Glamis Castle, home of England's Queen Mother and birthplace of her daughter Princess Margaret, has had the reputation of being "the most haunted house in Britain". Looking at it's outward appearance, you can see what a gloomy, massive place this castle appears to be.
The castle is built on a traditional pattern of a strong central tower surrounded by a fortified courtyard. Overlooked by Hunter's Hill, thought to be the location of the assassination of King Malcolm II of Scotland in 1034 (* see below), it lies in a valley about twenty miles north of Dundee. Glamis itself has been reputed to be the place where Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, murdered King Duncan in 1040 and a sword and a shirt of mail, which supposedly belonged to Macbeth, are on view in one of the rooms.
The building probably dates to around the end of the fourteenth century. Much of the "atmosphere" can be ascribed to the feudal style of architecture showing more in the later additions to the castle. Glamis sits on an ancient ground, held for many centuries by the early Kings of Scotland. The grandson of Robert the Bruce, Robert II gave the lands to his son-in-law Sir John Lyon in 1372. Sir John Lyon began construction of the castle, but presumably did not complete the work, as he was mortally wounded in a duel in 1383. His son became the first Lord Glamis, and finished the work his father began. He died in 1445, but his son, who inherited Glamis was not known to be a respectable man as his father had been. This second Lord Glamis was a notorious drunkard and gambler. He was called "The Wicked Laird", and "Earl Beardie" because of his thick whiskers and long hair. This man was to become the traditional "bogeyman" for Scottish children, and his name then became "Earl Patie".
A hundred years later, John, sixth Lord of Glamis, a quarrelsome man with a quick temper, was living there with his young wife Janet Douglas, known throughout Scotland for her dark good looks. One morning, John was discovered lying on the stone floor of an inner apartment. Apparently, he died alone while eating a meal. Janet was charged with having poisoned him, but the evidence against her was too insufficient, and her trial was abandoned. Six years later, she was again on trial, this time for her life, as she was charged with plotting to murder no less a person than James V of Scotland. She was also charged with being a witch. Her servants were bribed to give false evidence, and her young son was tortured until he agreed to assist the prosecution by committing perjury against his mother. The beautiful Janet Douglas was found guilty, and was burned to death on Castle Hill in Edinburgh 03 December 1540. It is believed there was still no substantial evidence. None-the-less, she had been killed by the flames, reported a Henry VIII's representative in his report from Scotland to the King.
John & Janet's son's estates were annexed, and he was imprisoned. Three years later, he was released, and after the death of James V his estates and possessions were restored to him and he became the seventh Baron Glamis. His son, another John, like his father, also like him continued the family tradition of being involved in violence and misfortune, meeting his death at an early age in a street brawl with a number of the Lindsays, the hereditary family enemies of the Lyons.
By the time Patrick Lyon succeeded to the estates in 1660, Glamis lay almost deserted, poorly furnished and neglected. The family's standing and fortune was at its lowest ebb. But Patrick was a proud, determined and methodical man. Unlike his ancestors, he lived a life almost of self-denial, and in a period of about thirty years he succeeded in restoring both the castle and his family's fortune. He was a man with integrity and honor. Patrick was made the first Earl of Strathmore and he became a Privy Councillor in 1682, loyally serving James II of England until that monarch fled the country on arrival of William of Orange in 1688. There was good reason to believe that Patrick was deeply implicated in Jacobite plotting for the restoration of the Old Pretender, but two years later he eventually took an oath of loyalty to William.
The times were troubled and Patrick ordered many structural alterations to Glamis. For his own safety, he created a number of secret chambers within its walls. His "Book of Record", with his methodical data was discovered and published by the Scottish Historical Society in 1890. Patrick died in 1695, and once again tragedies began to occur regularly in the Lyon family. Patrick's son, next in succession, died fighting at Sherrifmuir in the abortive Jacobite rising of 1715. His brother Charles then became Earl of Strathmore, and he was a true upholder of the Lyon family addiction to gambling. He was killed at the gaming tables in a fight in 1728. According to a local legend he was losing heavily in this game and to try to end his constant losses persisted in betting on, staking all his possessions one by one until eventually he lost Glamis Castle itself to his opponent, who was one of the hereditary family enemies, the Lindsay. Incensed at this final indignity, Charles leaped to his feet, drew his sword and accused his opponent of cheating. During the fight, he was run-through by his opponent's sword and killed.
But this is but another legend. Records show that he was in fact killed by a man called James Carnegie of Finhaven. The fight may well have been caused by an accusation of cheating, but as the estates and the castle have remained in the hands of the Lyons, the story of their being lost one by one must be only fiction.
In the 18th century, Glamis had a widespread reputation as a haunted building, full of secret chambers containing terrible secrets. Sir Walter Scott arranged to spend a night there so that he could experience its atmosphere for himself, and perhaps use it in one of his historical novels. Afterwards, he wrote that he found it to be a deserted and barely-furnished place, with suits of medieval armor standing in lines along its corridors. He was given a room which had a four-poster bed with tartan hangings. He wrote, "I must own that when the door was shut I began to consider myself as too far from the living and somewhat too near the dead". But to his disappointment he neither saw nor heard any evidence of ghosts or hauntings. Numerous other people since Scott claim to have done so, however, and are prepared to swear that they have seen the gigantic figure of the bearded "Earl Patie" roaming the corridors of the castle.
Real terrors may indeed be connected to this castle, nearly all of which spring from rumors of a hidden chamber within its walls, reputed to contain a terrible family secret. This secret is traditionally known only to three people--the possessor of the castle, his heir, and his steward. There is an impenetrable mystery at Glamis, it has been written, involving the secret of Glamis, which is revealed to the heir to the estates on the evening before his 21st birthday; and though successive heirs, when they were young men, have made light of the mystery, after they came of age and the secret has been revealed to them, they have obviously found it so truly dreadful that they have never thereafter talked about it.
The secret chamber is thought by some to have been the scene of Patie's gambling with the Devil and that he is condemned to stay there at play until Judgment Day; others are certain that the beautiful Janet Douglas still haunts the castle, but now she is thought to be hideously old and quite indestructible. Some say that the Lyon family are cursed with an immortal vampire who was born into the succession hundreds of years ago, and has to be kept hidden for ever. Others claim the secret chamber actually contains a pile of mouldering skeletons, all that now remains of sixteen members of the Ogilvy family who once sought refuge in the castle in the 17th century, and were treacherously kept prisoner there by their host and eventually starved to death.
These persistent rumors may lead us to believe there really IS a genuine secret concerning Glamis. According to Lord Halifax, the Earl of Strathmore whom he himself personally knew became, after his 21st birthday, "a changed man" - silent, moody, and never smiling. And his own son, when his turn came to be initiated into the family secret, absolutely refused to be enlightened because he could constantly see the effect it had on his father. The resident Earl of Strathmore in 1870 is quoted as having said to his wife, "If you wish to please me, you will never mention the matter of the chamber to me, for I have seen inside the secret room. I can only say that if you could guess the nature of the secret, you would go down on your knees and thank God it was not yours."
By 1880, a contributor to All the Year Round, the magazine which had in its early days been edited by Charles Dickens, wrote that a workman who recently had been carrying out some structural alterations to Glamis had on one occasion inadvertently driven his crowbar through what he thought was solid brickwork, but instead discovered a large cavity on the other side of it. There being no crew supervisor around, he enlarged the hole and climbed through, finding himself in a secret corridor. He had gone along to the end of this, and found a locked door. Frightened at his own boldness, he had returned and gone to the foreman of the work, telling him what he had done. The Earl, who was in London at the time, had been hastily summoned back to Glamis by the steward. The workman had been given a large sum of money as an inducement to him and his family to emigrate to Australia, which presumably he had done, as he was never heard from again.
At that period many strange sights and noises were reported by good authority; the wife of a former Archbishop of York, when she stayed at Glamis, said that she had seen a huge bearded man dozing in a chair before the fire in her room, and as she watched him he had groaned softly and slowly faded away. A Provost of Perth had seen this same figure too, and that of a "glowing" lady dressed in green, gliding silently about the corridors in the middle of the night. There were "strange, weird and unearthly sounds", said another lady, who reported being awakened one night by the feel of a beard brushing her face. Others had been disturbed by nocturnal crashes and bangs, usually around four in the morning.
In 1908 a writer in Notes and Queries - by no means given to publishing mere sensationalism or idle gossip - referred to the current story "that in the Castle Glamis there is a secret chamber, in which is confined a monster who is the rightful heir to the titles and property, but is so unpresentable that it is necessary to keep him perpetually out of sight". And in 1925 another writer referred to the castle and "its inviolable secret, which is no nearer solution today than it was hundreds of years ago".
A contemporary writer and historian, Paul Bloomfield, after a lengthy and careful research of this "secret" produced what may probably be regarded as the definitive solution of it. He reveals a story of a family haunted, not by ghosts, but by a living being who in their own eyes at least had brought shame upon them. To help conceal it they used the traditions and legends concerning Glamis which were ready at hand, and encouraged inquirers to believe them. Before long the family secret had become inextricably confused with old rumors and what was current and real had taken on the guise of a centuries old mystery.
The painstakingly precise piecing together of the family secret by Paul Bloomfield reads at times like a detective story. Briefly, the story is this: Bloomfield discovered in an early edition of Cockayne's Complete Peerage that in October 1821 the first-born son and heir of the then Earl of Strathmore was recorded as having died within a month of his birth. He was in fact born severely deformed, probably mongoloid, and it was not thought that he would live for very long. When in the following year another son, Thomas George, was born, he was therefore registered and regarded as the family heir.
On the death of his father, Thomas became the 12th Earl of Strathmore; but it was then revealed to him that he had in fact an elder brother who was still alive, but who was kept out of sight because of his physical and mental deformities. Thomas himself died at the age of 43, in 1865, childless; and the title and the estates then passed to his younger brother Claude, who was already married and had five sons.
On and on lived the first-born son of the 11th earl; year after year fed and looked-after and excluded both from public view and from the position of Lord of Glamis, which in truth he could neither have filled nor even understood. It is he, Bloomfield suggests, who was the occupant of the "secret chamber", and the constant and unnerving problem which he was to his family came in time to be believed as a "centuries-old mystery" rather than the result of a well-meaning miscalculation about his likely age of death.
He remained alive probably until he was over 50 years old, during which time the succession fell in turn upon three men, each of whom had to be told who the rightful heir really was, and what he was. When he did eventually die, which Bloomfield deduces to have been some time in the 1870s, the next heir could then "absolutely refuse" to be initiated into the family secret - because there was no longer any need for the "mystery" to be perpetuated. The myths and legends had served their purpose at Glamis.
The "crashes and bangs in the night" which many guests have reported? Probably the old-fashioned mechanism of the central clock, whose weights rise and fall noisily within the central tower. And the bearded figure of "Earl Patie", and the green lady? Well.....there is no doubt that many people have seen ghosts in many places; and certainly Glamis Castle, both by tradition and by appearance, would be a fine place for them.....
*It is spooky to me that I can connect my own family line directly from Malcolm II down to my 6th great grandparents, John CLAYTON and Elizabeth WILLIS...see my HAYS/SIMS webpage for more on the CLAYTON/HAYS connections to Tennessee.
.....Hope you enjoyed this little true tale of horror.....sleep well tonight!
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