Sunday, 5 May 2019

Commercial Break - New Book Out Now!

While I take a short (and possibly well-deserved) break from my blogging schedule, can I bring your attention to my recently published book, The Afterlife of King James IV, published by Chronos Books.

   This work is very much an alternative history of one of the best beloved Scottish monarchs, King James IV, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.  Or did he?  There were persistent rumours that the monarch survived the battle, being either captured by the English, rogue nobles in the Scottish army, or taking himself away on a spiritual, one way journey from the Holy Land. So, a raft of conspiracies theories which were born out of the bloody mire and confusion of battle?  That's true, but there was certainly more, uncommon intrigue afoot.  The tantalising image and reputation of the king - plus the possibility of his murder or survival - were tangible elements in the tempestuous politics of the post-Flodden period. The king's own wife, Margaret Tudor (sister of King Henry VIII) fully indulged in the intrigue, for her own purposes, claiming that James IV survived for several years after the fateful battle.

   More than this, the king was also linked to the Otherworld, with several strands of tradition aligning him with the theme of the Undying King, whose interest in the recondite traditions of his realm prompted his removed from the physical world, a captive in Fairy Land.  The persistent legends of his links with this realm are evident in witch trials and resurface in subsequent centuries, a fascinating ingredient in the postmortem reputation of this most alluring Stewart monarch.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Modern Literature - What Can We Do With Monsters?

So much of the legends of Glamis are wrapped up in the curious late Victorian gothic imagination that it hard to accept they could have arisen and flourished in any other setting.  True, the story of the Monster of Glamis has been repeated in many popular books about ghost stories and legends throughout the 20th century and into the present one.  But mostly it is just repetition, with little new added, and a sad lack of imagination.

   Yet, at the core of the story there are magnificent themes which deserve to be explored and it's possibly a wonder that fiction writers do not make more of the general ideas encapsulated in the legends. One who did was the English historian William Croft Dickinson.  For much of his working life he was based in universities in Scotland and, naturally, his output was mainly devoted to his field of expertise.  One the side, however, he wrote speculative fiction, including ghost stories with an academic slant, somewhat in the style of M. R. James.

   His 1963 collection called Dark Encounters contains a striking story called 'The House of Balfother', and it begins with this speculation:

I sometimes wonder about those traditional immortals who live in secret chambers, like Earl Beardie at Glamis. Do they grow older and older?  Do the years weary them?  Or do they live on and on at exactly the same age? That's the worst of legends...they leave too much to the imagination.
   Well, if Earl Beardie is growing older and older,his beard must be mighty long by now, after some four hundred years...Unless at some point in time, or at some given length, a man's beard ceases to grow.
   In the story a man encounters a sad, shrunken immortal who has been cursed never to day by being given an elixir of life by the alchemist John Damian, at the behest of King James IV in the 16th century.  The king wants to see how long he will live (although of course he knows the man will long outlive him) and protects the house in which the creature must remain.  But the family and the creature are doomed when, in the 17th century, they are caught up in the witchcraft frenzy, then condemned and burned.  The modern protagonist merely witnesses and interacts with their ghosts.  So much, so good. Why couldn't the Glamis monster legend show as much imagination in its modern version.  Unfortunately, like Beardie, it is trapped in a particular time.  Its beard may have grown, but there is no added fullness in the re-telling.


   Another modern work which has crossed my radar recently is Murder at Glamis Castle.  2004.  This is the ninth book in an Edwardian mystery series written by Robin Paige, the pseudonym of Americans Susan Wittig and Bill Albert.  The story plays fitfully with the Glamis legend, and one character at Glamis tells the female protagonist 'Yer ladyship had best keep tae yer room i’ the castle, partic’larly when night cooms.'  This does not bode well for the prospects of good literature, but in fact the story moves along nicely, with the main story dealing with a lord and lady pair of investigators examining the murder of a servant woman who had been looking after the mentally disturbed recluse who is of course the rightful heir.  The future Queen Mother also gets a cameo and there is a lot of stuff about German spies.  But no great imaginative fictionalised leap forward with the Glamis mythos, I'm afraid.  The description of the castle is given in florid terms which gothic fiction fans would surely lap up:

At this first glimpse of Glamis, Kate pulled in her breath, scarcely believing what she saw. A towering central keep, splendid with a fanfare of conical spires, pepper-pot turrets, and a rippling flag, rose magnificently above the crenellated parapets of the wings flung out on either side. The castle was entirely constructed of a warm reddish-gray stone, glistening softly with damp, and its many casements reflected the pale morning light like glittering diamonds set into the stone. It rested in the lap of the soft, green meadow, behind it rising the far-off peaks of the Grampian Mountains, their ridges dusted with an early snow. Even on such a gray and gloomy day as this, Glamis was a fairy jewel in a setting of otherworldly beauty.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Local Newspaper Report, 1900: Glamis Monster = Frankenstein?

From the archives of the Dundee based 'Courier' newspaper comes the clipping below, giving us (on 27 December) a snapshot of the evolution of the Glamis Monster legend at the dawning of a new century.

   Note the equation of the 'Glamis Monster' with the Frankensten 'Monster'.  Myth making was well on the way.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

From USA to Scotland: 'The Strathmore Mystery'.

   The article below appeared in the Dundee 'Courier' on Wednesday April 3rd, 1895.  A point of interest is that Dundee is, of course, not many miles south of Glamis Castle itself.  Yet her was a local newspaper essentially recycling a tall tale culled from a foreign publication - 'Harper's Magazine' of New York - which demonstrates that versions of the 'Glamis Legend' were already been churned out by the late Victorian myth-making machine.

   The source for the Scottish newspaper story is an article titled 'Ghostly Premonitions,' by Lucy B. Lillie (Harper's New Monthly, vol. XC, 1894-5,  pp. 75-79).  The best bit is, of course, the imaginary banter between the monarch and the owner of Glamis.  But where did she get the notion that a particular Lady Strathmore got a one way ticket overseas for being too audaciously inquisitive?

A great many interesting discussions would be ended if nobody believed in the supernatural. For instance, instead of the fascinating speculations over the famous 'Strathmore mystery,' I suppose a sort of official inquiry would be made into it. Fancy that stern old Scotch castle being forced to yield up its secret! One of the never-ending torments of my breast would then be put an end to, for I confess to finding myself in the most unexpected moments and in the most unexpected places asking the same question, 'What is the Strathmore mystery?' and wishing I were Queen Victoria for half an
hour, during which I would barter with Lord Strathmore for his secret a dukedom, or promise the dungeon if he withheld it. It is very foolish to let anything get possession of all the stock of curiosity you possess. What the Strathmore mystery really is, time seems only to be answering more and more vaguely. There is an old and noble house, in which no one denies there exists a mystery, not even the possessors of the secret, a tangible something, so people say, hidden in one of the many strange places in the strange old house. A lady visiting there told me that it was easy to believe in its being bidden, since one could lose one's self twenty times a day in any one wing. The secret is confided to the heir and the steward— to none else—even the bride of the heir is denied it! It is said one Lady Strathmore was forced to live and die abroad, because she questioned her lord too often. There are many stories I might tell, some half disclosing the secret, others relegating it delightfully to the supernatural; but to record them would be to give my neighbors' fireside away, and so I must content myself with merely chronicling the fact that really in this cleareyed,  sharply clever decade there exists as curious a mystery about an old castle in Scotland as anything in the days when the witches greeted Macbeth on that weird heath.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

The Lyon Cup

What is the Lion Cup of Glamis?  Is it cursed, and why should we care?  Here is one-time famous ghost hunter Elliott O'Donnell on the subject (Byways of Ghost-Land, London, 1911, p.168):

The family of Lyons were in possession of a talisman in the form of a "lion-cup," the original of Scott's "Blessed Bear of Bradwardine," which always brought them luck till they went to Glamis, and after that they experienced centuries of misfortune.

We can backtrack to the early 19th century to look at Scott's own comments. In an earlier post I gave a version of Scott's own note to his novel Waverly, describing the cup at Glamis.  It is given below in a fuller version.  

The poculum potatorium of the valiant Baron, his blessed Bear, has a prototype at the fine old castle of Glamis, so rich in memorials of ancient times. It is a massive beaker of silver, double gilt, moulded into the shape of a lion and holding about an English pint of wine. The form alludes to the family name of Strathmore, which is Lyon, and when exhibited the cup must necessarily be emptied to the Earl’s health. The author ought, perhaps, to be ashamed of recording that he had the honour of swallowing the contents of the lion, and the recollection of the feat served to suggest the story of the ‘Bear of Bradwardine’. In the family of Scott of Thirlestane (...Roxburghshire) was long preserved a cup of the same kind, in the form of a jack-boot. Each guest was obliged to empty this at his departure.  If the guest's name was Scott, the necessity was doubly imperative.
   As I reported before, Sir Walter Scott visited Glamis Castle first in 1793. Interesting, I think, that he does not actually name the vessel or give it any supernatural attributes. Scott would likely have recorded any dark legends that he found there.  Was the legend about the cup invented after his time?  Before leaving the castle in the morning he took a hefty drink of spirits from the Lion Beaker (or Lion Cup), and got so drunk that he lost his way on the road. In Waverly the Bradwardines inhabit the old Perthshire castle of Tully-Veolan.  The family heirloom is 'a golden goblet of a singular and antique appearance, moulded into the shape of a rampant bear', representing the crest of the Bradwardine family.  The vessel had been wrought, according to family legend, 'by the command of Saint Duthac, abbot of Aberbrothock' (Arbroath).

   Trying to find the approximate evolution of the story about the Cup is difficult, though it may be fair to say that it formed in parallel of the main Glamis Legend, or possibly slightly in its wake, being invented to give more wight and depth to the mystery of the family and castle in the last years of the 19th century.  A few decades later the legend had matured and was regularly appearing in print.  Below is the version given by Charles R. Beard in his Lucks and Talismans, A Chapter of Popular Superstition (London, 1920. pp. 41-42):

It [the Cup] is said to have come into their possession towards the close of the fourteenth century when John of Forteviot, surnamed the 'Whyte Lyon'...was the lord of Glamis. Whence and how it cae to them is apparently not recorded; but the general impression would seem to be that it was acquired by some piece of chicanery or act of despotic violence, appropriate to that distant period.  And since then, the history of the family has been darkened by a long series of tragedies for which, so it is said, the Cup has been responsible. It has even been asserted that if the Cup should ever be parted with or lost extinction awaits the family...
 The following quote is from The Days Before Yesterday, published in 1920, written by Lord Frederick Spencer Hamilton:

It was in this year that Sir John Lyon, Baron Forteviot, was given the lordship by Robert the Second, King of Scotland, whose daughter he had married. Among other honours conferred upon him was that of Great Chamberlain of Scotland, but he ended in a duel in 1383. It was this Sir John who brought with him to Glamis a kind of family curse, the famed "Lion Cup," a hereditary possession whose ownership is said to have caused many tragedies in the family. The plain man at this point naturally inquires why this accursed goblet was never thrown away, or at least sold, or given to some unsuspecting beneficiary against whom the Lyon family nursed a grudge, after the old Scots sort. But your plain man has no business here with family curses or spooks. Inquiry would, however, probably disclose the fact that the several disasters and violent endings of the Lyons were due less to the ownership of that item of gold plate than to the ferocity of themselves and their times.


There is a wonderful collection of old family dresses of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and above all there is the very ancient silver-gilt cup, "The Lion of Glamis," which holds an entire bottle of wine, and on great family occasions is still produced and used as a loving-cup, circulating from hand to hand round the table. Walter Scott in a note to Waverly states that it was the "Lion of Glamis" cup which gave him the idea of the "Blessed Bear of Bradwardine." In fact, there is no end to the objects of interest this wonderful old castle contains, and the Lyon family have inhabited it for six hundred years in direct line from father to son.

   Beyond this, my trail of research goes dead... at the moment. More will be posted when I discover more.

   And I will!

Monday, 11 December 2017

Another Victorian Gossip?

Here's another little tidbit from the late 19th century when the rumour of the 'Glamis Legend', surrounding the so-called Monster (allegedly a member of the family) was circulating around certain circles in British society.  It's from Notes from the Life of An Ordinary Mortal, A G C Liddell (London, 1911, p. 194), and is a diary entry from sometime between 1879 and 1891. 
   A few things we should note:  again, as in previous sources, there is a frustrating lack of detail, but it is interesting in displaying a slightly sceptical tone and interesting for being an early mention of the supposed toad-like characteristics of the deformed Strathmore heir.  Probably worth me being a spoilsport and noting that there was no enobled Lord Strathmore as early as the date she mentions. Who this 'foreign lady' may be, there is no clue:

Aug. 21.  A foreign lady here is lively and amusing.  She pretends to a belief that she has lived several previous lives, which enabled her to make astonishing statements as to what she has done and whom she had met in her former existence, e.g., it comes with great effect into a conversation on astronomy to say 'As Galileo once told me.'
   Spiritualism is another of her topics.  Being herself a wonderful medium, male spirits were always falling in love with her.  At one time she was persecuted by an aged spirit who showed his attentions by knocking about the furniture of her boudoir, and who at last became so importunate as actually to rock the chair on which she sat.  She could only get rid of him by directing the governess to make overtures to him, when he desisted from his attentions, with what result to the governess she did not say.
   Among her other marvels was the best account of the Glamis ghost which I have yet heard.  As she was sitting in her room there the wall became transparent, and she saw through it into the secret chamber illumined with a lurid light.  There lay in chains a fearful object, half-man, half-toad, who was Lord Strathmore in 1330.  The dash of the toad in his structure had given him longeivity, the amount of man in him was such that they dare not knock him on the head; so there he remains, fed on raw flesh by Lord Strathmore, the factor and the eldest son.

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Shadow in the Beginning - the First Logie Owner of Glamis

Long before the castle of Glamis was built and even before the ownership of the Lyon family, there were mysteries surrounding the place. From the Dark Age habitation to the royal estate there, the facts are scant enough.  One would suppose that the records of the first non-royal ownership of the estate would throw open the history of the place and provide clear information.  But history is murkier than that. 

   In the 1363 the records show that a man named John de Logy received the reversion of the thanedom of Glamis from King David II.  The reddendo for these lands was a red falcon which had to be delivered to the king yearly at the feast of Pentecost.  By 1372, however, Logy was no longer in possession and the new monarch, Robert II, granted the thanage to Sir John Lyon.  The original owner is a shadowy character.  The first JohnLogy – or Logie – came to a bad end, executed for his part in a plot against the king.  Margaret Logy, who some historians reckon to be his daughter, went on to marry David II.  Logy, or rather Logie, is by no means an uncommon place-name in Scotland.  There are several such names in Angus – one in north Angus, and another between Dundee and Lochee (though for long incorporated in the city). It likely, however, that this Logy was associated with Logie-Almond in Strathearn, Perthshire.  The owner of Glamis was likely the first John's son.

   The downfall of Logie senior was his part in a treacherous plot against the king orchestrated by Lord Soulis.  Soulis died in Dumbarton Castle.  Sir John of Logie, together with several other plotters, were condemned following the ‘Black Parliament’ of 1320 and drawn, hung and beheaded.  Incidentally the plot also led to the death of a notable Angus man named David Brechin, who was condemned because he had kept secret the details of the plot, despite refusing to become involved. 
   Margaret Logie herself presents an interesting character, judging from the facts which have survived about her.  She was born into the powerful Perthshire family of Drummond and had a long liaison with King David II, whose marriage to Joan (daughter of King Edward II of England) was both childless and unhappy.  When Joan retired to be a nun in England, David took a series of mistresses, one of whom was murdered by Scottish nobles who were suspicious of her power.  After Joan’s death, Margaret Logie became the first Scotswoman to marry a reigning Scottish monarch since the 11th century.  Margaret was a powerful lady and an active force in Scottish politics. 

King David II of  Scotland and Edward III of England.

   But her downfall may have been sealed by the fact that she was unable to give the king a son (though she had one son by her first husband, also called John Logie and one possibly malicious chronicler later accused her of pretending to carry the king’s child).  Margaret tried to secure her position by making a bond with the powerful Kennedy kindred of Carrick, but she still fell out of favour. King David annulled the marriage, but his queen appealed to the papacy.  The matter was still unresolved when King David II died in February 1371.  But Margaret died on her way to the papal court at Avignon soon afterwards. 

   The Drummonds of Stobhall, Perthshire, interestingly provided another Scottish queen, in the shape of Annabella Drummond.  She was the daughter of Sir John Drummond, who was Margaret Logie’s sister.  In contrast to her unfortunate aunt, Annabella’s union was a resounding success, at least if it can be measured by its duration; she was married to King Robert III for over 35 years.

Stobhall, home of the Drummonds.

   Did Margaret Logie ever visit Glamis?  It’s doubtful, but then again Glamis is not too many miles east of her ancestral home of Stobhall in Perthshire.  One thing is certain:  that she has her place among those many characters in Scottish history whose reputation has suffered as a result of her strong character and motives.  John Bellenden, translating the history of Hector Boece in the 16th century, sums up the distorted tradition of this queen which survived in his era:

King David...maryit ane lusty woman, namit Margaret Logy... and within thre monethis eftir; he repentit and wes so sorrowful that he had degradit his blud-rial with sic obscure linnage...

Guthrie, James Cargill, The Vale of Strathmore, its Scenes and Legends (Edinburgh, 1875).
McPherson, J. G., Strathmore, Past and Present (Perth, 1885).
Penman, Michael, ‘Margaret Logie, Queen of Scotland,’ in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, From the Earliest Times to 2004, ed. Elizabeth Ewan, Sue Innes, Rose Pipes, Sian Reynolds, pp. 248-9 (Edinburgh, 2006).
Riddell, John, Inquiry into the Law and Practice in Scottish Peerages (vol. 2, Edinburgh, 1842).

Stewart Allan, A., ‘Historical Notices of the Family of Margaret of Logy, Second Queen of David the 
Second, King of Scots,’ Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Vol. 7 (1878), pp. 330-361.