Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Monster of Glamis – A Modern View: Cruel Rumours and Medical Theories

The bare bones of the legend of the ‘Monster of Glamis’ are a set of Gothic building blocks that reek of 19th century romance and mystery.  Put simply, it was a whispering game passed between a number of middle and upper class Scots and Anglo-Scots from the middle of the 19th century until the beginning of the 20th century.  Partway through that period the story, in many variations, made it into print and the legend grew.  After the First World War the legend may have been repeated in numerous books and articles, but the stories no longer mutated and grew.  This may have been because those consuming and generating the stories were no longer a moneyed and leisurely elite, but consumers of mainly sensationalist and non-demanding supernatural literature.

   What did it begin with? Put simply, there was in the early 19th century born an heir into the Bowes-Lyon family of Glamis Castle who was so hideously deformed it was decided he could never be seen, acknowledged or allowed to inherit the earldom.  He was locked away in the castle, possibly expected to die, but in spite of this he grew and thrived and lived to an extraordinary old age.  The successive earls knew of him, as did the heir when he came of age, plus also the state factor or lawyer, but nobody else.  The ‘Monster’ was exercised in the battlements and in the grounds and was sometimes spotted after breaking away from his captors.  After a long time he died, but the legend never did.  (For a start, his poor ghosts is still said to haunt Glamis Castle.)

   But, in the modern age, what serious and less serious theories and add-ons have been magnetically attached to the basic story.  A story by the eminent writer Robert Graves (contained in his Collected Short Stories) with the contentious title of ‘The Whitaker Negroes’, sheds an interesting light, in passing on the Glamis Monster legend.  An interesting narrative, the story is really a study of a certain type of physical abnormality and the emotional reaction certain observers it has on certain observers.  But  the story also touches on the folklore associated with the people alluded to in the title, a group of African-Americans in the backwoods of Mississippi afflicted by a congenital condition known as ectodermal dysplasia.  This is actually a wide group of conditions, one variant of which affects patients who are born without sweat glands.  Associated with the disorder are dental abnormalities:  very few teeth, and those present are sometimes sharp and protruding.  Other attributes are a distinctive, ‘alien’ type of face and lank, meagre hair.
   In a telling aside, Graves ponders:
It occurs to me as I write that the real explanation of the Glamis Monster – the reputedly ‘Undying Thing’ which used to peer out from one of the attic windows at Glamis Castle – may have been ectodermal dysplasia in the Bowes-Lyon family, hushed up because one of its victims was heir to the earldom.
   Now this fascinating supposition has never subsequently been followed up by any serious investigator. (Graves’ story was initially published in the early 1950s.)  But it links in, nicely or unsettlingly (depending on your opinion), with fairly recent revelations about the Bowes-Lyon family.  In 1987 it was revealed that distant relatives of the Queen had been affected by a hereditary mental disease and placed in mental institutions, then the circumstances of their histories subsequently hidden.  Both anti-royalists and Glamis conspiracy theorists had a field day.  But closer analysis shows that the genetic issue was introduced into the Bowes-Lyon family by marriage.  The Queen Mother’s father was Claude Bowes-Lyon (14th Earl of Strathmore) and one of his sons, John Bowes-Lyon, married Fenella, daughter of Charles Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis, 21st Baron Clinton.

   Another child of Baron Clinton was Harriet who married a man named Henry Fane.  The children of this marriage included the daughters Idonea, Rosemary, and Ethelreda.  These girls’ cousins, daughters of John Bowes-Lyon and Fenella, were the sisters Nerissa and Katherine.  All five girls were mentally retarded and were consigned to the same institution on the same day in 1941, Royal Earlswood Hospital in Surrey.  One particularly bizarre conspiracy latched on to the fact that Katherine Bowes-Lyon was born in 1926, the same year as the present queen.  The theory states that the queen’s parents realised their daughter was mentally defective and ‘swapped’ her for her cousin Katherine, borne ten weeks later, so that the real queen languished in an asylum until her death in 2014.  (Nerissa Bowes-Lyon lived from 1919 to 1986.)  The story about the queen’s ‘hidden cousins’ broke in 1987 and matters were made worse by a Channel Four documentary shown in 2011, which was castigated for its inaccuracies. 

Royal Earlswood Hospital, Surrey.

   Of interest to Glamis watchers, plus possibly a small section of inverted snobs within ultra republican ranks, was the fact that the girls in the institution had been officially written out of history and were said to be dead rather than in an asylum.  It was just such an aristocratic sleight of hand which is said to have disposed of the true heir of Glamis Castle, a deformed child confined forever to a secret room.

   It seems to be an accepted belief also that aristocratic families sometimes resorted to employing the agency of outsiders when conception of an heir proved impossible.  This legend is possibly derived from a reaction to the snobbery of the upper-middle-classes in their ancient, exclusive and almost mystical blood lines.  (Modern DNA research can perhaps shed further light into this area in the future.)  A variant of this cynical attitude to the landed classes is the suggestion that sometimes a cuckoo may have invaded their plush nests, or something equally strange.  Step forward Lady Colin Campbell, who claimed in a book that a French servant named Marguerite Rodiere was the real birth mother of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother), an informal and secret act of surrogacy forced on the family by the alleged fact that her supposed mother Cecilia was unable, after having eight previous children, was incapable of having any more children.   But even this outrageously false story was not without precedent.  The American author Kitty Kelly had previously claimed in her book The Royals (1997), that the Queen Mother was the result of a liaison between a Welsh maid at Glamis and her father.   Taking all of this into account, the story of the Monster hardly seems outlandish after all.

   Last words go to Robert Graves, in the opening section of ‘The Whitaker Negroes’:
Hauntings, whether in waking life or dream, are emotionally so powerful, yet can be so seldom ascribed to any exterior agency, that they are now by common  consent allotted to the morbid pathologist for investigation...There are also occasional haunting...which, however grotesque, deserve to be accepted at their face value and placed in the correct historical context. 
Robert Graves.

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