Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Monster of Glamis

By Paisley Kirkpatrick

“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.”

Between 1840 and 1905, the Earl’s ancestral seat at Glamis Castle, in the Scottish lowlands, was surrounded by a “mystery of mysteries”— a bewildering puzzle involving a hidden room, a secret passage, solemn initiations, scandal, and shadowy figures glimpsed by night on castle battlements. The mystery persisted through two generations, becoming lost soon after 1900.

One version of the story is that the 13th Earl’s heir flatly refused to have the secret revealed to him because it was so dreadful. The mystery of Glamis is kept alive not only by its association with royalty (the heir was grandfather to Elizabeth II), but also by the fact that some members of the Bowes-Lyon family insisted it was real.

The present castle was constructed in the 15th century, around a central tower whose walls are 16 feet thick in places. Glamis has been the family seat of the Strathmore Earls since then, but by the late 18th century it has been more or less empty because its owners prefer living somewhere which is less drafty, less isolated and less melancholy. If Glamis really does have a secret chamber, its location still remains a mystery.

The first reports of Glamis’ unknown prisoner appeared sometime in the 1840s. According to a correspondent to the journal Notes & Queries, writing in 1908, "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."

Just who this indescribable prisoner might be was the subject of considerable speculation. It was generally believed he must have been a member of the Bowes-Lyon family, and commonly suggested that he was the first-born of the 11th Earl, or the heir of that Earl’s son, Lord Glamis. It was frequently reported that a child had been born horribly deformed—whole in mind, perhaps, but so hideously twisted in body that he could never be allowed to inherit the title.

There are tales of strange shadows seen on battlements in a part of the castle known as “the Mad Earl’s Walk.” A story dating to about 1865 says that a workman at the castle unexpectedly came upon a door that opened into a long passage. Venturing in, the man saw “something” at the far end of the corridor, and—on reporting the circumstances to the clerk of works—was pressingly encouraged to immigrate to Australia, his passage paid by an anxious Earl. Other 19th-century accounts referred to the Monster as “a human toad.”

The only detailed description emerged early in the 1960s, when the writer James Wentworth-Day spent time at Glamis while writing a history of the Bowes-Lyon family. From the then-Earl and his relatives, Wentworth-Day heard the legend that “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 was an enormous barrel, hairy as a doormat, his head ran straight into his shoulders and his arms and legs were toy-like.”

Many members of the Bowes-Lyon family took the mystery very seriously. The last word goes to Rose, Lady Granville, another of Wentworth-Day’s informants and aunt to Elizabeth II. She had been born in the castle, and, asked what she knew of the story, she “looked serious, was silent for a moment, and then said: ‘We were never allowed to talk about it when we were children. Our parents forbade us ever to discuss the matter or ask any questions about it. My father and grandfather refused absolutely to discuss it.’”

18 comments:

Irene said...

Sure, why not? Hard to believe that such an "abomination" would survive birth, especially back in those days. Surely such a deformed child would have died.

So, the solution was to hide the child away? Familiar theme. They did it to the insane and deformed all the time in the hopes they'd die without being outright killed. A salve to the conscience, perhaps.
Out of sight, out of mind.
It sort of worked for Mr. Rochester, didn't it?
Good story, good detective work.

Dawn Marie Hamilton said...

Very interesting tale, Paisley. Cruel times. I can easily believe the family hid away what embarrassed them. Thanks for sharing!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks Irene. It captured my heart, too, to see any child treated so heartlessly. Makes me think of Phantom of the Opera.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Hi Dawn Marie. Times and saving face were harsh in those days, especially when it came to heirs. I can't imagine the emotional stress they might have had to handle knowing there was a child locked away in the deep recesses of the castle.

Vonda Sinclair said...

Fascinating story but also sad. Thanks for sharing!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks, Vonda. I think the whole castle looks sad. Can't wait to see a photo you take of it to get a better view. :)

Fraoch said...

Very well done, sad in that the system was such that a child had to be hidden but the fear to hide the child I think had less to do with him being heir and more the deformity a relection on the family. Makes it difficult to find family to marry into such a famiily. Scotland has had ways to protect tiltle from going to heirs being insane or unable to physically hold the job/title. Sad commentary on the treatment of those with handicapps. I think that Judith McNaught had a romance with this scenario, much nicer treatment.

Cathy Stewart said...

Great story, Paisley! Thanks for sharing it with us.

BBTaylor said...

I love old castle mysteries. Just hope the monster wasn't really human. What a way to spend a life, in the dungeon of a castle.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Fraoch, very well said. All children should be considered blessings. Maybe it was a mystery someone started to get attention or back at the family, but from what was said the family had something to hide and seemed sad after they found out their secret.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I couldn't resist sharing, Cathy. Since we are all interested in things Scottish, I thought everyone would find it interesting, too.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I agree BBTaylor. I'd like to think it was a story made up to cover up something not quite so wicked.

Alexa said...

Great information, Paisley! Thanks for sharing.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Hi Alexa. I am glad you enjoyed the post. One can never get enough about castles in my humble opinion. :)

Victoria Roberts said...

Wow, Paisley. Scotland does have its horrid tales. That has to be one of them! The Scots are a superstitious lot. Great post!

Pat McDermott said...

Negative mystique for this castle for sure, but I can't help wondering if the rumors might have grown out of control over the years. Still, something started them. If the deformed child thing is true, it's terribly sad. Wish we could send one of our time-traveling characters back to find out. Good one, Paisley. Thanks!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Thanks, Victoria. I know my imagination goes wild in Scotland around those castles wondering what happened behind those rock walls. This is one that caught my attention.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

This article was nine pages long so I sort of cut it down. Apparently as each of the heirs died, they passed on the tragedy to the care of the next. Apparently one of them was so horrified to carry the burden he spent a lot of time in the chapel and was haunted for the rest of his life. After reading all of it, I fear most of it is probably true.