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Glamis Castle: Tales of Queens, Kings, and Ghosts (Part I)

We head to the Angus Hills this week for a visit to Glamis Castle. With over 1,000 years of history at the Castle- including accusations of witchcraft, visits by the iconic Mary Queen of Scots and later a Jacobite King, serving as childhood home of HM The Queen Mother, the birthplace of HRH Princess Margaret, and Macbeth connections - it is not possible to properly cover Glamis in one article. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that this is just the first part of a two-part series for Glamis Castle.

This week we will explore and tour the Castle proper. Next week, in the second part, we will cover the Castle grounds and gardens. You are not going to want to miss either one as the history, artefacts, and pictures are stunning! So, join us as we head inside Glamis Castle and give you a glimpse into one of Scotland’s truly magnificent stately homes.

Royal Beginnings

The history of Glamis Castle as ancestral home of the Lyon family (and ancestral seat of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne) came about in 1372 when King Robert II granted the Thanage of Glamis to Sir John Lyon. In 1376, Sir John married Robert II’s daughter, Princess Johanna Stewart (great-granddaughter of Robert the Bruce) ensuring royal blood lines for the Lyon heirs.

The Castle has seen a great deal of changes over the centuries from its beginnings as a L-shaped tower house. It was remodeled in the 17th century and much of what we see today was done during that period. There have been subsequent renovations since then, but largely in the interior. Today, a wealth of exquisite craftsmanship can be found throughout Glamis Castle along with fascinating artefacts and works of art. With that in mind, let’s head into the house and start our virtual tour as there is much to explore and discover.

Our tour starts in the elegant dining room. The entire wing (where the current dining room lies) was torn down and redone from 1798-1801. The dining room, as we see it now, was renovated and designed in the mid-1800s. As you walk into the room, it is a feast for the eyes as you are surrounded by beautiful craftsmanship. Looking up and ahead, there are five stained glass windows (restored in 1995) which show the evolution of the Strathmore family arms between 1372-1853. Looking up a bit further at the ceiling there are lovely Scottish thistles, English roses, and lions for the Lyon family decorating the plaster.

While clearly a formal space, visitors are reminded that Glamis Castle has been (and still is) a family home. Portraits of past and present Earls and their family members are situated throughout the room on the richly carved oak-paneled walls. There are some lovely gifts from when the 13th Earl and his Countess (the Queen Mother’s grandparents) celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1903. The Glamis lion was given by their 11 children, the grandfather clock from their 27 grandchildren, and the glorious German silver galleon, that serves as the table centerpiece, was gifted by the tenants living on the estate.

Learning the stories behind the artefacts is always one of the best parts of exploring old houses. However, the dining room is only our first stop! Let’s continue our tour to the Crypt.

As you enter this space, there is a completely different feel- much more medieval. The chamber itself is quite ancient and was once the Lower Hall of the 15th century tower house. It is made up of large blocks of sandstone and the walls are quite thick- some up to 15 feet! Much of the furniture that now decorates the Crypt is from the 1600s. Along with those pieces are ‘newer’ items- for example, the jousting armour (copies of the German) are Victorian-era as are the numerous hunting trophies that cover the walls. Scroll through the images below to further explore the Crypt.

Be sure to watch your step now- we need to take the main spiral staircase to get to one of the grandest rooms in all the Castle.

We are now entering the Drawing Room and there have been many famous guests received here (including members of the current royal family). However, one of the most illustrious guests just happens to also be one of the most famous women in Scottish history- Mary Queen of Scots. Mary is a reoccurring guest on our blog, and it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to hear that she once visited Glamis Castle. In fact, in 1562, she once dined in this room- then known as the Great Hall.

While I am sure her visit was celebrated. I also wonder if it was a bit awkward. I say this because of the actions of her father 25 years earlier. In 1537, Lady Glamis- Janet Douglas- was accused of treason and attempting to poison the King. However, these were false accusations and the real ‘crime’ was that she was the sister of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, the King’s stepfather. James V absolutely hated his stepfather.

While his hatred of his stepfather could be understood and forgiven (he had imprisoned James as a child), his actions towards Lady Glamis could not. Like many women of her day, Janet Douglas did not have much power and was used as a political pawn in a game of vindictiveness. Sadly, despite the lack of evidence, she was found guilty of treason and witchcraft and burned at the stake on Castle Hill in Edinburgh.

As a related side note, our Edinburgh walking tours start at the Witches Well- a memorial that marks the place where Lady Glamis and so many other women (and men) were burned at the stake after being accused of witchcraft. Perhaps Mary’s 1562 visit was to try to make amends for the horrible deeds of her father. Nevertheless, there is a legend that Lady Glamis haunts the Castle to this day- never able to truly find peace.

The current Drawing Room is quite different looking than Mary’s day. She would have admired rough stone walls and a stone barrel-vaulted ceiling- which are now covered in gorgeous stucco plasterwork. The room has a warm colour scheme of soft shades of pink and cream. The great fireplace (which dates to the early 1600s) dominates the room with the Glamis lions holding court on either side. Note the two, tiny walnut French chairs placed in front of the fireplace. Those were the favourites of HM The Queen and HRH Princess Margaret when they visited their grandparents at Glamis Castle during their childhood.

We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Drawing Room and it is now time to continue to a place much smaller in size but not in scope.

The Castle Chapel, built in the late 17th century, is an intimate and solemn space. The paintings are of the Life of Christ and were done by the Dutch painter, Jacob de Wet. One notable visitor was James VIII, the ‘Old Chevalier’- part of the Jacobite succession. James was never crowned but was the implied King of Scots. According to Glamis Castle, James ‘conducted a ceremony in the Chapel at which sufferers of the ‘King’s Evil’ (another name for the disease of scrofula, a form of tuberculosis) were presented to the King and “touched”, as it was believed that only rightful Kings could successfully bring about cures’.

In a more recent times, there is a story that the Queen Mother’s sister, Rose, went into the Chapel to practice playing the organ for the upcoming Sunday service. However, when she entered there was a woman dressed in grey praying in a pew. She waited outside for the woman to finish, but she never came out. Rose eventually peeked into the Chapel only to see that the woman had disappeared. It is believed that it was the ghost of Janet Douglas (the unfortunate soul we discussed earlier), also known as the Grey Lady of Glamis.

HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother

HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, was born in 1900 as Elizabeth Bowes Lyon. While she was not born at Glamis Castle (and there is a bit of a mystery as to her exact birthplace), the Queen Mother spent a great deal of her childhood at Glamis Castle. For the next few rooms on our tour, we are going to mostly focus on their connection to The Queen Mother and her family. We first head into the Billiard Room.

This room dates to the late 1700s and was originally the Castle library. Accordingly, one wall consists of numerous volumes of books (I did a quick scan and spotted Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels) and are what remains of the once extensive collection. Above the books, are large 17th century tapestries depicting scenes from the life of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

One of the more beautiful pieces in the room is the piano. There is a picture on top that shows the Queen Mother playing it.

Continuing along with the informal feel of the Billiard Room, we now head into the Royal Apartments. Countess Cecilia Strathmore converted this part of the castle into private apartments for her daughter and son-in-law, then the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Queen Consort). Our first stop is in the Queen Mother’s Sitting Room. The Castle describes it as a ‘cosy, informal room’ and they are spot on.

Glamis Castle was clearly an important place for the royal family. In fact, Princess Margaret was born at the Castle on the 21st August 1930. Looking around the room, it appears as though the Queen Mother has just stepped out and is expected back at any moment. The furniture appears quite comfortable and there are personal items throughout the room including family photos.

There is a lovely George III mahogany bureau situated near a window in the corner of the room. The Queen Mother would use this to write her private correspondence while at Glamis. The Castle points out that she was ‘a prolific and adept letter writer with a neat hand and many of her letters survive’. If you look carefully at the bureau you might be able to spot the antique telephone hidden behind a picture; that phone had a direct line to Buckingham Palace.

A final spot to point out is right near the doorway when you enter the sitting room and involves a bit of a spooky tale. According to Castle legend, one day a young servant boy had gotten in trouble and was told to sit on the small stone seat. Tragically, they forgot about him and he, obeying orders, stayed on the cold stone seat overnight. They found him the next morning- frozen to death! Therefore, when you visit, be careful as you enter the room because the ghost boy might very well be patiently sitting on the stone watching visitors as they come and go. I don’t know about you, but I think we should move on to the Queen Mother’s Bedroom.

Can you see the ghostly shadow?!

As we enter the bedroom, the main feature that captivates visitors’ attention is the mid-18th century Scottish giltwood four-poster bed. There are a few more lovely items that I would like to point out. First is the ivory damask bedspread; it was embroidered to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday in 2000 and features beautiful briar roses, scrolls, and thistles.

Next, in the corner of the room is an unassuming walnut baby cot. However, this isn’t just any cot- it was used by Princess Elizabeth (HM The Queen). It is decorated with carved Scottish thistles and the initials of Princess Elizabeth.

We have now entered the last room in the Royal Apartments- the King’s Room. This room was used by King George VI as a study and dressing room. While he didn’t sleep in the magnificent 17th century Kinghorne Bed, there were many famous occupants who did including Jacobite King James VIII in 1716 (who I mentioned earlier when we were touring the chapel).

We now leave the royal apartments and head to Duncan’s Hall.

I’m not sure if the photos capture it well enough, but this fascinating part of Glamis Castle is quite eerie and gives you more of a traditional old castle feel. The Castle states that it was most likely the guard room originally next to the lower hall. They go on to explain that the room ‘commemorates an historical event – the slaying of King Duncan by Macbeth, as told by Shakespeare in his play Macbeth’. However, we will further explore the Macbeth connection next week when we venture outside and explore the grounds (including the Macbeth Sculpture Trail).

We will end our first part of the series there. I hope you have enjoyed our time inside Glamis Castle. If you come to Scotland, we highly recommend a visit to Glamis Castle as there is much more to see. Be sure to check out their website for the most up-to-date information on planning your visit. However, there is more for us to explore, and our virtual journey doesn’t end inside the Castle. Therefore, be sure to join us next week as we head outside and discover the Castle grounds and gardens. You will not be disappointed.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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