Wednesday, 19 May 2021
Monday, 10 May 2021
In a previous post I looked at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire and compared it with the secret room that is a famous feature of Glamis Castle. While most of the hidden rooms and chambers in England are readily explained as 'Priest's Holes' this is not the case in Scotland. There were fewer noble Catholic families in Scotland during the 17th century, when priests had to be hidden to avoid prosecution, than in England. So 'Priest Holes' were not a necessary design feature. What were the secret chambers in Scottish strongholds really for then? Possibly for a variety of purposes. One of these might have been as a bolt hole to hide a resident from enemies who managed to breach the defences. This, though, seems a bit strange when one considers that most castles were, if not impregnable, then as good as. It is likely that the rooms served a variety of purposes, not all of which are known about.
Another Aberdeenshire stronghold, Drum Castle (pictured above), also has a secret room. This chamber was in fact so well concealed within the fabric of the venerable structure that it was not found until it came to light during archaeological investigations in 2013.
Drum is the oldest intact building currently under the guardianship of the National Trust for Scotland. It was the home of a branch of the Irvine family for many years. The existence of secret or hidden spaces inside the building was indicated by window openings at first floor level which, however, were concealed inside by 19th century library shelving. Archaeologists broke through at this level, expecting to find rubble filled voids, but in fact uncovered a perfectly preserved medieval chamber complete with privy.
A second chamber was also found, revealing a room which legend states housed an Irvine family member who went into hiding after the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Alexander Irvine, 17th Laird of Drum, hid in the confined space for a creditable three years. The purpose of the first room is unknown, though it might be suspected that this place and other mysterious chambers were simply lost from view during various re-modelling undertaken over the centuries.
Meanwhile, at Mingary Castle near Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula, a small secret chamber was also uncovered in 2014. Experts had no idea what its original purpose might have been. All that was found inside was a few meagre fragments of bone. In this case, the room may only have been formed in the Early Modern period when the outer walls were being strengthened to defend against upgraded artillery technology.
Thursday, 27 August 2020
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.
Thursday, 16 April 2020
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
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
|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
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
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
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)