Friday, 13 May 2016

Original Source: The Second Diplomat

Sir Horace Rumbold (1829-1913) visited Glamis Castle on 25th September 1877, a matter of weeks before the writer Augustus Hare.  (Rumbold left Glamis for Edinburgh on 1st October and Hare arrived there on October 26th.)  One wonders what these two guests would have made of each other if their paths had overlapped. Rumbold was a different creature from Hare, being a career diplomat rather than a dilettante and, although his own autobiographical writings spilled over into multi volumes, he only managed two works, consisting of three volumes, versus the stupendous six volumes which Hare devoted to himself.  The closeness of dates of the visits is obviously interesting, as is the comparison of the writings of fellow diplomat Lord Frederick Hamilton, who visited the castle on various occasions and whose work The Days Before Yesterday contains no mention of the supernatural at Glamis Castle.

Sir Horace Rumbold.

   Like many others, Rumbold’s first sight of the castle impressed him deeply.  Rumbold came with some friends from Perthshire, arriving at Glamis castle in the late afternoon:

Coming upon it in the gloaming of a September day, the first sight of the splendid Castle, round which have grown up such strange mysterious traditions, quite surpassed my expectations, and I at once realised the peculiar atmosphere of uncanniness by which all those who have stayed there agree that it is pervaded.

Compare this with the similar first sight of the building recorded by the Rev Boyd (in Twenty-Five Years at St Andrews):

As one drew near, the grand pile looked perfectly familiar, though unseen till now. Pictures of it abound.  It is an eerie place.  But though very many things suggest the fourteenth century, some suggest the nineteenth...

And Augustus Hare was also similarly struck with his first impression:

As we drove up to the haunted castle at night, its many turrets looked most eerie and weird against the moonlit sky, and its windows blazed with red light.  The abundance of young life inside take off the solemn effect...

   Rumbold confesses that, during his week’s stay in the castle, he did not have one good night’s sleep, though whether that was due to fear or a bad bed he does not say.  The day after he arrived he was given a tour of the building. He admitted it was well furnished and cheerful, but there was ‘none the indefinable sense of gloom and mystery’ present.  No place, he added, had ever impressed him so much. Dean Nicholson of Brechin officiated at a full choral service in the chapel on Michaelmas Day and the writer mentions that one of the panels here was supposed to conceal a priest’s hole (a variation on the secret room legend?).  Rumbold gives his meditation on the story of the Secret Room:
The knowledge of the whereabouts of this chamber in the great, irregular medieval pile is, as most people are aware, held by the Lyons to be of such importance that, from generation to generation, it has been jealously guarded, and, under a family statute observed most rigidly, confined to three persons at a time:  the owner namely and his eldest son, when the latter is of age, and either the factor on the estate or the family lawyer at Edinburgh.  So far so good.  The grave import attached to the preservation of the secret has been variously attributed by those who speculate on the such causes as an unwillingness to break with a time-honoured family tradition handed down through the centuries in an ancient race; or to the dark crime or some ancestor which, if fully revealed, would inflict indelible disgrace on the family name; or, lastly, to some flaw in the title to the property which might come to light with the discovery of the secret. ..It is the dominant part it plays in the existence of these owners which invests the Glamis mystery with such strange interest – one might almost say tragical dignity. (Further Recollections of a Diplomatist, 142-3.)
   Rumbold states that the secret caused domestic problems between the 12th earl, Thomas (1822-1865) and his wife Charlotte Maria Barrington (1826-1854).  Soon after they married, in 1850, Charlotte tried to find the location of the secret room.  One summer day, when Lord Strathmore was absent, one of the guests had the idea of hanging sheets and towels out of every window in the building to determine which room was inaccessible and therefore possibly the Secret Room.  Of course, Thomas unexpectedly returned and he bitterly reproached his wife for trying to find out the secret.  Like other legends of Glamis, there are conflicting versions of this event.
One candidate for the Secret Room.

   Although Rumbold states that the 12th earl, who was known as Ben, was a ‘heedless man of the world, with few prejudices and possibly still fewer beliefs’, he is said to have warned his younger brother Claude, his successor as the 13th earl, that he had to ‘pray down’ the evil influence of the family curse.  He himself had tried to ‘laugh down’ the awful secret, to no effect.  Claude therefore restored the chapel and had services in it every day.  He says that the future 14th earl, also Claude (born in 1855), asked when he came of age in 1876 if three people knew of the secret, and he was told that they did.  He then stated that there was no reason for him to know at present, thank you very much.  Later versions of this tradition state that he outright refused to ever be informed.  Rumbold also states that the estate factor, Mr Andrew Ralston, never spent a night under the roof of the castle, no matter what the weather was or the lateness of the hour.  Yet again, this rumour was repeated and elaborated in other sources.
   For all his difference from Augustus Hare, Rumbold's broadly similar account at least supporting the existence of some kind of family secret at Glamis Castle is noteworthy.

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