Thursday, 27 August 2020

Other Mystery Rooms - Fyvie and Other Places

Glamis Castle is not unique in having a secret chamber allegedly hidden somewhere deep in its interior. Due to their size and the nature of their constant remodelling, many castles and large historic houses have rooms, chambers and other places blocked off or no longer in use. Many times these spaces have no sinister or secret purpose. Otherwise, many homes had hiding places for clergy in the early modern era at times of persecution. 'Priest's Holes' were designed usually, though not exclusively, for Catholic priests, mainly in the 17th century.

The highly readable ghost hunter and author Elliott O'Donnell wrote a book on these mysterious places: Rooms of Mystery, published in 1931. Unsurprisingly, Glamis Castle, features in one chapter, but there is nothing written there about another castle whose mystery room has supernatural overtones. This is Aberdeenshire's  Fyvie Castle, which has an array of hauntings which certainly rivals the supernatural roster at Glamis.  (These include a Green Lady and even a haunted of 'weeping' stone which is associated with a curse given by Thomas the Rhymer.) The tale of the mystery room hear is instructive when compared with the tales of the similar room at Glamis. Another link with Glamis, incidentally, is that the stronghold was gifted in 1390 by King Robert III to Sir James Lindsay, the killer of the 'Whyte Lyon' of Glamis Castle.

Fyvie Castle in the Victorian era

  The mysterious chamber at Fyvie is located in its Meldrum Tower. Tradition maintains that the chamber should never be opened, otherwise a curse would fall upon the laird: death for him and blindness for his wife. One version of the tale says that this curse has been activated twice. Both men died; one wife went blind and the other suffered from diminished eyesight. For many years the castle was in the possession of the Gordon family and it was the last of these lairds, Sir Maurice Duff-Gordon, who fell victim to the malediction. In 1885 he unwisely had workmen break down the wall which supposedly led to the secret chamber. They came across a staircase leading downwards. At this point, Sir Maurice fell and broke his leg. The builders hurriedly covered up the space. But the laird's wife began losing her sight sight from that day.

  While there is no 'family curse' connected directly to the room, nor any very distinct story about its origin, there is a family curse. This states that the ownership of the castle would never pass down from father to son.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Sayings About Glamis, and a Crime Story

  Glamis was a place long before there was a castle there...and it, erm, still is.  What I'm trying to say is that the village of Glamis is a distinct little settlement with its own history, folklore and atmosphere somewhat distinct from the rather imposing building sitting on its doorstep. It has always been and remains a quiet rural village on the way from the city of Dundee to the town of Kirriemuir.  One attraction in the village which is no longer there is The Angus Folk Museum, dedicated to local rural life.  Unfortunately the old cottage building in which it was housed became unsafe and the National Trust for Scotland sadly had to close it.

  It could be argued that, long ago, each small community had a totally unique character of its own.  Certainly one village would keep a watchful eye on the settlement a few miles down the road where people were perceived as being different from themselves. With that in mind, see if you can unravel the meaning of the following two sayings which used to be proverbial at one time in Angus. If you can't quite get the meaning, don't worry. I'm Scottish and don;t quite get it either:

A lee wad traivel til Glamis or truth got its butts on.

G'wa an tell it til the Steen Men o' Glamis.

A Rural Crime Story

  Sometimes we make the mistake of mythologising the past and imagine that everything was golden and wonderful in some imaginary good old days. It frequently was not so. Take the dreadful case of John Miller and William Storrier who were put on trial on Friday 13th September, 1822. It was charged that, on the 5th May, in the neighbourhood of Glamis, the men had attempted to rape a fourteen-year-old girl. One of them had tried to restrain her in some woodland while the other attempted the outrage. The poor girl sank into a fever for some time after the attack.

  Both men were found guilty and a popular broadside reported on the legal proceedings:

Lord Succoth, in the course of his observations on the crime...remarked that it was clear they had been both assisting in the perpetration of this most atrocious crime; that it was indeed a very rare occurrence for two men to be concerned in such an offence.

  Miller and Scorrier were sentenced to be publicly whipped through the streets of Dundee on 4th October and thereafter to be banished and transported overseas for fourteen years.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Was Lady Glamis Executed As A Witch?

This blog had a cursory look at the death of Lady Glamis a long time ago (under a piece titled Lady Glamis Burned as a Witch - A Summary), so it's time a more detailed article considered the circumstances around her tragic death. Born as Janet Douglas around the end of the 15th century, she was the sister of George Douglas, the Earl of Angus who married the widowed Queen Margaret after the Battle of Flodden and gained control of the young King James V. The close control exerted over the young monarch made him fierce opponents of the Douglas kindred when he achieved his personal liberty and he went to great lengths to punish not only those Douglasses who had virtually imprisoned him, but also more distant relatives and their allies.


King James V

   Janet was the second daughter of George, Master of Douglas and Elizabeth Drummond, daughter of John, first Lord Drummond, a notable Perthshire family.  Her own first husband was John Lyon, 6th Lord Glamis, who died on the 8th April 1528 (some source give a different date).  Her children by this marriage were John Lyon, 7th Lord Glamis, George Lyon, Margaret Lyon, and Elizabeth Lyon.The accusation that she killed her husband by poison was inextricably linked with charges that she was conspiring with her Douglas relatives against the royal authority. Records show that there was a surety made on 31st January 1531-2 for her appearance at the forthcoming Justice aire at Forfar
Temporarily free of legal threat she married her second husband in 1532.   He was Archibald Campbell of Skipness in Kintyre, the second son of Archibald Campbell, second Earl of Angus.

   John Lyon was around seven when he succeeded to the title and was still a minor when his mother and his paternal uncle, George Lyon, plus several others were arrested on charges of conspiring against the king.  She had faced accusations of poisoning her first husband in January 1532, but the new accusations were of course more dangerous.  Not only was she under suspicion for being a Douglas by birth, but as a Glamis she became embroiled in enmity with the powerful Leslie family, including the Earl of Rothes.

   Janet and Archibald Campbell were imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle.  The latter tried to escape, but fell to his death on the rocks below the ramparts while he was trying to escape.  Arguably it was a better fate than that which awaited his wife.  Her servants and some family members were subjected to torture.  On 17th July 1537 she was convicted of attempting to poison the king and of communicating with her outlawed brother. She was led to the esplanade of the castle and burned to death, an end made all the more gruesome since she would have felt the full agonies of the flames.  Others put to the stake were 'mercifully' strangled before the flames engulfed them.  Her young son was obliged to watch her die.  It was a season of death for the monarch himself.  Ten days beforehand, the queen, Madeleine of Valois had herself died.  She was not yet seventeen.  A mere three days before Janet Douglas's death  John, Master of Forbes was also put to death for conspiring against the crown. Forbes' wife was Elizabeth Lyon, daughter of Janet and Lord Glamis.

   John Lyon was only sixteen when he was arrested and tried on 18 January 1537, accused of concealing his mother's crime.  Although he was also sentenced to death the punishment was deferred because of his age and he was confined in Edinburgh Castle.  Later Lyon stated that he had been forced to make a confession on the understanding that his lands would not be confiscated.  However, the king confiscated the Lyon estates at the end of December 1540 and distributed the lands over the course of the next several years.  James V himself visited the castle of Glamis many times.

  The king of course died at a young age in Falkland Palace in Fife, distraught at the defeat of his army by the English.  Two of his own young songs had died in the year 1541 and it may have been a matter of regret that his actions against the Douglases had spilled much innocent blood.   But there are still several uncertainties remaining about Janet's death.  The first was, of course, whether she was actually guilty of trying to kill the king by 'intoxication' or poisoning.  The English ambassador doubted the evidence, but he was not a wholly impartial or informed source.  The second issue is whether there was any contemporary suggestion of Lady Glamis being accused of witchcraft.  While poisoning was sometimes synonymous with witchcraft, there does not seem to be this connection here. In the summary of the proceedings against Lady Glamis, Robert Pitcairn firmly blames the misinterpretation of subsequent historians for linking the conviction to witchcraft.  He singles out John Pinkerton, an 18th-19th century writer, as being 'deluded by the frequent repetition of this fable'.

   At this distance of time we can't expect to be privy to the exact circumstances which directly led to the death of this noblewoman.  It is frequently stated that Janet had a noble character and bore her death extremely bravely, which may be so, but the repeated assertion of her beauty and bearing in the pages of many historians perhaps was exaggerated as a contrast to her horrible and supposedly undeserved fate.  What was the real Janet Douglas really like?  Pitcairn gives us the following information, quoting David Scott's History of Scotland (London, 1727):

She was of middle stature, not too fat; her face of an oval form, with full eyes; her complexion extremely fair and beautiful, with a magestick mein.  Besides all these perfections, she was a lady of singular chastity...Her modesty was admirable, her courage was above what could be expected in her sex; her judgement solid, her behaviour affable and engaging to her inferiors as well as her equals...(Criminal Trials in Scotland, Robert Pitcairn, Volume First, Part One (Edinburgh, 1833) p. 191.)

   So far, so standard, but there is interesting material around her personal relationships following the death of her first husband, when:

several of the first Nobility of the Kingdom had courted her; but she was not so much inclined to marry for wealth and title, as for merit; so that she plac'd her affection of one Archibald Campbell of Kepneath [sic], who commanded the Third Regiment in the King's Army, to whom she was married, to their mutual satisfaction.  Mean time William Lyon, a near relation of her first husband, having made violent addresses to her, and seeing that she was married to this gentleman, became almost distracted upon the disappointment:  but though he had lost her in marriage, yet did not forbear his addresses to her in an unlawful way, and continued to importune her to consent to his designs; which she resented with the utmost disdain, and told him, that she had treated him with the respect due to the relation of her first husband and child, and not out of any regard to his own person or merit; but, since she found that he had such designs, she hated the sight of him, and assured him that she never would comply with such abominable crimes.
   Lyon became hateful of her and accused Janet, Archibald and 'one John Lyon, an aged Priest, and his own near relation' and planning to poison the king.  He had them arrested and persuaded the king of their evil intent, also drawing on his hatred of the Douglas family.  Campbell's doomed escape attempt was made on the day after his wife's death.  However, the king had some conscience afterwards, for old John Lyon regained his liberty.  The alleged supplier of the poison, Alexander Makke, was also brought before the authorities.  His punishment was to have his ears cut off and be banished to the country of Aberdeen.  Other records add that another William Lyon later tried to withdraw his damning statements, he was not believed.

   After the death of James V,  Lord Glamis and also his brother George, who had been imprisoned with him, were freed.  The land and title of Lord Glamis were not restored to the rightful owner until several months after the monarch's death.  The Act of Parliament authorising the restoration was passed on 15th March 1543.  Lord Glamis's health may have been largely broken by his early imprisonment and its trauma.  Although he spent some time abroad, he became ill and returned to Scotland around 1548 'to get his native air'.  He died some time before September 1559.

Monday, 19 August 2019

Local Traditions

It is hard to find evidence of local traditions about Glamis Castle in the county of Angus, or the wider vale of Strathmore.  The huge weight of the accepted, written evidence about the haunting of the castle mean that these receive more attention and the same, rather tired stories are repeated ad nauseam.

   One marvellous resource however is the website Tobar an Dualchist, Kist O Riches.  This is an extraordinary repository of legend, folklore, tunes, local lore and tradition, based mainly on the recording archive of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.

Betsy Whyte's Tale

The following story about Glamis was narrated from personal experience by Betsy Whyte, one of a famous kindred of travelling kindred from Gowrie and Angus.  It was recorded for posterity in 1979, but goes back to the time of Betsy's childhood (she was born in 1919).  Her widowed mother and another woman were working on a potato farm near Glamis and the two women went to the pub in Kirriemuir, sending the children to the cinema.  On their way home the women and children [paused at the gates of Glamis Castle, where the inebriated women spoke to the devils carved there and generally made a lit of noise, so the children went on ahead.  Betsy got the fright of her life when she saw a calf on the road home, for her mother had just warned her that the Devil often appeared in the form of a calf!

   When the women were next in Kirriemuir, a few days later, they read in the newspapers that the ghost of Glamis had been heard again, several days previously, and were in no doubt that their own merry making had caused the report. In such a way legends are formed.  Betsy, like most of the local travelling people, firmly believed that Glamis Castle was haunted.

(Betsy's telling of the story can be heard here.)


   Elsewhere on Tobar an Dualchais (here), Betsy's husband Bryce Whyte gave his version about the legend of Satan playing cards at Glamis Castle.  The Laird of Glamis was notorious for playing (and winning) against local farm owners in the neighbourhood.  He had a special room in the castle for gambling and a young servant had to keep guard at the door.  One evening the Devil went in to play with the Laird, who knew straight away who his opponent was.  The Laird kept on winning against his dark opponent and to make sure of his enemy's identity he dropped a card on the floor and saw the cloven feet beneath the table.  Around midnight, Satan became enraged at constantly losing and asked if the Laird knew he was playing against.  Glamis said he knew full well and bade his opponent a polite farewell when he was leaving.  On his way out, the furious Devil broke off part of the building, which could never afterwards be repaired.  (Temporary fixed were made, but the repairs always crumbled away.)  In that part of the castle was the mysterious, haunted 'dark room'. The pageboy who sat outside the gambling room eventually sat there so long that he froze to death.  This location in the castle is always freezing, even on the warmest day.

   It is interesting how this oral version of the Satanic card game differs from the printed texts, where the player is invariably Earl Beardie (in real life the Earl of Crawford, but in some tales he is the owner of Glamis).  The detail of the Deil destroying the battlements in a post-poker huff is also a lovely embellishment.

   A further superstition related by the Whytes (here) tells how newly employed maids, on their first working day at Glamis, were pursued by a barrel tumbling down the stairs towards them, and propelled by an unseen agency.  The couple maintained that every owner of the castle came to a bad end and the current owner built himself another house rather than live there.


Saturday, 10 August 2019

The Begging Clergyman's Tale - Revisited

Some readers may find the following humorous story about a ghost a Glamis Castle slightly familiar.  I will explain afterwards.  The quote comes from a book named A Pelican's Tale, and is the autobiography of Edinburgh-born Frank M. Boyd.  It was published in London in 1919.

Whether there is or is not a ghost at Glamis, I am not in a position to say, nor do I know of my own knowledge whether Lord Strathmore or his family attach serious consequence to the mysterious visitor, but I do remember hearing a very well-known Scottish cleric tell of an occasion when he was staying at Glamis, and one morning at breakfast the subject of the celebrated secret room cropped up in conversation. Lord Strathmore, who certainly did not appear to regard the matter as one of special consequence, told the following little story of an eminent church dignitary who had stayed at the Castle some years previously.
   He was, it seemed, a fine example of the clerical beggar, and was always collecting money for church building and other good works of the kind. One night during his stay, he had just put out the light and got into bed, when suddenly the ghost appeared. It was from its apparel, he said, undoubtedly a Strathmore of some centuries back. With great presence of mind the clergyman took the first word. Addressing the ghost he stated that he was most anxious to raise a certain sum of money for a new church which he proposed to erect; that he had a bad cold and could not well get out of bed; but that his collecting book lay on the dressing-table within easy reach of the ghost, and that he would be extremely obliged if his visitor would favour him with a contribution.
   The ghost said nothing at all in reply, but clearly betrayed the embarrassment he felt. Being a gentleman he was obviously most desirous of complying with the clergyman's request, but being likewise a ghost, he had no pockets about him and no money. After a painful pause, realising that the position was one of extreme delicacy and difficulty for him, the ghost shamefacedly faded away, and has never come back any more! (A Pelican's Tale, pp. 205-6)

   The story in fact first appears in the book named Twenty-Five Years of St Andrews (1892).  The fact that the author of the latter is A. K. H. Boyd is relevant because he was Frank Boyd's father.  Frank has lifted the tale, without reference or credit, directly from Boyd senior's work, which raises eyebrows! No many authors, I would imagine, have plagiarised their own fathers.

    In the end, therefore, we have another secondhand Glamis ghost tale.  The search for original material goes on!

   The quote from Twenty-Five Years at St Andrews can be read in the post here.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Commercial Break - New Book Out Now!

While I take a short (and possibly well-deserved) break from my blogging schedule, can I bring your attention to my recently published book, The Afterlife of King James IV, published by Chronos Books.

   This work is very much an alternative history of one of the best beloved Scottish monarchs, King James IV, who died at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.  Or did he?  There were persistent rumours that the monarch survived the battle, being either captured by the English, rogue nobles in the Scottish army, or taking himself away on a spiritual, one way journey from the Holy Land. So, a raft of conspiracies theories which were born out of the bloody mire and confusion of battle?  That's true, but there was certainly more, uncommon intrigue afoot.  The tantalising image and reputation of the king - plus the possibility of his murder or survival - were tangible elements in the tempestuous politics of the post-Flodden period. The king's own wife, Margaret Tudor (sister of King Henry VIII) fully indulged in the intrigue, for her own purposes, claiming that James IV survived for several years after the fateful battle.

   More than this, the king was also linked to the Otherworld, with several strands of tradition aligning him with the theme of the Undying King, whose interest in the recondite traditions of his realm prompted his removed from the physical world, a captive in Fairy Land.  The persistent legends of his links with this realm are evident in witch trials and resurface in subsequent centuries, a fascinating ingredient in the postmortem reputation of this most alluring Stewart monarch.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Modern Literature - What Can We Do With Monsters?

So much of the legends of Glamis are wrapped up in the curious late Victorian gothic imagination that it hard to accept they could have arisen and flourished in any other setting.  True, the story of the Monster of Glamis has been repeated in many popular books about ghost stories and legends throughout the 20th century and into the present one.  But mostly it is just repetition, with little new added, and a sad lack of imagination.

   Yet, at the core of the story there are magnificent themes which deserve to be explored and it's possibly a wonder that fiction writers do not make more of the general ideas encapsulated in the legends. One who did was the English historian William Croft Dickinson.  For much of his working life he was based in universities in Scotland and, naturally, his output was mainly devoted to his field of expertise.  One the side, however, he wrote speculative fiction, including ghost stories with an academic slant, somewhat in the style of M. R. James.

   His 1963 collection called Dark Encounters contains a striking story called 'The House of Balfother', and it begins with this speculation:

I sometimes wonder about those traditional immortals who live in secret chambers, like Earl Beardie at Glamis. Do they grow older and older?  Do the years weary them?  Or do they live on and on at exactly the same age? That's the worst of legends...they leave too much to the imagination.
   Well, if Earl Beardie is growing older and older,his beard must be mighty long by now, after some four hundred years...Unless at some point in time, or at some given length, a man's beard ceases to grow.
   In the story a man encounters a sad, shrunken immortal who has been cursed never to day by being given an elixir of life by the alchemist John Damian, at the behest of King James IV in the 16th century.  The king wants to see how long he will live (although of course he knows the man will long outlive him) and protects the house in which the creature must remain.  But the family and the creature are doomed when, in the 17th century, they are caught up in the witchcraft frenzy, then condemned and burned.  The modern protagonist merely witnesses and interacts with their ghosts.  So much, so good. Why couldn't the Glamis monster legend show as much imagination in its modern version.  Unfortunately, like Beardie, it is trapped in a particular time.  Its beard may have grown, but there is no added fullness in the re-telling.


   Another modern work which has crossed my radar recently is Murder at Glamis Castle.  2004.  This is the ninth book in an Edwardian mystery series written by Robin Paige, the pseudonym of Americans Susan Wittig and Bill Albert.  The story plays fitfully with the Glamis legend, and one character at Glamis tells the female protagonist 'Yer ladyship had best keep tae yer room i’ the castle, partic’larly when night cooms.'  This does not bode well for the prospects of good literature, but in fact the story moves along nicely, with the main story dealing with a lord and lady pair of investigators examining the murder of a servant woman who had been looking after the mentally disturbed recluse who is of course the rightful heir.  The future Queen Mother also gets a cameo and there is a lot of stuff about German spies.  But no great imaginative fictionalised leap forward with the Glamis mythos, I'm afraid.  The description of the castle is given in florid terms which gothic fiction fans would surely lap up:

At this first glimpse of Glamis, Kate pulled in her breath, scarcely believing what she saw. A towering central keep, splendid with a fanfare of conical spires, pepper-pot turrets, and a rippling flag, rose magnificently above the crenellated parapets of the wings flung out on either side. The castle was entirely constructed of a warm reddish-gray stone, glistening softly with damp, and its many casements reflected the pale morning light like glittering diamonds set into the stone. It rested in the lap of the soft, green meadow, behind it rising the far-off peaks of the Grampian Mountains, their ridges dusted with an early snow. Even on such a gray and gloomy day as this, Glamis was a fairy jewel in a setting of otherworldly beauty.