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Issue 22 - Home of the famous Thane

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 22
August 2005


This article is 13 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Home of the famous Thane

Charles Douglas visits Glamis Castle, home of the earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne

The other day I met this year’s winner of the Man Booker International Prize, an Albanian of the name of Ismail Kadare, who informed me that he had come to Scotland to visit Macbeth’s castle. I scratched my head, wondering if he met Cawdor Castle, on the Moray Firth, but he said no. He was on his way to explore Glamis.

Of course, he meant Glamis. If there is anywhere in Scotland which best conjours up images of long ago romance and sinister intrigue, this Camelot-style castle in the low-lying meadows of the county of Angus is the place. Yet sparkling pink in the summer sunshine, it is hard to think of anywhere more welcoming, especially if you recall that it was the childhood home of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

William Shakespeare was the master of invention, but it is unlikely he had the present castle in mind for his Thane of Glamis. The bulk of the building that we see today dates from at least six centuries after that Scottish king met his death in 1057.

But early Scottish kings did make use of a hunting lodge in the neighbourhood until 1372, when King Robert II, grandson of Robert the Bruce, granted the thaneage of Glamis to the Lord Chamberlain of Scotland, Sir Robert Lyon. Four years later this noble knight became King Robert’s son-in-law when he married the king’s daughter, Princess Joanna. Known as ‘the White Lion’ because of his fair hair and skin, he met a violent end, allegedly murdered in his bed.

As is so often the case, the nucleus of the present castle is the keep or peel tower, originally surrounded by a moat, which Patrick, Lord Glamis, began building in the mid-15th century, and which his widow completed after his death. By the 16th century, the castle had become sufficiently grand to excite the envy of King James V who trumped up charges of witchcraft against the widow of the 6th Lord Glamis and had her carried off to be burnt at the stake on Castle Hill, Edinburgh.

However, the family did recover from this unpleasant incident, and two generations later the 8th Lord Glamis is reputed to have been “very wise, discreet and wealthy.” Today’s castle is very much the work of him and his descendants, the first three earls of Kinghorne, although it is said of the 2nd Earl that “coming into his inheritance the wealthiest peer in Scotland, he left it the poorest.” This was largely brought about by his friendship with James Graham, 1st Marquis of Montrose, with whom he had at first joined forces. Montrose began as a fierce Covenanter (in opposition to Popery and episcopacy), but later turned to support the Royal Cause of Charles I.

When Montrose took up arms against the Covenanters, Kinghorne helped finance the Covenanting army and almost bankrupted himself in the process.

When Patrick, 3rd Earl of Kinhorne, inherited, therefore, he found his estates massively in debt, but through hard work managed to restore his inheritance to solvency. In 1677, he obtained a new charter to his patent of peerage, and was afterwards known as the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, as have been his successors ever since.

Although visitors enter through a door on the north side of the castle, the main entrance to the building faces the drive in the angle tower. Our tour begins with the dining room which was designed by the great-grandson of the 8th Earl of Strathmore between 1851 and 1883. The centre piece is the massive fireplace with its oak armorial over mantel showing the arms of the 12th Earl. The table is laid with silver, china and cutlery.

On the walls are family portraits – the 13th Earl and his wife, Patrick, Lord Glamis, the Queen Mother’s eldest brother who became 15th Earl in 1944, and a charming conversation piece picture showing the 14th Earl and Countess in the drawing room.

In days of old, servants needed to keep an eye on when the next course needed to be served, and so a spy hole was cut into a painted Dutch screen.

It is said that as children, the Queen and her sister Princess Margaret would often hide here to watch the grown ups at table.

Next to the dining room is the crypt, the lower hall of the 15th century tower.

The wide stair from the front hall is a 19th century alteration, and the width of the crypt can be judged by looking at the depth of the windows.

To be seen are suits of armour, Jacobean oak furniture and big game heads from hunting excursions far and wide.

It is said that a Lord of Glamis and the ‘Tiger’ Earl of Crawford once played cards with the devil on the Sabbath in a secret chamber within the thickness of these walls, but nobody has to date located it.

The drawing room is undoubtedly the most impressive room within Glamis. Sixty feet long by 22 feet wide, it has a fine arched ceiling featuring beautiful plasterwork showing the monograms of John, 2nd Earl of Kinghorne, and his Countess, Margaret Erskine, daughter of the Earl of Mar, and the date 1621. Large windows are set into the eight foot thickness of the walls.

Family portraits here include an enormous conversation piece showing the 3rd Earl with his sons and hunting dogs. There are also portraits of Lady Arabella Stuart, King Charles I and Queen Elizabeth I, and one by Sir Godfrey Kneller of John Graham of Claverhouse, 1st Viscount Dundee, one of Scotland’s most dashing heroes whose home, now long demolished, was once on the Glamis estate.

On the north east corner of the castle is one of the most beautifully decorated small chapels in Europe featuring painting by the Dutch artist Jacob de Wet. It fell into disuse for many years, but was restored by the 13th Earl and dedicated to St Michael and All Angels.

The billiard room, built within 1773 and 1776, is situated immediately above the great kitchen and houses the castle’s library. Tapestries depict scenes from the life of King Nebuchadnezzar. The banners featured in this room are those of the 1st Battalion The Black Watch, the 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards, and one belonging to the Bowes-Lyon Family.

The next chamber on our tour is King Malcolm’s room where the plasterwork carried the monograms of the 2nd Earl and Countess of Kinghorne together with medallion heads of Roman characters. The carved chimney piece is made of embossed and highly polished leather.

From there, visitors are shown into the Royal Apartments, a private suite which was regularly used by the Queen Mother and her daughters, in particular the late Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, who was born here.

The Queen Mother’s sitting room is a sunny, comfortable room with large sofas. The Queen Mother’s bedroom features the beautiful Philip de Laszlo portrait of Her Majesty when Duchess of York. The four-poster bed has a padded headboard and hangings carrying a scroll design with thistles worked by Lady Strathmore, and inside the pelmet is the embroidered monogram ‘C&C’, for Claude and Cecilia (the 14th Earl and Countess), with the names and dates of birth of all of their children.

The next chamber, the King’s room, was George VI’s dressing room and contains the restored Kinghorne bed, its three outer valances with central panels of applied silk decorated with stitching.

And finally, there is Duncan’s Hall, again redolent of the Scottish play Macbeth. The portraits here are of James IV and his granddaughter Mary, Queen of Scots, who visited Glamis on 22nd August 1562. Anumber of other items of historical fascination are to be found in the exhibition rooms which end the tour.

Glamis Castle is open to the public until 22nd December.
Opening Times: Mar-Oct : 10.00 to 18.00 (last tour 16.30); November to December, 12.00 to 16.00.
Castle and grounds admittance: Adult £7.00, Senior £5.70, Student £5.70, Children £3.80, Family £20.00.
Grounds only: Adult £3.50, Senior £2.50, Child £2.50

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