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.

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