Friday, 25 March 2016

Robert Chambers and The Picture of Scotland

The Peebles-born writer and publisher Robert Chambers included details about the antiquities and traditions of Glamis Castle in the second volume of his Picture of Scotland (1827).  Like many writers of the period and earlier he favoured the spelling Glammis, and he also made the error of stating that the castle was several miles north-west of the town of Forfar when it is of course to the south-west.  For all that, Chambers' details are interesting; indeed all of his various works are fascinating (his Popular Rhymes of Scotland is an enduring folkloric classic).

Robert Chambers

  In Chambers' time the royal connections of the castle were perhaps more noteworthy than any hauntings which may, or may not, have infested the venerable building.  He relates that the Old Pretender (King James VIII to you Scottish Jacobites) visited the castle in 1715 and had eighty-eight beds put at disposal for himself and all his followers.  No wonder the '15 rebellion failed with a leader having a huge retinue of flunkies like that.  Next point of Royal interest is the room where King Malcolm II is supposed to have died.  The flooring of the murder room was replaced three times since the fatal event.  Dark spots of blood still re-appeared - with 'conscientious punctuality' - on the floor in remembrance of the act, or so the contemporary housekeeper claimed.  Blood spots marking murder site are not of course uncommon in castles and mansions.  The most famous such stain in Scotland is probably in Holyrood Palace, where poor David Rizzio was slain.

   Chambers details the supposed Macbeth connections, before moving on to the story of Lady Glamis, burnt as a witch in the 16th century, and other matters.  He relates that there is a staircase in the building which runs from the bottom to the very top, consisting of 143 steps.  There was a story that this spiral staircase, which was constructed around a hollow pillar, was the scene of a peculiar accident.  A boy who was playing at the open top of the pillar fell down it, landing on his feet at the bottom, not the least bit hurt.  The writer took this as proof that a person falling from a perpendicular height can land unharmed on his or her feet, like a cat.  Not sure about that one.

The Commons King.  James V who condemned Lady Glamis and seized Glamis Castle

   Following the death of Lady Glamis, the crown seized the estate and King James V stayed at the castle for a while.  Famous for wandering incognito in the countryside, often in search of romantic conquests, the monarch was known as 'The Commons King'.  While at Glamis he went wandering for this purpose towards the north of Glamis and was returning to the castle when he fell in with the company of a Dundonian butcher named Couttie, a 'very hearty fellow'.  Just as they were passing the mouth of Glenogil they were attacked by a band of Highlanders.  The Dundee man was all for surrendering, but King James urged him to fight back, exclaiming 'The face of a king is terrible, and his name is a tower of strength!, knocking down one of the brigands.  The butcher took heart and started beating the robbers who promptly ran away.  The butcher was rewarded by the king with land in the burgh of Dundee, which was later built over and commemorated the man's name, being known as Couttie's Wynd, which still exists.

Couttie's Wynd, Dundee, a rare survival of an old medieval pend in the burgh, with a link to Glamis Castle.

   After detailing the portraits and antiquities in the castle, Chambers speaks about the haunted room, which was kept locked up.  Besides that there was the chamber in which Earl Beardie damned himself to Satan, a place  which 'of discovered, would be found to present a scene far beyond the simple horrors of a haunted chamber'.  The tale of this Earl of Crawford was first told by chambers, but of the monster and the many ghosts we hear nothing.  The glory days of Glamis legend making were still to come.

Chairs used by King James V and his queen at Glamis.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Lord Frederick Hamilton: The Days Before Yesterday

The following extract comes from The Days Before Yesterday, published in 1920, written by Lord Frederick Spencer Hamilton (1856-1928), Tory politician, career diplomat and Anglo-Scottish peer.  Although it contains no supernatural data, it gives a picture about the atmosphere of Glamis castle and its inhabitants in the late Victorian era:

Whenever I returned home on leave, whether from Berlin, Petrograd, Lisbon, or Buenos Ayres, I invariably spent a portion of my leave at Glamis Castle. This venerable pile, "whose birth tradition notes not," though the lower portions were undoubtedly standing in 1016, rears its forest of conical turrets in the broad valley lying between the Grampians and the Sidlaws, in the fertile plains of Forfarshire. Apart from the prestige of its immense age, Glamis is one of the most beautiful buildings in the Three Kingdoms. The exquisitely weathered tints of grey-pink and orange that its ancient red sandstone walls have taken on with the centuries, its many gables and towers rising in summer-time out of a sea of greenery, the richness of its architectural details, make Glamis a thing apart. There is nothing else quite like it. No more charming family can possibly be imagined than that of the late Lord Strathmore, forty years ago. The seven sons and three daughters of the family were all born musicians. I have never heard such perfect and finished part-singing as that of the Lyon family, and they were always singing: on the way to a cricket-match; on the road home from shooting; in the middle of dinner, even, this irrepressible family could not help bursting into harmony, and such exquisite harmony, too! Until their sisters grew up, the younger boys sang the treble and alto parts, but finally they were able to manage a male-voice quartet, a trio of ladies' voices, and a combined family octette. The dining-room at Glamis is a very lofty hall, oak-panelled, with a great Jacobean chimney-piece rising to the roof. After dinner it was the custom for the two family pipers to make the circuit of the table three times, and then to walk slowly off, still playing, through the tortuous stone passages of the ancient building until the last faint echoes of the music had died away. Then all the lights in the dining-room were extinguished except the candles on the table, and out came a tuning-fork, and one note was sounded—"Madrigal," "Spring is Come, third beat," said the conducting brother, and off they went, singing exquisitely; glees, madrigals, part-songs, anything and everything, the acoustic properties of the lofty room adding to the effect. All visitors to Glamis were charmed with this most finished singing—always, of course, without accompaniment. They sang equally well in the private chapel, giving admirable renderings of the most intricate "Services," and, from long practice together, their voices blended perfectly. This gifted family were equally good at acting. They had a permanent stage during the winter months at Glamis, and as every new Gilbert and Sullivan opera was produced in London, the concerted portions were all duly repeated at Glamis, and given most excellently. I have never heard the duet and minuet between "Sir Marmaduke" and "Lady Sangazure" from The Sorcerer better done than at Glamis, although Sir Marmaduke was only nineteen, and Lady Sangazure, under her white wig, was a boy of twelve. The same boy sang "Mabel" in the Pirates of Penzance most admirably.

Lord Frederick Hamilton

In 1884 it was conveyed to Lord Strathmore that Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone, whom he did not know personally, were most anxious to see Glamis. Of course an invitation was at once dispatched, and in spite of the rigorously Tory atmosphere of the house, we were all quite charmed with Mr. Gladstone's personality. Lord Strathmore wished to stop the part-singing after dinner, but I felt sure that Mr. Gladstone would like it, so it took place as usual. The old gentleman was perfectly enchanted with it, and complimented this tuneful family enthusiastically on the perfect finish of their singing. Next evening Mr. Gladstone asked for a part-song in the middle of dinner, and as the singing was continued in the drawing-room afterwards, he went and, with a deferential courtesy charming to see in a man of his age and position, asked whether the young people would allow an old man to sing bass in the glees with them. Mr. Gladstone still had a very fine resonant bass, and he read quite admirably. It was curious to see the Prime Minister reading off the same copy as an Eton boy of sixteen, who was singing alto. Being Sunday night, they went on singing hymns and anthems till nearly midnight; there was no getting Mr. Gladstone away. Mrs. Gladstone told me next day that he had not enjoyed himself so much for many months.
There was a blend of simplicity, dignity, and kindliness in Mrs. Gladstone's character that made her very attractive. My family were exceedingly fond of her, and though two of my brothers were always attacking Mr. Gladstone in the most violent terms, this never strained their friendly relations with Mrs. Gladstone herself. I always conjure up visions of Mrs. Gladstone in her sapphire-blue velvet, her invariable dress of ceremony. Though a little careless as to her appearance, she always looked a "great lady," and her tall figure, and the kindly old face with its crown of silvery hair, were always welcomed in the houses of those privileged to know her.
The Lyon family could do other things besides singing and acting. The sons were all excellent shots, and were very good at games. One brother was lawn-tennis champion of Scotland, whilst another, with his partner, won the Doubles Championship of England.
Glamis is the oldest inhabited house in Great Britain. As Shakespeare tells us in Macbeth,
"This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses."
The vaulted crypt was built before 1016, and another ancient stone-flagged, stone-vaulted hall leading out of it is the traditional scene of the murder of Duncan by Macbeth, the "Thane of Glamis." In a room above it King Malcolm II. of Scotland was murdered in 1034. The castle positively teems with these agreeable traditions. The staircases and their passages are stone-walled, stone-roofed, and stone-floored, and their flags are worn into hollows by the feet which have trodden them for so many centuries. Unusual features are the secret winding staircases debouching in the most unexpected places, and a well in the front hall, which doubtless played a very useful part during the many sieges the castle sustained in the old days. The private chapel is a beautiful little place of worship, with eighty painted panels of Scriptural subjects by De Witt, the seventeenth-century Dutch artist, and admirable stained glass. The Castle, too, is full of interesting historical relics. It boasts the only remaining Fool's dress of motley in the kingdom; Prince Charlie's watch and clothes are still preserved there, for the Prince, surprised by the Hanoverian troops at Glamis, had only time to jump on a horse and escape, leaving all his belongings behind him. 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.
It is difficult for me to write impartially about Glamis, for it is as familiar to me as my own home. I have been so much there, and have received such kindness within its venerable walls, that it can never be to me quite as other places are. I can see vast swelling stretches of purple heather, with the dainty little harebells all a-quiver in the strong breeze sweeping over the grouse-butts, as a brown mass of whirling wings rushes past at the pace of an express train, causing one probably to reflect how well-nigh impossible it is to "allow" too much for driven grouse flying down-wind. I can picture equally vividly the curling-pond in winter-time, tuneful with the merry chirrup of the curling-stones as they skim over the ice, whilst cries of "Soop her up, man, soop! Soop!" from the anxious "skip" fill the keen air. I like best, though, to think of the Glamis of my young days, when the ancient stone-built passages and halls, that have seen so many generations pass through them and disappear, rang with perpetual youthful laughter, or echoed beautifully finished part-singing; when nimble young feet twinkled, and kilts whirled to the skirl of the pipes under the vaulted roof of the nine-hundred-year-old crypt; when the whole place was vibrant with joyous young life, and the stately, grey-bearded owner of the historic castle, and of many broad acres in Strathmore besides, found his greatest pleasure in seeing how happy his children and his guests could be under his roof.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

American Fame

Proof about the widespread nature of the Glamis legends by the turn of the 20th century is found in many places, among them the articled below from the San Francisco Call, vol. 87, no. 178, 27th May 1901 (syndicated from the New York Tribune).  The piece is quite accurate in its historical detail, and the 'Secret Room' is given prominence, but no mention of any ghosts!


   One of the most picturesque and beautiful of the old Scottish castles is Glamis castle, the ancient seat of the Earls of Strathmore, it dates back to the dark ages, having been a royal residence in the time of King Malcolm, and remained so until the end of the fourteenth century.  At the marriage of the daughter of King Robert II to Sir John Lyon, in 1372, the lands and thanedom of Glamis were given to the bridegroom by the King.  The present family of Lyon, Earls of Strathmore, is directly descended from him.  At Sir John’s death he was buried among the Kings of Scotland at Scone.
   Glamis Castle is generally regarded as the scene of the murder of King Duncan by Macbeth, although Cawdor makes the same claim, and the room which is supposed to have been the fatal chamber is still shown.
   Sir Walter Scott once spent a night at Glamis, in 1794, and in a note to “Waverley” he says:  “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’ ”.
   The walls of the castle are so thick that hidden stairways and passages are frequent in them, and a secret room exists whose location is known only to the reigning Earl, is eldest son and his business manager.  The main entrance js singularly small and low, and the door is of heavy oak, studded with iron nails.  Directly inside the door is an iron gate, opening on the great staircase, which is in a circular tower and ascends spirally.  It has 143 steps, each a single stone six feet ten inches across.

Main entrance of the Castle.

   The drawing-room, formerly the banqueting hall, is sixty feet long and twenty-two feet wide, with a fireplace reaching the ceiling and guarded by four lions.
   There are many interesting old pictures and relics, one of the most valued of which is the portrait by Sir Peter Lely of the famous Claverhouse.  His coat, of buff coloured leather ornamented with silver, hangs on a chair near it.  Claverhouse (Viscount Dundee) was  an intimate of the Strathmore of that period and was much at Glamis.
   Other cherished relics are the watch and sword of Prince Charlie, who spent two nights at Glamis.  It is said that eighty-eight beds were prepared for his suite.  The walls in Prince Charlie’s room are supposed to contain a concealed staircase.
   The gardens at Glamis were laid out by the present Lord Strathmore and are renowned throughout the kingdom for their beauty, the grapes being particularly celebrated.  Lady Strathmore always keeps the drawing-room full of flowers, which she arranged herself.  Her daughters are also artistic in their tastes.  Lady Anne Lyon being a clever painter and Lady Maud Lyon a skilful violinist.  Lady Strathmore embroiders with exquisite taste and skill, and has worked all the altar cloths for their private chapel, which is considered one of the most beautiful in the United Kingdom.  Its panels were painted in 1688 by De Witt, a Dutch artist, and each represents a scene in the life of the Christ of his apostles.’

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Ghosts: 1, General Managers: Nil!

A Strathmore saying, once popular, runs something like:  'Never mind [your problems], ye'll get ower it and intae the big hoose at Glamis!'  Which was probably an ironic way of saying, if you think your problems are so huge, you should be living in the largest house in the district.  There was  no way of escaping the looming enormity of Glamis Castle.  Don't get too big for your boots!

   But can Glamis get too big for its own boots and try to shrug off its own substantial legendary history?  In 2009 the power that be at the castle, or at least those in charge of trying to foster a more 'wholesome' image, tried to turn back the folkloric tide and shun the association of Glamis Castle with monsters, ghosts and any other shuddersome and uncouth beasties.General manager David Adams swore there was no truth in any of the building's supernatural associations.
   Did it work?  Was there a mass exodus of bogles leaving Strathmore in a specially chartered charabanc?  In a word, No!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Original Source: Strange Pages from Family Papers

The extract below is from Strange Pages from Family Papers, written by T. F. Thistleton-Dyer and published in London in 1895 (pp. 98-103).  It brings together some of the most common elements in the Glamis legends as they stood in the late Victorian age: a hereditary secret, a hidden room, the starvation of the fleeing Ogilvys, plus the grim sounds which foretold a certain doom - all very much to the Gothic tastes of the time, but a fine summary of tales which however fails to cite specific witnesses:

T F Thistleton Dyer

 In certain cases it would appear that, for some reason or other, the hiding place has been specially kept a secret among members of the family. In the north of England there is Netherall, near Maryport, Cumberland, the seat of the old family of Senhouse. In this old mansion there is said to be a veritable secret room, its exact position in the house being known but to two persons—the heir-at-law and the family solicitor. It is affirmed that never has the secret of this hidden room been revealed to more than two living persons at a time. This mysterious room has no window, and, despite every endeavour to discover it, has successfully defied the ingenuity of even visitors staying in the house. This Netherall tradition is very similar to the celebrated one connected with Glamis Castle, the seat of Lord Strathmore, only in the latter case the secret room possesses a window, which, nevertheless, has not led to its identification. It is known as the "secret room" of the castle, and, although every other part of the castle has been satisfactorily explored, the search for this famous room has been in vain. None are supposed to be acquainted with its locality save Lord Strathmore, his heir, and the factor of the estate, who are bound not to reveal it unless to their successors in the secret. Many weird stories have clustered round this remarkable room; one legend connected with which has been thus described:
The castle now again behold,Then mark yon lofty turret bold,Which frowns above the western wing,Its grim walls darkly shadowing.There is a room within that towerNo mortal dare approach; the powerOf an avenging God is there.Dread—awfully display'd—beware!And enter not that dreadful room,Else yours may be a fearful doom.
According to one legendary romance—founded on an incident which is said to have occurred during one of the carousals of the Earl of Crawford, otherwise styled "Earl Beardie" or the "Tiger Earl"—there was many years ago a grand "meet" at Glamis, as the result of which many a noble deer lay dead upon the hill, and many a grizzly boar dyed with his heart's blood the rivers of the plain. As the day drew to its close, "the wearied huntsmen, with their fair attendants, returned, 'midst the sounds of martial music and the low whispered roundelays of the ladies, victorious to the castle." In the old baronial dining hall was spread a sumptuous and savoury feast, at which "venison and reeking game, rich smoked ham and savoury roe, flanked by the wild boar's head, and viands and pasties without name, blent profusely on the hospitable board, while jewelled and capacious goblets, filled with ruby wine, were lavishly handed round to the admiring guests."
At the completion of the banquet, the minstrel strung his ancient harp, and soon the company tripped lightly on the oaken floor, till the rafters rang with the merry sounds of their midnight revelry. For three days and nights the hunt and the feast continued, and as, at last, the revelries drew to a close, still four dark chieftains remained in the inner chamber of the castle, "and sang, and drank, and shouted, right merrilie. The day broke, yet louder rang the wassail roar; the goblets were over and over again replenished, and the terrible oaths and ribald songs continued, and the dice rattled, and the revelry became louder still, till the many walls of the old castle shook and reverberated with the awful sounds of debauchery, blasphemy, and crime."
"At length their wild, ungovernable frenzy reached its climax. They had drunk until their eyes had grown dim, and their hands could scarcely hold the hellish dice, when, driven by expiring fury, with fiendish glee, they defiantly gnashed their teeth and cursed the God of heaven! Then, with returning strength, and exhausting its last and fitful energies in still louder imprecations and more fearful yells, they deliberately and with unanimous voice consigned their guilty souls to the nethermost hell! Fatal words! In a bright, broad sheet of lurid and sulphurous flame the Prince of Darkness appeared in their midst, and struck—not the shaft of death, but the vitality of eternal life—and there to this day in that dreaded room they sit, transfixed in all their hideous expression of ghastly terror and dismay—doomed to drink the wine cup and throw the dice till the dawning of the Great Judgment Day." [Scenes and Legends of the Vales of Strathmore, Cargill (1875)]

Another explanation of the mystery is that during one of the feuds between the Lindsays and the Ogilvys, a number of the latter Clan, flying from their enemies, came to Glamis Castle, and begged hospitality of the owner. He admitted them, and on the plea of hiding them, he secured them all in this room, and then left them to starve. Their bones, it is averred, lie there to this day, the sight of which, it has been stated, so appalled the late Lord Strathmore on entering the room, that he had it walled up. Some assert that, owing to some hereditary curse, like those described in a previous chapter, at certain intervals a kind of vampire is born into the family of the Strathmore Lyons, and that as no one would like to destroy this monstrosity, it is kept concealed till its term of life is run. But, whatever the mystery may be, such rooms, like the locked chamber of Blue Beard, are not open to vulgar gaze, a circumstance which has naturally perpetuated the curiosity attached to them. The reputation, too, which Glamis Castle has long had for possessing so strange a room has led to a host of the most gruesome stories being circulated in connection with it, many of which from time to time have appeared in print. According to one account, [All The Year Round (1880)] "a lady, very well known in London society, an artistic and social celebrity, went to stay at Glamis Castle for the first time. She was allotted very handsome apartments just on the point of junction between the new buildings—perhaps a hundred or two hundred years old—and the very ancient part of the castle. The rooms were handsomely furnished; no grim tapestry swung to and fro, all was smooth, easy, and modern, and the guest retired to bed without a thought of the mysteries of Glamis. In the morning she appeared at the breakfast table cheerful and self-possessed, and, to the inquiry how she had slept, replied, "Well, thanks, very well, up to four o'clock in the morning. But your Scottish carpenters seem to come to work very early. I suppose they are putting up their scaffolding quickly, though, for they are quiet now."
Her remarks were followed by a dead silence, and, to her surprise, she noticed that the faces of the family party were very pale. But, she was asked, as she valued the friendship of all there, never to speak on that subject again, there had been no carpenters at Glamis for months past. The lady, it seems, had not the remotest idea that the hammering she had heard was connected with any story, and had no notion of there being some mystery connected with the noise until enlightened on the matter at the breakfast table.

The Drawing Room at Glamis.