Monday, 29 August 2016

The Stain That Cannot Be Washed Away, or The Stain That Never Was?

When a king dies violently, the ripples of repercussion echo down the ages, even beyond the end of his blood line.  Such was the case with Malcolm II, King of Scots, reputed to have been slaughtered against enemies unknown in the vicinity of Glamis in the year 1034.  Nearby Pictish stones were once, wrongly, believed, to commemorate his brutal murder and the subsequent drowning of his executioners in Forfar Loch.  There was a room within the castle said to be the place where he died.  But why was there a ‘King Malcolm’s Room’ when the actual king perished several centuries before there could have been an actual castle on this site.  Okay, apologists for the legend will forgive the misunderstanding by swearing that the room so called within the building actually stands on the site (approximately?  exactly?) where the royal expired.   Okay, but what about the further garbled detail that a stair-well down which the unfortunate king was thrown was retained when the castle was remodelled in the early modern era?


   Consider the indelible blood stain which is said to have so perturbed a later owner of Glamis that he had the offending floor re-laid.  Spilt blood that will not be removed is a commonplace in folklore and points to an act that was not merely wrongful, but supernaturally designated to be so important that it is not allowed to be forgotten.  In the earliest times it may be that these stains were made specifically by the blood of either saints or rulers who were also touched by divinity.  But in later centuries such traditions became semi-secularised to the extent that a famous murder, and specifically a killing which was notoriously unjust, could be sanctioned by heaven to have a permanent memorial.  One example is the mark left on the floor at Holyrood House where poor, hapless David Rizzio was done to death.  These bloodstains are commonplace throughout Britain.  In a house in Meifod, Powys, there were two dark marks pointed out as the bloody footprints of a murdered who had killed someone there.  Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire has its gruesome stains, as does Cotehele House in Cornwall, plus Tadworth Court and numerous other places.  The cleaning regimen in centuries past was poorly served by inadequate chemical detergents.

   At some stage, probably during the 18th or 19th centuries, the inhabitants of Glamis Castle apparently elaborated these stories, which makes one wonder about the cottage industry of myth making possibly behind all the other ghost and monster stories which existed within the house.  In the magazine ‘Willis’s Current Notes’ (March 1855, p. 19) the author, ‘A.J.’ (almost certainly the local historian Andrew Jervise) cites an elaboration of the tradition, given by the English author Howitt, that the very four-poster bed in which King Malcolm breathed his last was still proudly displayed within the room at Glamis Castle.    The author casts doubt on the veracity of this tradition and also upon the assertion that one monogram on the walls of the castle represented the initials of King Malcolm.  In fact, he confirms that the initials are actually those of John, Earl of Kinghorne, and his spouse, Margaret Erskine, 3rd daughter of the Earl of Mar.  

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