Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Castles of Scotland
Glamis Castle by Lady Glamis in 1900

GLAMIS CASTLE is widely known as one of the most interesting buildings, both historically and architecturally, in Scotland. To the lover of Shakespeare, the name of Glammiss (as it was sometimes spelt) will recall the act of treachery and murder which tradition gives as having taken place there, when King Duncan was done to death by the hand or at the instigation of the ambitious and unscrupulous Lady Macbeth ; although there is no possibility of proving or testing the truth as to the details or locality of the tragedy.

To the antiquarian the Castle must be of immense interest, on account of the great age of the central portion or Keep, which is known to have been standing in 1016, but "whose birth tradition notes not " ; while to the romantic and superstitious it is a place where ghosts and spirits moving silently down winding stairs and dark passages are wont to make night fearsome. This feeling of eeriness is not confined to the naturally nervous, for Sir Walter Scott, who spent a night at Glamis in 1704, writes :
" After a very hospitable reception, I was conducted to my apartment in a distant part of the building. I must own that when I heard door after door shut, after my conductor had retired, I began to consider myself too far from the living and somewhat too near the dead."

Additional interest attaches to this Castle from the fact that its venerable walls enshroud a mysterious something, which has for centuries baffled the curiosity and investigations of all unauthorised persons : this secret is known only to three people —the Earl of the time being, his eldest son, and one other individual whom they think worthy of their confidence.

Most people have theories upon this subject, and many ridiculous stories are told ; but so carefully has the mystery been guarded, that no suspicion of the truth has ever come to light.

One version of the story is as follows : Several centuries ago Lord Glamis of the time was entertaining the head of another noble family then resident in Angus; and in the course of the evening they commenced to play cards. It was Saturday night, and so intent were they on wagering lands and money on the issue of the game, that they did not recognise the fact that Sunday morning was approaching until an old retainer ventured to remind them of the hour. Whereupon one of the gamblers swore a great oath, with the tacit approval of the other, that they did not care what day it might be, but they would finish their game at any cost, even if they went on playing till Doomsday ! It had struck midnight ere he had finished his sentence, when there suddenly appeared a stranger dressed in black, who politely informed their lordships that he would take them at their word and then vanished. The story goes on to aver that annually on that night these noblemen, or their spirits meet and play cards in the secret room of the Castle, and that this will go on till Doomsday. In corroboration of this story, it is said that on a certain night in the autumn of every year loud noises are heard and some of the casements of the Castle are blown open.

Glamis Castle stands in the centre of the vale of Strathmore, in a picturesque and well-wooded part of Forfarshire ; the heather-clad sides of the Sidlaws, which divide Strathmore from the sea, rising to the south, while away to the north tower the Grampians, which form a magnificent background to the ancient pile of buildings whose turrets rise some hundred and fifteen feet above the level of the ground.

The poet Gray, in a letter, describes the exterior of the Castle in the following words:

"The house, from the height of it, the greatness of its mass, the many towers atop, and the spread of its wings, has really a very singular and striking appearance, like nothing I ever saw."

The oldest portions of the Castle are formed of huge irregular blocks of old red sandstone, which time and weather have mellowed into a beautiful grey-pink colour. The original Keep was evidently about three or four storeys high, but Earl Patrick in 1670 heightened it considerably; the extra storeys were, however, so well " clappit on" (to use the Earl's own words) that it is impossible to see where the additions commence. The walls of the Castle in many places are sixteen feet thick, which in the olden days had the essential recommendation of great security, and also of allowing space for secret rooms and passages as means of escape in times of peril ; and, as a matter of fact, two secret staircases have been discovered within the last five-and-twenty years, and possibly there are others, which still remain forgotten and unused.

The narrow windows appear at irregular heights and distances in the central building or Keep and left wing (the right wing having been burnt down and rebuilt early in 1800 is not so interesting), but the great staircase added by Patrick, Lord Glamis, in 1605 is very fine, occupying a circular tower, the space for which has been partly dug out of the old walls of the Keep, and rises to the third storey. This staircase (the designing of which has been attributed to Inigo Jones) is spiral with a hollow newel in the centre, and is composed of stone to the summit. It consists of 141 steps, 6 ft. 10 in. in width, each of one stone.

The staircases which were in use before 1600 are very narrow, dark, and some of them winding, the steps steep and irregular in height, worn into hollows by the many feet that for centuries climbed them. Up two flights of these dimly lit, uneven stairs, the wounded king, Malcolm II., after having been treacherously attacked and mortally wounded by Kenneth V. and his adherents on the Hunter's Hill, about a mile from the Castle, was carried by his followers to die in the chamber that still bears the name of King Malcolm's Room. This murder of King Malcolm is the first authentic event mentioned by the chroniclers in connection with Glamis.

In the parish of Glamis stand three huge stones of rude design, covered with symbolic sculptures, which according to tradition were erected to commemorate the death of Malcolm II. One on the Hunter's Hill is supposed to mark the spot where he fell, and stands about seven feet high, facing the east; a cross, figures of men, and various symbols are sculptured on it, but are much defaced. The stone close to the kirkyard is much larger, and is called King Malcolm's gravestone, although that king was not buried there. An ornamental cross and many curious symbols are carved on the side facing the east; on the other side a fish, a serpent, and a circle are seen, —symbols of Christianity,— which carvings are of a later date than the cross, etc., and are attributed to the Knights Templars, who lived in that part of Scotkind for a long time.

In the time of King Malcolm, Glamis was a royal residence, and remained so till 1372, when Sir John Lyon, "a young man of very good parts and qualities, and of a very graceful and comely person, and a great favourite with the king" (Robert II.), was made Lord High Chamberlain of Scotland. At that time the King's daughter, the Princess Jean, fell in love with this young knight, and was given him in marriage, together with the lands of the thanedom of Glamis, "pro laudabili et fideli servitio et continuis laboribus," as the charter bears witness, March 18, 1372. Ten years later Sir John fell in a duel with Sir James Lindsay of Crawford, and was buried at Scone among the kings of Scotland. He left one son, from whom the present family of Lyon have descended without a break from father to son to the present day. (It may be mentioned incidentally that the ancestor of the Lyon family came over with William I., and that either he or one of his immediate descendants settled in Perthshire in the district still called Glenlyon.)

Fifty years later, Sir Patrick Lyon (Sir John's grandson), who was one of the hostages to the English for the ransom of James 1. from 1424 to 1427, was created Baron Glamis, and appointed Master of the Household to the King of Scotland. For the next hundred years nothing of interest occurred, till John, sixth Lord Glamis, married the beautiful Janet Douglas, granddaughter of the great Earl of Angus (" Bell-the-Cat "), and died in 1528. Lady Glamis married, secondly, Archibald Campbell, of Kepneith, whose relative, another Campbell, fell in love with her. Finding, however, that his addresses were but ill received by this lady, who was as good as she was lovely, his love turned to hate, and he revenged himself by informing the authorities that Lady Glamis, her son Lord Glamis, and John Lyon, his relative, were conspiring against the life of the king, James V., by poison or witchcraft. They were tried for high treason, and wrongfully convicted ! Lady Glamis and her young son were both sentenced to be burned, and the estate of Glamis was forfeited and annexed to the Crown by Act of Parliament, December 3, 1540. However, these brutal judges, on account of the extreme youth of Lord Glamis, feared to bring him to execution, so the boy was kept in prison, with the death sentence hanging over him, while the beautiful Lady Glamis was dragged forth and burned at the stake on the Castle Hill of Edinburgh, July 17, 1537. Those were days when acts of violence and cruelty were regarded with an indifference that we cannot now realise, although when she stood up in her beauty to undergo this fearful sentence, it is recorded that all heads were bowed in sorrowful sympathy. When this infamous execution was accomplished, remorse seems to have come over Campbell, who was visited by visions of his victim looking at him with sad, reproachful eyes. When, some years later, his death was drawing nigh, he confessed that his evidence at the trial was altogether false. Lord Glamis was therefore released from prison, and his estates and honours restored.

To return to the Castle. The exterior is much ornamented with ancient armorial bearings in carved stone of the principal Earls since 1606, quartered with those of their separate wives, among them the Murray, Panmure, Ogilvey, and Middleton quarterings. Above one window the initials of Patrick, first Earl of Kinghorne, and of Dame Anna Murray, his wife, daughter of the first Earl of Tullibardine, are placed, while a round niche over the front door contains a bust of Earl Patrick, of whom mention will be made presently. The principal entrance is a striking feature. The doorway is small and low, and a stout, iron-clinched oaken door, thickly studded with nails, is guarded on the inside by a heavily grated iron gate, which opens right on to the great staircase. A flight of steps to the right of the entrance leads down to the dungeons, vaults, and the old well (now filled up) which supplied the inmates with water in times of siege ; while another stair to the left leads up to the Retainers' Hall (or Crypt as it is now called), low, and fifty feet in length, with walls and arched roof entirely composed of stone. Of the seven windows, which are small, four or five are cut out of the thickness of the walls, and make recesses just large enough to form small rooms, which might have been used as sleeping-chambers in old days. Lay figures, clad in complete armour, stand in the recesses, which, especially in the dusk, give an eerie effect to this part of the Castle. It is said that a ghostly man in armour walks this floor at night—possibly the original of one of those armoured figures standing silently in the Crypt year after year, who may, perchance, have ended his life in the dungeon that lies exactly underneath. A square stone, now practically immovable, formed the covering of the hole by which prisoners were lowered into the dungeon beneath. But there is no doubt that there was also a stair connecting the hall with the dungeon, which, along with the other old staircases (some of them have recently been opened out), was walled up at the time the great new central staircase was built.

From the south-east corner of the Crypt a short, dark passage, cut through the stone walls, leads to the small, quaint, and irregular Duncan's Hall, the traditional scene of Macbeth's crime, where a year or so ago an old hearth was discovered built up in the masonry, and has been opened out. The Dining-room, which is entered from the west end of the Crypt, is another fine room, though quite modern, having been rebuilt early in 1800. The walls are panelled in oak, and adorned with some good family pictures ; but the most interesting object that occasionally appears in it is the old silver-gilt drinking-cup in the form of a lion, a very ancient piece of plate, holding about a pint of wine, which in old days each guest was expected to drain before quitting the Castle. Sir Walter Scott was one of those who swallowed the contents of the lion, and in a note to Waverley he says, ''the feat served to suggest the story of the Bear of Bradwardine."

Leaving this floor, with its dark winding passages, its grated, prison-like windows, and ascending a side staircase, King Malcolm's room is passed, and the Banqueting Hall (now used as the Drawing-room) is entered. This room is a fine specimen of the old baronial days, being sixty feet long by twenty-two wide, with a coved ceiling of beautifully designed plaster-work, which was added to the room by Earl John in 1621, whose initials, with those of his wife, together with the date, are placed at intervals among the patterns of the mouldings.

The chimneypiece of carved stone is very fine, reaching to the top of the room, while pictures of the Lyon family, as well as of some of the Stuart kings and other notables, adorn the walls. Here hangs the portrait by Sir Peter Lely of the celebrated John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee ; this well-known and distinguished chief, who, had he lived longer, would probably have restored Scotland to King James II., was a great friend of the Lord Strathmore of the time, and consequently spent many days at Glamis, Claverhouse being situated a bout twelve miles to the south. The picture represents Dundee as a very handsome young man, with features soft and refined even to feminine regularity; but under this gentle exterior can be detected the undaunted and enterprising valour coupled with the prudence and determination that were the acknowledged attributes of his character. His coat, a sad buff-coloured felt, laced with silver, and evidently similar to the one he was wearing when he met his death at Killiecrankie, is kept as a valuable relic in the Castle.

What different scenes must this, old Hall have witnessed in its time ! Not many years prior to the visits of the gallant Clavers, the soldiers of the Commonwealth held their rude orgies under its roof, having been quartered at Glamis by Cromwell's orders as a piece of petty revenge, because John, second Earl of Kinghorne, had voted against the delivery of King Charles 1. To the Parliament. Then in 1715 deep mourning surely reigned there, when the news arrived that the brave and promising young Earl of Strathmore had been killed at the battle of Sheriffmuir, after fighting hard and gallantly in the cause of the Stuarts.

The following year the mourning was turned to joy when Prince James spent two nights at Glamis on his way to Scone. What feasting and loyal toasts must have been given in the Hall in the course of those two snowy nights and days, when the Chevalier received many of his followers, and gained all hearts by his princely qualities ! It is said that during this visit eighty-eight beds were made up in the Castle for the gentlemen in his train. The Chevalier's bed is still to be seen, though much spoiled by tourists, who, on certain days, are allowed to go over the Castle ; and the room he occupied, with a secret stair concealed in the walls, still bears his name. His watch and sword are among the treasured curiosities in the Castle, the former having been found under his pillow after he left for Dundee. The sword bears the following inscription:

"God save King James 8th: prosperitie to Scotland and no union. "

But to return to the Hall itself. The principal picture hangs at the end of the room, and represents Patrick, first Earl of Strathmore and third of Kinghorne, who beautified Glamis considerably both within and without, as his diary testifies, which is in perfect preservation, and well illustrates the social life of Scotland more than two hundred years ago. In this portrait he is depicted sitting with three of his sons, pointing with pride to the Castle in the distance, on which he had spent so much care. At that time the Castle was surrounded by walled courts, gardens, and a moat; and the main approach to the south, about a mile in length, was guarded by seven gates, and was the work of Earl Patrick. These surroundings were all pulled down early in 1800 by a disciple of "Capability Brown," the two flanking towers alone being left!

Sir Walter Scott, who revisited Glamis after this barbarous act of modernising had been accomplished, describes the changes in such beautiful language that it should be quoted:

"Down went many a trophy of old magnificence, courtyard, ornamented enclosure, fosse, avenue, barbican, and every external muniment of battled wall and flanking tower, out of the midst of which the ancient dome, rising high above all its characteristic accompaniments, and seemingly girt round by its appropriate defences, which again circled each other in their different gradations, looked, as it should, the queen and mistress of the surrounding country. It was thus that the huge old Tower of Glamis once showed its lordly head above seven circles of defensive boundaries, through which the friendly guest was admitted, and at each of which a suspicious person was unquestionably put to his answer."

There were two or three moats surrounding the Castle, but the)' were tilled in by Patrick, third Earl of Kinghorne and first Earl of Strathmore. That Earl proceeds to say of these moats, in his diary, "which stankt up the water so that the place appeared marish and weat," and was generally condemned as "an unholsom seat of a house."

Very close to the walls of the Castle there are the remains of what some consider to have been a moat, whilst others consider it to have been an underground passage. It appears hardly wide enough for a moat, and the fact of the sides being lined and the top beautifully arched with stone almost favours the supposition that it may be part of that underground passage of which there has long been a tradition.

The Chapel, which opens out of the Drawing-room, is one of the most interesting parts of the Castle. Thirty feet by twenty ; walls and ceiling are divided into thirty-four panels, each one containing a picture relating to the life of our Lord and the Twelve Apostles. These paintings were executed by a Dutch artist named De Witt, whom Earl Patrick engaged by contract, in 1688, to paint all the Chapel (as well as a good many ceilings and portraits) for the sum of £90. The contract for this work is still among the family papers, and is very curious, as De Witt was evidently a slippery fellow who required a good deal of binding. When the present Lord Strathmore succeeded to the title in 1800 he found the paintings in perfect preservation, but the Chapel in a sadly neglected state ; he therefore had it beautifully restored and rededicated, and daily service has been held there ever since ; the painted walls and ceiling, stained glass, beautiful embroidered altar-cloths (worked by the present Lady Strathmore), and flowers, render this little chapel peculiarly attractive as a place of worship.

The Billiard-room, with its fine and valuable tapestry, representing incidents in the life of Nebuchadnezzar, and of which only three examples were known to exist, is on this same floor, and is the last of the large rooms, being fifty feet long, but it is not part of the ancient building. Here stands a great chest filled with beautiful costumes in flowered silks, velvets, and satins, as well as old uniforms, all belonging to Lyon ancestors of several centuries ago; besides these a fool's dress remains, cap, bells, and all complete—a rare possession nowadays. Sometimes these ancient garments see the light, when the Castle is full of young and merry guests, who don these slashed and broidered coats and skirts, and when gathered together in the old Crypt almost seem to have forced back the hands of the clock of time two or three hundred years.

There remains yet much to tell, but space fails. The old kitchen, an underground vault, dark and low, with one loophole to light it, is a contrast to the present kitchen, which is fifty feet long and broad in proportion. The great sun-dial on the lawn is quite unique, bearing as it does eighty-four dials, supported by four nearly life-size lions in stone; and although the exact age of this remarkable piece of work is not known, old pictures of Glamis prove that it was standing in front of the Castle in 1600. A balustrade of fine seventeenth-century iron work runs round the top of the Castle, from whence, on clear days, magnificent views may be obtained of the surrounding country; while the beautiful gardens, walks, and drives, which have been created by the present Lord Strathmore (who has bestowed as much care on the old place as his ancestor, Earl Patrick, of whom mention has been made), deserve more than passing notice. The old Castle, as it now is, enlivened by the cheerful surroundings of a large family party, and ringing with the glad sounds of grandchildren's voices, is a truly pleasant place to live in; whilst the great iron gate stands hospitably open to welcome the many guests who pass that way, who, in spite of the Castle's reputation for ghosts, seem to pass their time merrily enough.

Return to Castles of Scotland


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus