WORMWOOD FILES “The Horrors of Glamis Castle” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

“Guid forenicht tae a body an' aw! “

What’s that, ye say? Och, my dialect is showing again. “Good evening to one and all” is what I meant to say. My tongue slipped and it came out in Auld Scots Gaelic…

I’ve been thinking of Scotland a lot lately in preparation for this article. For the return of the Wormwood Files, I’ve decided to throw myself full bore into investigating the haunts and evil legends of one of Europe’s ill-starred locations, the ominous Glamis Castle of the Scottish Highlands. The more I look into this place, the more I uncover. It is truly one of the world’s most haunted spots.

The castle itself is the very image of what you’d expect a medieval castle to be. Located near the rural village of Glamis, the castle is beautiful, imposing and ominous. On a clear and pleasant day, Glamis sheds much of its foreboding, but on a dark and stormy Scotch night, it would be hard to imagine a gloomier or more intimidating place.

Glamis has been continuously inhabited since the 11th century and even now is the ancestral home of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the Bowes-Lyon family. It is open to the public and is elegantly furnished. Those expecting to see a cobwebbed and dusty place of abandonment will be disappointed. That being said, there is still an undeniable atmosphere of age and unease about the place.

Naturally one would expect such an edifice to be haunted. Brother, is it ever! How many ghosts does Glamis Castle have? More than can be accurately counted. In fact, it’s a wonder  all the various spooks aren’t constantly stepping on each other during their hauntings. It is one of the most spirit-infested locations in the world. We have a Grey Lady, a Green Lady, a Tongueless Lady, the infamous “Earl Beardie”, the African Servant Boy, the Hanged Butler, and the Old Lady of the Belltower. King Malcolm II is said to haunt the location and even Macbeth and Duncan, made infamous by Shakespeare, are sometimes known to prowl the halls of Glamis.

And then there is the most notorious inhabitant of all, the horribly deformed heir who was condemned to languish in a secret, hidden chamber.

That’s a lot of spooks to have under one roof. And doubtless there are others, who are less showy but still just as dead. In this edition of the Wormwood Files, I intend to look at some of the more prominent ghostly tales associated with Glamis Castle.

The origins of the Castle are very ancient indeed. It was a place of power to the original inhabitants of the area, the Picts;  a carved Pictish “stone of power” is located nearby. In the early 11th century, the castle was slated to be built on top of a nearby hill called Fierypans by the locals. The building of the castle was interrupted by poltergeists who destroyed each days construction during the night time hours. It was said the “fairy folk” considered the hill theirs and would brook no human structure on it. One night a phantom voice cried out "Build not on this enchanted spot, where man hath neither part nor lot, but build down in yonder bog, where it will neither shake nor shog!” 

The enchanted advice was obeyed and a royal hunting lodge was built in the valley below. Over the years, the lodge was added to and rebuilt until mighty Glamis Castle stood in the spot. It endures there to this day. Despite being in a more favorable location, the Castle has been the site of murder, madness and ill luck ever since.  King Malcolm II of Scotland was murdered near Glamis in 1034 and his unhappy spirit haunted the Castle ever since. He is perhaps the most “royal” of the Glamis ghosts.

While Malcolm may be the highest ranking ghost seen at Glamis, there is no shortage of other royal spooks haunting its hall.  Some rumors had it that no less than Macbeth, the tortured principal of Shakespeare’s “Scottish Play” murdered Duncan on castle grounds. There is no historical basis for this supposition, but that doesn’t stop people from seeing the heinous murder reenacted by the spectral figures of Macbeth and Duncan.

Ghostly ladies of various hues are seen at Glamis. One of the most familiar is the gloomy “Grey Lady” who is seen in St. Michael’s Chapel, attached to the castle. She is believed to be the ghost of Lady Janet Douglas, an infamous Scottish noblewoman who was burned at the stake for being a witch and plotting against the life of King James V. Lady Janet almost certainly poisoned her first husband to death and her hatred of the King was well known. The charges of witchcraft were surely trumped up by James. Scotland in the 15th and 16rh centuries was overcome by “witch fever” and thousands of women were put to death on the mere suspicion of being a witch. The Grey Lady does not speak, but many believe her to be Lady Janet.

As you may have guessed, the glens and hills of Scotland were drenched in blood. One of the most macabre tales revolving around Glamis is the grisly fate of the Ogilvy family. Bloody feuds between highland clans were a hallmark of Scottish history. On a storm-wracked night in 1486, the Earl of Strathmoor, lord of Glamis, admitted the soaked and desperate members of the Ogilvy clan to the castle.  The Ogilvies had been routed by their deadly enemies, the Lindsay clan, and were fleeing for their lives. They begged the Earl to give them shelter. He escorted them to a secret room that only the lords of Glamis knew of and securely locked them inside.

Unfortunately for the Ogilvies, the Earl was a secret ally of the Lindsays. The door was left locked. Weeks later, it was opened and a ghastly sight greeted the Earl’s eyes. The hunger-crazed Ogilvies had fallen upon each other in an orgy of cannibalism to survive. Word had it that their was one survivor, driven completely mad by the experience. As you will see later, this is not the only secret room in Glamis Castle.

One of the nastiest ghosts at Glamis is known as “Earl Beardie”. He was Alexander Lindsay, the 4th Earl of Crawford , who was often at Glamis in the 14th century even though his home was nearby Finavon Castle. Nicknamed “The Tiger Earl” because of his ferocious personality, Lindsay was notorious for cursing, drinking and gambling at all times. He was reckoned so evil that Satan himself came to Glamis to play a game of dice with him. Satan doesn’t lose too many contests and at the end of the game, Lindsay’s soul was forefeit.  “Earl Beardie” can still be heard cursing up a storm in the room where the dicing took place and he is known to haunt the castle clad in full armor, which makes for a terrifying sight.

Earl Beardie’s cruelty may be responsible for another mischievous spirit of Glamis, the African Slave Boy.  This was a young African child who was at Glamis to perform hard labor in service of his masters. Legend has it that the sadistic “Tiger Earl” decided to literally hunt the poor lad like a fox or deer on the grounds of the castle. After evading his pursuers for a time, the boy was slain at the Earl’s hands. Since then, his spirit has walked the castle halls and delights in tripping visitors. So if you’re ever on a walking tour of Glamis and find yourself pitching forward for no reason, there may actually be a reason...a supernatural one.

We could delve deeply into every ghost said to haunt the grim halls of Glamis, but that would be difficult for even a large book to do with authority. And many spirits, such as the old woman who is often seen floating above ground near the bell tower, have no story connected with them. Their origins are enigmatic. Yes, many are the legends of Glamis, but there is one that towers above them all...the Monster Heir of Glamis Castle.

This is one of the greatest and most terrifying legends of European royalty, moreso because there is strong evidence that much of it is rooted in actual fact. It’s the one story that hovers over all others told about the notorious castle.

The story revolved around a great secret that could only be revealed in full to three people:  the current Earl of Strathmore, who was always a descendant of the Lyons family; the heir to the Earldom who was told the secret upon his 21st birthday; and the factor of Glamis, the man in charge of managing all of the castle’s upkeep.  The secret was said to be so terrible that many of the heirs emerged as changed men once they learned of it. If any beyond this small circle of three learned or guessed the truth, they were silenced forcefully and sometimes permanently, as we shall learn.

The 13th Earl of Strathmore refused to participate in the ritual revelation of the Glamis Secret and that may have brought an end to the terrible burden that the Lyons heirs inherited.

On October 21, 1821,  a stillborn child was birthed by Lady Charlotte Bowes-Lyon, wife of Thomas Bowes-Lyon. That is what the official record maintains to this day. But there is ample evidence that says the male child did NOT die at birth. The young heir survived...but was so hideously deformed that any thought of presenting the child in public was instantly dismissed as being out of the question. Yet despite the deformities, the child was otherwise strong and in good health.

In Glamis’ harsh past, the times of King Malcolm II or James V, the freakish offspring would have been put to death almost immediately and likely anybody who knew of it would also be killed. But the early 19th century was not quite so brutal. The horrid child certainly did not ask for what happened to it and if nothing else, he was still heir to the Bowes-Lyons family. He could not be killed outright...he could not be revealed to the world as the true heir. What could be done?

A secret room, well hidden within Glamis’ mazes of corridors and added-on architecture, was used to hide the monstrous Heir. Knowledge of the room and its hideous occupant was strictly controlled, with only the three mentioned earlier knowing the whole story. Apparently the “monster” was not only in vigorous health, but was practically immortal, living far beyond the lifespan one would expect.

Occasionally some one would discover the secret by accident. One worker at the castle stumbled across the door that led to the hidden chamber and caught sight of the “monster”. He ran gibbering to the factor of the castle, who of course was one of the few who knew the whole truth. Legend has it that the factor arranged for the man and his family to emigrate to Australia, where he received a comfortable stipend to keep his mouth shut. He fared far better than the young chambermaid who caught sight of the monster: her tongue was forcibly removed so she could not speak of what she saw. Legend has it that this is the ghost known as the Tongueless Woman of Glamis, who can be seen running across the castle courtyard with blood streaming out of her mouth.

There were certain times when the castle underwent a “lockdown” where almost everybody was strictly confined to their rooms. This was when the “monster” was allowed by the factor to briefly leave its hidden chamber and walk the castle ramparts by night. This tradition was known as the Mad Earl’s Walk and some guests of the castle said they could see the shadow of a monstrous figure stalking those ramparts by night.

What exactly did the unfortunate “monster” look like? A few descriptions survive. One account said he resembled “a flabby egg”...a round body with a distorted head set directly into the shoulders, with stick-like arms and legs. Another description spoke of him being “a human toad”, that hopped and shambled along. Curiously, there was no adequate report on the monster’s mental state. Given such extreme deformity, it can be guessed that he was mentally as well as physically handicapped. Yet this does not necessarily have to be so. Being raised in a clammy hidden chamber with virtually no human contact would certainly lead to severe mental issues. One fanciful legend has the monster playing regular games of chess and cards with the factor and the Earl of Strathmore.

Tales of the monstrous heir and his hidden chamber persisted well into the 20th century. The 13th Earl refused to participate in the upkeep of the heir, perhaps leading to its eventual demise. The 14th Earl was told the story, but if the monster was still alive by then, it had reached a prodigious, almost unnatural age of 100 years or more. Perhaps the condition that afflicted it with deformity somehow granted it a greater lifespan as well? Maybe, just maybe, the heir lingers to this day…

That is unlikely, but the legend of the hidden heir of Glamis became so pervasive that it entered the general population and even inspired a movie! “The Maze” was an eerie 1957 film that was obviously inspired by the legend. A distant heir of the MacTeam family abruptly leaves his honeymoon and returns to his family’s ancestral Scottish castle. His determined bride tracks him down and finds him gray-haired and grim after learning an awful secret. He has been charged with taking care of Sir Roger MacTeam, the dreadfully disfigured heir of the MacTeams who was born in the 1700’s but who survives in confinement. The monster here took the “human toad” aspect of the Glamis legend literally as inspiration...Sir Roger is a monstrous frog! Modern audiences might laugh at this final revelation, but the movie is really moody and entertaining.

The most terrifying short story I ever read was clearly inspired by multiple legends of Glamis and I encourage every lover of the macabre to seek it out. This was “The Horror of Chilton Castle” by the grossly underrated American horror writer Joseph Payne Brennan. I first discovered the story in Brennan’s anthology of tales, “The Shapes of Midnight”. Brennan himself is a character in the story who takes a trip to Scotland to investigate his ancestral home of Chilton Castle. There, on a dark and stormy night, he encounters the factor of the castle and learns of the secret ritual that heirs of the Brennan family must perform Something hideous is hidden in the depths of the castle, a secret so horrible that it often drives the heirs mad.

Surprisingly, the secret is NOT a disfigured heir. Instead, Brennan reaches into the legend of Lady Janet Douglas to create an even more dreadful monster chained in the depths of Chilton Castle. I’ll leave you to learn the details yourselves. Not many written horror stories made a mark on me, but this one had me afraid to shut off the lights after I read it. It’s pretty clear Brennan took what he knew of Glamis and weaved it into a blood-curdling tale.

The legend of the hidden heir is by far the most infamous tale associated with Glamis. We’ve touched on many of the ghosts of Glamis, but really, there are even more tales to explore, like the magical “fairy cup” stored there and the many misfortunes linked to the nearby River Dean. But most of the major spooks I’ve touched on here.

It’s important to remember that Glamis Castle is not a decaying crumble of ancient stone, but a fully vibrant and lovely location that is inhabited and well-kept by the Bowes-Lyon family, the Earls of Straithmore and Kingshorne. It is somebody’s home. And it is open to the public. It’s one of Scotland’s most popular tourist spots.
But the darkness also remains. Few places in Europe have generated so many dire legends. I hope I’ve shed a little light on some of them for you here.

Gus an coinnich sinn a-rithist ...Until we meet again...

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights...