In the hearts of the Scottish people Glamis Castle is held in special pride and affection. The centuries of its history as a Royal residence, and the romance of the long ownership by the Lyon family are fittingly expressed in the building itself. Glamis – that “magnificent pile” is the very embodiment of the castle idea.
In tune with its tradition as the familiar seat of kings, it has, in our day, added to its fame by having been the childhood home of Her Majesty the Queen, whose father, the late Earl, was the 14th of the line of Strathmore and Kinghorne.
Legend, as well as history, has coloured the story of Glamis. The stone chamber in the Castle known as Duncan’s Hall is the traditional scene where Macbeth, “Thane of Cawdor, Lord of Glamis, King of Scotland,” is said to have murdered Duncan, but truth has to own that the Castle, as it stands today, was built long after Duncan’s time.
Fig 1. Glamis Castle.
The place had been a favourite Royal hunting-lodge from a remote period. King Malcolm II is said to have come here in 1033 to die, after receiving a mortal wound from the arrow of an assassin on the neighbouring “Hunter’s Hill.” The Castle came into the possession of the Lyon family, who still hold it, in the 14th century, when King Robert II gave it as a dowry to his daughter on her marriage to Sir John Lyon. A grandson of this marriage became, in or about 1445, the first Lord Glamis, a title which ranks now among the oldest of Scottish baronies. Traces of the old tower that sheltered the first Lyon of Glamis and his Royal spouse remain in the crypt and dungeon of the present structure.
In 1529 the widowed Lady Glamis of that day, born Janet Douglas, became a victim of James V’s unreasoning hatred and jealousy of the Douglas family. On a trumped up charge of conspiring to kill him, he had her burnt at the stake on the Castle Hill, Edinburgh. Her son, Lord Glamis, a boy of sixteen, was sentenced to death, but this sentence was not carried out, although he was held, “according to the King’s pleasure and had his estate forfeited. King James spent most of the rest of his life at Glamis and held his court here with his Queen, Mary of Guise, and their daughter Mary, later Queen of Scots. When the King died in 1542, Lord Glamis was released and the forfeiture of the estate was rescinded by Parliament.
Mary Queen of Scots, with her four Maries, “rested” at Glamis on her famous progress north to quell Huntley’s rebellion in 1562. The menu of the dinner they ate is still in existence written in manuscript by the Queen’s French secretary.
In 1606 Lord Glamis became first Earl of Kinghorne. The upstanding central tower of the Castle, which conforms to the usual L-shaped plan, is the oldest part of the building and is mainly of 15th-century date. It comprises the entrance in the re-entrant angle with the circular stair turret over. This turret was remodelled and refaced by the first Earl, who was in possession from 1578 until his death in 1615. An inscription over the doorway, records that it was “Built by Patrick, Lord Glamis and D. Anna Murray.” Dame Anna was the daughter of the Earl of Tullibardine and her monogram, together with that of her husband, appears on various parts together with the date 1606, the year Lord Glamis was created Earl of Kinghorne. Their cyphers, surmounted by E. and D. (Earl and Dame), are to be seen over the large window of the great hall in the view of the entrance. The tower was originally four storeys high, the three lower storeys being stone-vaulted. Round the top of the walls, which are fourteen feet thick in places, ran the usual corbelled parapet. Some of the corbels still remain on the west side, level with the corbelling of the angle turrets. They show the extent to which the tower was subsequently heightened when the tall angle turrets and roofs were added.
Patrick, the first Earl, commenced the low wing to the right of the entrance, at the south-west angle of the tower. This wing was completed by his son the second Earl who, in 1620, put up the plaster ceiling in the great hall. His monogram, together with that of his wife Margaret Erskine, is to be seen there over the fireplace. The elaborate plasterwork of this ceiling was carried out by the same English journeyman-plasterer who executed the similar ceilings at Muchalls and Craigievar in Aberdeenshire. It is this room that Patrick, the third Earl, refers to in the Glamis Book of Record as “my great hall which is a room I ever loved.” It is lit by three deeply embrasured windows and has at one end a small chamber in the thickness of the wall, called the well-room. This enabled water to be drawn up directly from the well below in the event of a seige. In the hall is kept the motley dress of the old family, fool or jester. This is probably the only complete dress of the kind still extant in Scotland; the family, having retained the services of their private buffoon until comparatively recent times.
Sir Walter Scott, in Waverley, makes the following reference to the Glamis jester : “At Glamis Castle is preserved the dress of one of the jesters, very handsome, and ornamented with many bells. It is not above thirty years since such a character stood by the sideboard of a nobleman of the first rank in Scotland, and occasionally mixed in the conversation, till he carried the joke rather too far in making proposals to one of the young ladies of the family, and publishing the banns betwixt her and himself in church.” (Glamis Castle, by the Rev. John Stirton.)
The famous “Lion of Glammis,” [is] one of the many treasures of the Castle. This is a 17th-century beaker in the shape of a lion. It holds a pint and tradition decrees that when handed to a visitor it must be emptied to the Earl of Strathmore’s health.
In 1672, Patrick, the third Earl, was granted a new charter, becoming Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Viscount Lyon and Baron Glamis, as well as of Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie. Since both his father and grandfather had been compelled to raise money for the Royalist cause on the security of their estates, when he returned from his studies at St. Andrews University in 1660, at the age of seventeen, he found both his places derelict and made their restoration his principal concern. Glamis was by then practically denuded of furniture and Lyon, now known as Castle Huntley, literally uninhabitable.
He became a considerable builder and was also the author of the most interesting Glamis Book of Record, which gives a detailed account of his building activities. The Record, mostly written in his own hand, formed a daily journal of his life and provides an invaluable picture of the period. It also shows the relationship between capital and labour existing in his time, the cost of such work and the method of payment adopted, which was partly in ready money and partly in kind. The Earl was his own architect, as the following extract from the Record shows. “I confess I am to blame that, designing so great a matter as these reformationes patt all together comes to, I did not call such as in this age were known and repute to be the best judges and contrivers; for I never bestowed neither gold nor money upon this head; and I look upon advyce as verie necessarie to the most parte of undertakers, and the not-seeking and taking counsell is comonly the cause why things are found amiss in the most parts of men’s doeings that way; nor have I the vanity to consider my owne judgement as such as (that) another cannot better. Yet, being resolved to performe what I have done with little money and by degrees, and more to please and divert myselfe than out of any, ostentations – for I thank God I am as little envious any man, and am verie glad to behold things well ordered and contrived att other men’s dwellings and never judged anything of my owne small endeavours worthie to make so much noise as to call for or invit to either of my houses the Public Architecteurs.”
“My work and projects lykwayes being complexed things, and hardly one man being to be found fitt to give advyce in all, I never judged it worth the trouble of a Convocatione of the severall Artists, such as Messons, whose talent comonly Iyes within the four walls of a house; Wrights, for the right ordering of a roofe, and the finishing of the timber work within; gairdners for gardins, orchards, etc.”
The Earl excuses himself for not having called in the “Public Architecteurs,” but we do not know how his grandfather, whose earlier reconstructions of the Castle were of greater importance, acted. It was the common custom at the time for noblemen to engage the same craftsmen and artists as were employed by the King on the Royal Palaces.
The “Master of the King’s Works” at the time was William Schaw. He died in 1602 and his monument records that he “was most skilful in architecture, and was early recommended to great persons.” It is conceivable, therefore, that he may have had a hand in the renovation of Glamis.
Earl Patrick added the north-west wing, which balances that on the opposite side of the tower. He describes the plan of Glamis as follows: “The old house stands now in the middle, with two wings, whereof that upon the east syd cost me a new roofe, the other on the west syd was founded and finished by myself.”
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