charges against her were dropped and in 1532, she married her second husband, Archibald Campbell. She wasn’t left alone for long, as in 1537, she was accused of attempted to poison the King and charged for unlawfully communicating with her brothers. James V then charged her with Witchcraft, many believe falsely. By this point, she had been kept imprisoned in the darkness of Edinburgh Castle dungeon for so long that she was nearly blind when she was led out to to be burnt at the stake. Her teenage son was forced to watch her die, as was her second husband, who threw himself to his death shortly afterwards.
Lady Janet is believed to be the Grey Lady who has been seen praying at the pews of the Glamis Castle Chapel by a number of people in recent decades, including Lady Granville, the Queen Mother’s elder sister, and a former Earl of Strathmore. Inexplicable banging has been heard in the chapel, which is thought to be the sound of Janet’s Pyre being built for her burning. A seat is kept reserved for Janet in the Chapel. Her ghost has also been seen from the Clock Tower turret. It has sometimes been reported as being tied to a stake and surrounded in flames. Her ghost is supposed to warn the Bowes-Lyon family of oncoming danger.
Another Glamis legend is that of a vampire. There are two variations – the first is that a female servant was found sucking the blood from a victim, and was locked in a secret room to die. Of course, as beheading, sunlight or a stake to the heart is more effective in these cases, it’s still believed she’s afoot. The second variation ties in with one of Glamis most famous legends – the ‘monster’ in a secret room. The story is that a vampire is born into every generation of the Bowes-Lyon family, who then is locked away in a hidden room within the Castle. Glamis has quite a few hidden rooms. Once, some guests carried out an experiment and hung a towel from every window. They went outside to count the towels and found that there were several windows without towels. Windows to rooms they couldn’t access.
The monster in a room legend is probably the most notorious of the Glamis tales. Vampires aside, the general gist of the tale is that over two hundred years ago, the first born son of the then Earl was a large, bloated and deformed child who was hidden away in a secret chamber within the Castle. He was also meant to possess superhuman strength. Apart from trusted estate factors, no one was told of the secret. Heirs to the Strathmore Earldom were made aware of it on their 21st birthday. They would be shown the secret room and it’s inhabitant before being sworn to secrecy. One heir apparently went mad on being informed. One day, the secret was nearly uncovered when a servant was doing some maintenance. The man concerned was given a generous pay off and emigrated. In the Gazetter of Scottish Ghosts, Underwood writes that the deformed child lived to a very old age, apparently only dying in 1921. The Queen Mother’s sister recalled she and her siblings were banned from talking about the legend. Their father and grandfather also refused to discuss it. Underwood thinks there is some substance to the story, noting that the ‘last Earl of Strathmore’ (either Timothy Bowes-Lyon or Patrick Bowes-Lyon) thought that there was a huge coffin buried somewhere in the Castle, probably near the Mad Earl’s Walk. This is a place high up in the Castle where the ‘monster’ either tried to escape or was allowed to exercise.
The final legend from Glamis concerns the Haunted Chamber. This dates back to when it was a regular thing for the different clans of Scotland to be at each others’ throats with murderous intent. In 1486, members of the Ogilvy clan sought shelter from the Lord Glamis as their enemies, the Lindsays, were in pursuit. Lord Glamis duly admitted them and told them to hide in the chamber. What the Ogilvys didn’t know was that Glamis was in fact good friends with the Lindsay clan. He shut the Ogilvys into the chamber and left them to die without food or drink. A few years later, the Earl of Strathmore was disturbed by noises coming from the walled up chamber and broke in to see what the cause was. The sight that met him made him collapse. Inside the sealed chamber were the contorted skeletal remains of the Ogilvys, some had apparently died eating the flesh of their relatives.
Today, Glamis is open to the public, who can tour the Castle and the grounds. The Bowes-Lyon family still live there, making it the longest inhabited castle in Scotland.