The Dark Secret Behind the Hidden Room of Glamis Castle
If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret, said Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore, you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.
Glamis Castle, one of the most haunted castles in Great Britain, was the talk of ancient Europe during the second half of the 19th century. The castle was connected with tales involving secret passages, hidden prisoners, initiation rites, and shadowy figures seen on the ramparts late at night. The secret was apparently so extraordinary that only three people were ever allowed to know it at one time: The Earl, the Earl’s heir (after he reached his 21st birthday), and the estate manager, known as a factor. Stories abounded over just what Earls’ secret could be. According to legend, the heir of the 13th Earl of Strathmore flatly refused to participate in the initiation rite that would have informed him of the castle’s dark history. Many suspect that the mystery died with the 14th Earl; however, visitors cannot deny the chilling atmosphere felt in the Castle, especially in the lonely hours past midnight.
“I must own,” wrote Sir Walter Scott of his 1790 overnight visit to the castle, “as I heard door after door shut, after my conductor had retired, I began to consider myself as too far from the living and somewhat too near to the dead.”
Earl of Strathmore
Glamis Castle was not just any principality. It was the seat of the Earl of Strathmore, a title still currently held by the Bowes-Lyon family – the maternal kinfolk of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mother, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was the daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore.
Tragedy has always lingered in Glamis, even before the Victorian Era secret emerged. Famously, King Malcolm II was murdered at the Castle (then a Royal Hunting Lodge) in 1034. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth (written in 1606), the ill-fated protagonist lives in Glamis Castle, although the historical King Macbeth had no connection with the site.
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The castle came into the possession of the Lyon family (later the Bowes-Lyons) in 1376. The first ghost that was said to haunt the castle corridors was that of Lady Janet Douglas. Caught up in regional politics, Lady Janet was accused of poisoning her husband (the 6th Lord of Glamis) and ultimately was convicted of witchcraft in 1537. She was burned at the stake in Edinburgh. The spirit of Lady Janet is said to favor the castle’s clock tower.
Lady Janet Douglas. ( ghostinuk.blogspot.com)
Yet the most famous legend of Glamis Castle is that of an unknown prisoner held in a secret hidden chamber. According to a correspondent to the journal Notes & Queries, writing in 1908, “The mystery was told to the present writer some 60 years ago, when he was a boy, and it made a great impression on him. The story was, and is, that in the Castle of Glamis is a secret chamber. In this chamber is confined a monster, who is the rightful heir to the title and property, but who is so unpresentable that it is necessary to keep him out of sight and out of possession” (Dash, 2012). The Monster of Glamis has been described as deformed, hairy, ‘a human toad,’ and always terrifying to behold. “A monster was born into the family. He was the heir—a creature fearful to behold. It was impossible to allow this deformed caricature of humanity to be seen—even by their friends.… His chest an enormous barrel, hairy as a doormat, his head ran straight into his shoulders and his arms and legs were toy like” (Dash, 2012).
Glamis Castle in the snow, circa 1880. ( Public Domain )
Some witnesses claim to have seen the strange creature’s shadow as he prowled the battlements late at night. One story tells how a castle workman unexpectedly found a door that led to a long, unfamiliar passageway. Walking along in eerie silence, the man is said to have seen ‘something’ at the far end of the passage. He fled and immediately reported his encounter to the factor. He was promptly encouraged by both the Earl and the factor “to emigrate to Australia, his passage paid by an anxious Earl” (Dash, 2012).