Situated in Forfarshire, some twenty miles to the north of Dundee, Glamis Castle is the seat of the Earls of Strathmore. Reputedly the scene of Duncan’s murder by MacBeth in 1040, the oldest part of the current building can be dated to the latter part of the fourteenth century. The secret chambers for which the Castle is renowned were a relatively recent addition, their creation in the late seventeenth century a precautionary measure by Patrick Lyon, first Earl of Strathmore, whose Jacobite sympathies rendered him vulnerable to the antipathy of the House of Orange. The notion of a ‘house within a house’ has subsequently excited the popular imagination and various theories have been extended as to what might dwell therein.
The Castle was already famously haunted by the mid-eighteenth
century when Sir Walter Scott spent an uncomfortable evening in one of
its bedrooms. At that time, its most celebrated ghosts were those of the
second Lord Glamis (the hirsute degenerate popularly known as ‘Earl
Beardie’) and Janet Douglas, wife (and suspected poisoner) of the sixth
Lord who eventually encountered come-uppance in 1537 when she was burned
to death after being implicated in a plot to assassinate James V. These
traditional terrors have been largely superseded, however, by the
genuine mystery of the Strathmore family secret, speculation about which
intensified in 1923 when the daughter of the fouteenth Earl, Elizabeth
Bowes-Lyon (the late Queen Mother), married into the Royal Family.
According to family tradition, the secret is known to three
people: the Earl, his factor and his heir, the last of these inheriting
the knowledge on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. Successive Earls
were reportedly traumatised by the disclosure which is widely assumed to
involve a monstrous heir*, born in the early years of the nineteenth
century. Legend persists that the child was hidden in one of Patrick
Lyons’s concealed apartments in the expectation that he would die in
infancy, an assumption confounded as he thrived, by some accounts living
well into the twentieth century. For most young men, a twenty-first
birthday is remarkable for nothing more grisly than a hangover: the
sudden collapse of nerve repeated throughout the Strathmore lineage
might be explained an unexpected introduction to ‘Uncle Angus’.
Celebrity psychic (and numbskull), Ronald Hawthorne, who visited
Glamis in the company of Princess Margaret in 1979, claims to have been
guided around the castle’s hidden corridors**. By this time, the
rightful Earl was, presumably, dead and spared an encounter that would
have caused him to reflect gratefully on a lifetime’s seclusion. Weeks
later, Hawthorne was bundled into a van and subjected to a prolonged
ordeal which culminated in his being dangled by the ankles from Tower
Bridge. “You don’t fall out with the Firm,” he wailed, a dire inference
that the Queen Mother had arranged for him to be cautioned against
repeating the indescretions on which he’d been eating out since his
return from Scotland.
* By one account, an ovoid, neckless freak, covered in matted hair with tiny limbs dangling uselessly from its terrible bulk. This seems an improbable conjecture: such a hideously helpless creature would have been despatched without compunction.
** The existence and even location of these ‘secret’ tunnels is actually well documented, a Book of Record of their construction being discovered and published by the Scottish Historical Society in 1890.