Sunday, 1 May 2016

The First Sceptical Source - and - Was The 13th Earl A Haunted Man?

There’s some important questions which should be looming by the end of this piece:  the first one being whether whether the 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Claude Bowes-Lyon, was regarded by others as a haunted man?  Did he see himself as such?  Why did some of the major accounts of Glamis haunting make it to print in his time and did he and his family perhaps have a hand in manufacturing or at least manipulating it?  If an enquirer was being facetious, he or she might pose the query about whether poor Claude was deemed unlucky because he was the thirteenth earl in the line.

The 13th earl.

   The written source to be considered is not as well known as Lord Halifax’s Ghost Book, or Augustus Hare’s memoirs (though Glimpses of the Supernatural, All the Year Round may be on a par).  But it is important because it is contemporary with these, overlaps some of the evidence and shows possibly another facet of the attitude of the Glamis family towards their growing supernatural notoriety towards the end of the Victorian era. Twenty-five Years of St Andrews was written by Andrew Kenneth Hutchinson Boyd (1825-1899), published in 1892.  The author gives an account of arriving at Glamis for the first time on Monday 6th October, 1879.  After a brief description of the castle and its atmosphere, the author tackles its reputation:

Everybody has heard of the haunted room at Glamis.  It has been put about that the mention of it is a painful subject in the family.  Never was ranker nonsense.  In the morning, the first question of the delightful Countess to her guests was, ‘Well, have you seen the ghost?’  The Earl treated the subject more scientifically, in a fashion yielding practical counsel.  He told us that some years before an excellent dignitary, who was always collecting money for church- building, had just gone to bed, when of a sudden the ghost appeared:  apparently a Strathmore of some centuries back.  With great presence of mind the clergyman took the first word.  Addressing  the ghost, he said he was most anxious to raise money for a church he was erecting:  that he had a bad cold and could not well get out of bed;  but that his collecting-book was on his dressing-table , and he would be extremely obliged if his visitor would give him a subscription.  [Volume 2, pp 86-88.]

Points to note are that this visit occurred only two years after Augustus Hare’s visit, when he noticed the  haunted look of the earl, and ten years after the mysterious crashes were witnessed by multiple people on the Clock Landing. ( It was also in the same year as Hare’s second stay.)   In the above account the clearly non-haunted Claude quotes – without referencing its source – the joke made by Bishop Forbes about his friend the Dean of Brechin and his constant fund-raising habit.  (Lord Halifax gave the source.  His book was published in the 1930s, but he may indeed have sourced the story independently of Twenty-five Years of St Andrews.)  The relaxed nobleman accords with the account by Lord Frederick Hamilton of an apparently carefree occupant of the castle.  Boyd is the first major sceptic on the subject and a cool counter-blast from the Gothic accounts already considered.

Alexander Forbes, Bishop of Brechin.

   Boyd's text strays into an account of a theological discussion he had with his friend Canon Henry Liddon (1829-1890) on the relative merits of Episcopacy and Presbyterian-ism. Then the story unexpectedly re-ignites as Liddon and Boyd walk to the top of Hunter's Hill, and a strange story emerges:

Long time we abode on its top, eschewing all controversial talk. Liddon conversed most charmingly...At one moment, indicating a double fieldglass carried by his friend, trough which we gazed on the prospect, he said 'That's the glass through which we saw the impaled body.'  All the world knew the story then:  and many declared it was false.  I had even read the suggestion that Liddon was capable of intentional falsehood, he being a partisan.  The being who said that might say anything.  But Liddon might have been mistaken.  A sheaf of beans drying on the top of a pole.  I said to Liddon,  'Show me how far off that pole was.'  He indicated a tree close at hand.  I turned the glass upon it; and could have seen anything at that distance just as distinctly as I do the paper on which I am writing.  Next, to test the beloved man's sight.  'Tell me the hour on the clock at the Castle.'  The Castle was more than a mile off.  Liddon told it to the minute.  And there were two eye-witnesses.  Of course the story was true.  And those who contradicted it most loudly knew it was true.  [Volume 2, 92-93.]

   Did Liddon see the impaled body from the top of Hunter's Hill, a ghastly reminder of some long ago foul murder in the vicinity of Glamis Castle? It sounds like a grisly detail from a ghost story by someone like the great M R James.  But, no: the canon was actually relating - without clarification by Boyd in his recollections - a horrifying event he witnessed near Sarajevo, four years earlier, a war crime committed by an Ottoman Turk.  (The event is related in Travels in the Slavonic Provinces of Turkey in Europe (1867) by G Muir Mackenzie and A P Irby.)

A K H Boyd.

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