Friday, 19 February 2016

The White Lady and Others

An enigmatic female spirit is sometimes seen in the chapel of Glamis Castle, dedicated to St Michael. This chapel was built by the 3rd Earl of Strathmore and restored by the 13th earl in the 19th century. This White Lady (also known as the Grey Lady) was observed by Lady Granville in one of the pews, the light from the window passing through the figure and forming an odd pattern on the floor. Patrick, 15th Earl of Strathmore, saw the Lady in the same spot and on another occasion watched it walk right through the chapel door.

   A small dressing room next to the Queen Mother's room was home to a ghost which was prone to pulling the bedclothes off people sleeping there.  The entity ceased to be troublesome after the room was converted into a bathroom. Another invisible force was in the habit of opening a heavy door on a landing each night, even when it was locked and had heavy furniture piled against it.  Eventually the door and the wall surrounding it were removed, ending the disturbance.  More inexplicable sounds were heard by a lady visitor in the 19th century.  She was woken at four in the morning by the sound of knocking and hammering, which she assumed was caused by a scaffold being built.  When she mentioned it to her hosts at breakfast they grew pale.  Someone later informed her that the noises were supernatural and always heard before a death in the family.
   The Rev. F. G. Lee wrote about these sounds, which a correspondent assured him were real.  One Lord Strathmore resolved to find the origins of these noises, so one night, so one night when they were worse than usual he unlocked the 'Haunted Room'.  He fainted when he saw what was inside, but he would never speak about it.
   Ghost hunter and author Elliot O'Donnell added several unique tales to the  heap of Glamis legends.  One concerned a woman who visited her cousin, a maid at the castle.  The family was absent and she was allowed to explore everywhere in the building except a room called 'Bluebeard's Chamber'.  In an upper room in the Square Tower she encountered an invisible object which followed her when she fled down the stairs.  she and her cousin then heard the barrel-like object roll across the lawn.  Her cousin said that it presaged some disaster.  The unlucky visitor died soon after.


Sunday, 14 February 2016

The Earliest Legends of Glamis

A recapitulation of an earlier post on my Angus Folklore Blog:
Mention the name Glamis to followers of Scottish ghost stories or folklore and they will probably conjure up memories of the 'Monster of Glamis', the hidden secret of the owners of the castle, which has been popularised in umpteen books (of varying credibility) from the mid-19th century onwards.  The story, with its hints of scandalous conspiracy and melodrama, is absolutely the product of its times: the Victorians loved nothing more than romantic and gothic intrigue.  But there is more to Glamis that this tale and the boast that it is one of Scotland's most haunted sites. 
   The history of the 'Monster' will be dealt with in future entries, but in the meantime it's worth asking whether there is anything in the actual site or location of Glamis that somehow made it a place where strange things could thrive.  Glamis may have been an important, if not an unusual place long before Glamis Castle was built.  The earliest reputed resident at Glamis was the 8th century Irish saint Fergus.  He came to live in a cave beside the Dean Water here and 'consecrated a tabernacle to the God of Jacob'.  When he died his head was severed in Celtic pagan fashion and carried away to a monastery at Scone.  St Fergus seems to have been a contemporary of the equally elusive St Donald of nearby Glen Ogilvy in the Sidlaw Hills.
   A small group of Class II Pictish symbol stones testify to the importance of Glamis as an early Christian site.  A few centuries after St Fergus the Scottish kings are said to have maintained a hunting lodge here.  The wooded hill just south of the village is still called Hunter's Hill, though its alternative name of Fierypans (or Fierytops) may recall a time when great ritual fires once blazed on its summit.
   Glamis Castle itself was originally planned to be built on Hunter's Hill.  But every morning the builders arrived they found the foundation stones scattered and broken.  A nightly watch was set and out of the darkness one evening came this mysterious pronouncement:

                                    Build not on this enchanted spot,
                                    where man hath neither part nor lot,
                                    but build it down in yonder bog,
                                    and it will neither shake nor shog.

   The castle was accordingly shifted to its present site, away from the domain of the supernatural beings on the hill.

   Several early records state that King Malcolm II (1004-1034) met his death at Glamis, but they disagree about the manner of his death.  The Chronicle of Melrose vaguely speaks of 'a shameful death...underfoot', after the monarch was defeated by enemies in battle.  Another source insists that Malcolm was murdered by 'parricides', the his main opponent - termed the 'Aggressor' - was also slain.  Local opinion once stated that the king fought his last battle on Hunter's Hill, beside the King's Well.  Other sources hint at a dynastic dispute.  The chronicler John of Fordun said that King Malcolm was waylaid at midnight by followers of nobles he had executed.  The bandits were slaughtered, but Malcolm died from a haemorrhage three days later.
   There is a chamber in Glamis Castle named King Malcolm's Room, which is reputed to stand on the site of the hunting lodge where he perished.  A usefully indicative and indelible bloodstain marked the floor of the room until a squeamish owner of the castle boarded it over.  Andrew of Wyntoun, writing in 1406, writes that the king was assassinated because he had 'rewyist [ravished] a fair May of the land there lyand by'.  But, like other authorities, he gives the impression that he did not know the exact cause of Malcolm's death.

   In the manse garden at Glamis is King Malcolm's Stone, a Pictish slab predating the king by several centuries.  On the cross side are carved scenes which were once believed to be symbolic of the murder.  An unidentified beast, resembling a lion, and a centaur signified 'the shocking barbarity of the crime'.  Two fighting men were 'forming the bloody conspiracy'.  A fish on the other side represented Forfar Loch, 'in which, by missing their way, the assassins were drowned', apparently after falling through thin ice at night. 
   These traditions were recorded in 1783 by the minister of Glamis.  He also noted St Orland's Stone nearby at Cossans.  On each side of this monolith are striking water monsters.  One side shows four horsemen, which the minister said were 'officers of justice pursuing the killers'.  There is also a boat containing six people and a bull being attacked by a serpent.  Excavations in the 19th century revealed five crouched burials at the base of this stone.
   John Bellenden, translating Hector Boece's 16th century Latin version, continues the story: ;Nocht long eftir, they wer drawn out of the loch with creparis, and their quarteris hung up in sindry townis of Scotland in punition of their crueltie'.
   Malcolm's burial site is also a matter of dispute.  Fordun says he was buried on Iona, though a Pictish stone on Hunter's Hill, once surrounded by a cairn, was named King Malcolm's Grave.  The Welsh traveller Thomas Pennant, who visited Glamis in 1789, heard that when the castle was modified in 1686 a great round tower was built in an angle to retain a spiral staircase down which the royal corpse was thrown.  But who would have wanted to keep that sinister element in their house?
   The story of the king's death is too convoluted and distant to disentangle.  Was there the suggestion of a pagan sacrificial element to his end and in the ritual drowning of his killers.  Perhaps not, but the waters around Glamis are sinister and lethal.  The Dean Water, connecting Forfar Loch and Glamis, was known to be dowie or 'doleful', a characteristic acquired from its demand for human sacrifice:

                                    Dowie, dowie, dowie Dean,
                                    ilka seven years ye get eene [one].

   An alternative version runs:

                                     The Dowie Dean, its runs its leane [alone]
                                     and every seven years it gets eene.

   A third rhyme has the Dean taking one life and leaving one life every seven years.  Salt was once cast into the burn to placate its angry spirits.

   Macbeth is another king associated with the castle, though the link appears to be entirely unhistorical.  There are a string of Macbeth traditions running along the northern side of the Sidlaws.  But the ghost of Macbeth, once resident at Glamis, has not been glimpsed for many years.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

The Lesser Stories - 19th Century Tales, Part One

The fame of Glamis Castle first arose in the Victorian era and stories about the resident ghosts - Earl Beardie, vampire servants, the Monster of Glamis, et al - proliferated as a collective of writers and possibly some liars added to the corpus of folklore about this place.  What follows is a brief-ish summary of some of those lesser known stories, easing us gently into the study.

   Night-time terrors, anonymous visitants - a common feature of one strand of Glamis Castle folklore.  A former Provost of Perth was disturbed during his stay at the castle by a tall, silent figure during the night.  The man particularly noticed that it wore a dark cloak fastened with a strange clasp. The figure materialised through a locked door and was also seen on a stairway.  This figure was said to have been witnessed on successive nights by the Dean and the Bishop of Brechin (clerics always make supposedly reputable witnesses).

   The writer Augustus Hare heard that the following event occurred at Glamis Castle.  A guest who peered from his window one night noticed a carriage driving slowly up and down.  After the vehicle eventually stopped the driver looked up at him with a 'marked and terrible face'.  Some time later the man was staying at a Paris hotel and was about to board the lift when he saw inside the same man who had been at Glamis.  All well and good.  Taking note of this more-than-coincidence he naturally refused to set foot into the elevator, which promptly plunged down the shaft, killing all the occupants.   This story is of course not peculiar to Glamis and seems to be an early urban myth, which even found its way into fiction via various writers. (Variations on the theme make the narrowly avoided accident happen on a crowded bus, etc.:  see the episode in the classic British supernatural film Dead of Night (1945).)  Nothing makes it peculiar to Glamis, not even the old worldly element of the phantom coach (which is more associated with the Earl of Southesk's seat at Kinnaird Castle, also in Angus).

   Another precognitive tale touches on the elusive 'family secret' of Glamis.  A man staying at the castle saw a strange face staring at him from a window across the courtyard.  It disappeared, then the air was full of dreadful screams.  Next he saw an old woman come out of the door beneath the window opposite, carrying a large, shapeless bundle which the witness thought was connected with the hideous cries.  Years later this man was travelling in Italy and happened to visit a monastery.  One of the brothers told him that a neighbouring nunnery housed a handless and tongue-less woman who had been deliberately mutilated to prevent her revealing a terrible family secret.  Though he did not meet this unfortunate female, he somehow connected her with the events he had seen at Glamis. This tale may be an elaboration or attempted explanation of the 'Weeping Woman', a familiar ghost at the castle.  She used to be frequently seen dashing across the lawns, waving her handless arms and indicating her bleeding mouth.  Her identity is not known.

   An anonymous account from 1882 - Ghostly Visitors - tells of a doctor who visited the building and possible had an unasked for glimpse of the future.  He was in his room one evening when a man burst in and said that a Miss Seymour had taken ill in the parlour.  He followed this messenger downstairs and found a young woman unconscious in an armchair.  The doctor succeeded in reviving her, but the man who had alerted him suddenly exclaimed, 'Is that the way in which you doctors treat your patients?  I will show you how I cure them.'  Then he swiftly drew out a knife and stabbed the woman in the chest.  A second later both murderer and victim vanished before him.
   The doctor was understandably shocked.  When he recovered he examined the chair and the floor for blood, but found none.  Later he asked his host if a Miss Seymour had come to stay.  He was told that she had, but when she was subsequently introduced to the doctor she showed no signs of recognition.  Thankfully, the man was not present.    Two years later the doctor was at a country house party in England and encountered Miss Seymour again.  She introduced him to the man she was going to marry:  the 'murderer' whom he had seen at Glamis Castle.  The doctor said nothing and the story ends here.  Such were the vignettes favoured by the middle classes in the decades before the Great War.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Lady Glamis Burned as a Witch - A Summary

In the early 16th century, Janet Douglas, wife of the 6th Lord Glamis, was unfortunate enough to be the sister of Arcibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, a perceived enemy and arguably the 'wicked step-father' of King James V.  When he attained power in his own right King James began to crack down on the powerful Douglas kindred and all their close associates and among those included in the general Douglas prescription was Janet Douglas, following the death of her husband in 1528, accused of assisting her rebellious brothers.  Janet's estates were seized in July 1531 and given to Gavin Hamilton.  On New Year's Day, 1532. Lady Glamis was charged with poisoning her husband.  The charge was so patiently false that two juries failed to show up for her trial.  Five years late, in July 1537, Janet was convicted of siding with her brothers.  A second charge stated that she, her second husband, her son, a priest, and a relative planned to poison the king.  Poisoning at this stage in history was of course synonymous with witchcraft.  After a blatantly one-sided trial, Lady Glamis was 'had to the Castle-hill of Edinburgh, and there burnt to the dead as ane traitor.'
   During her years of imprisonment lady Glamis almost went blind.  Much of the fatal evidence against her was supplied by William Lyon, a relative of her first husband, whose advances she had rejected.  Her son John, 7th Lord Glamis, was sixteen when he and his brother George were arrested, in 1537.  Witnessing his tenants being tortured and threatened with the same, John signed a confession, stating that he had known of his mother's plot.  The two brothers were not freed until after the king died.
   Lady Glamis's second husband, Alexander Campbell of Skipnish, tried to escape from his cell in Edinburgh Castle the night after Janet's execution.  He climbed down a rope, but it was too short and he fell to his death on the rocks.

   The ghost of Janet Douglas returned to haunt Glamis Castle hours after she perished, still enshrouded in flames.  Her ghost was often sighted floating above the 15th century Clock Tower, emitting an eerie red glow.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Ghosts of Glamis goes live!

Welcome to the initial post on the Ghosts of Glamis blog, a new companion to the Angus Folklore Blogspot.  As a mini statement of intent, my plan is to make public a rolling body of sources, thoughts, ideas about the folklore of Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland.  If any haunted place in the world deserves its own site, then Glamis surely does.  More explanation as we go along.  But here's the first tantalising lore about Glamis, also posted in my original blog.

Sir Walter Scott visited Glamis Castle twice, the first time in 1793.  In his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft he mentions a Secret Chamber, one of the cornerstones of modern folklore about Glamis Castle. (Can a secret chamber function as a cornerstone, metaphorically or architecturally?) Scott stated that the chamber was known only to the earl, his heir and a third person and admitted that the night he spent at Glamis left him feeling 'too far from the living, and somewhat too near the dead'. Next morning Scott took a draught of liquor from the Lion Beaker (or Lion Cup), a lion shaped silver beaker.  The poor writer became so drunk that he lost his way outside and had to ask the minister's wife about the direction of the road back to Meigle where he was staying.  The Beaker is said to have caused misfortune for the Strathmore family - some thing perhaps resented this object passing from its original home to Glamis.

   The great number of Glamis legends sprung up after Sir Walter in the 19th century, through the writing of luminaries like Robert Chambers, Augustus Hare, Lord Halifax and a host of others less well known, all catering for the Victorian taste for gothic mystery.
   Former servants form one (under)class of ghosts at Glamis.  One maid was caught drinking the blood of a man and was rather harshly walled up alive as punishment, but she still roams the district in search of fresh victims.  A more pathetic visitant is the little African page boy who sits by the door of the Queen Mother's bedroom.  Mistreated when he was alive, he has become liberated by mischief in death and likes to trip people up as they walk past.  A butler who hanged himself lingers in the Hangman's Chamber.  Four servants who were caught drinking and gambling were put to death, but they assuredly return on the anniversary of their demise, terrifying the whole house with their hideous screams.

   A part of the castle battlements was named Lover's Leap after a high born female servant cast herself off the building here and joined her ghostly lover:

                                              The Lover's Leap!  Ane grues to see
                                              the awesome thirty ell;
                                              God grant that we nae sic death may dee
                                              as did puir Christabell!