The Monster of Glamis

Did a living beast actually haunt Scotland's Glamis Castle for the better part of a century?

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Ancient Mysteries, Paranormal

Skeptoid #276
September 20, 2011
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Monster of Glamis
Glamis Castle
(Photo credit: Wikimedia)

Today we have a good old fashioned ghost story, and it even comes from a famous, dark old castle in Scotland. Glamis Castle (pronounced "Glahms") is the ancestral home of the Earls of Strathmore, and has been since 1372, when King Robert II of Scotland gave it to Sir John Lyon. His descendants eventually acquired the title Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, and a Lyon of that title has ruled the castle ever since. The Queen Mother Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who died in 2002, grew up in the castle as a young girl, as a daughter of the 14th Earl of Strathmore. Thus Glamis' history has been a highly public and visible one that ties our modern world all the way back with medieval times. And throughout all those centuries, it's held a secret. Legend says that the secret has been known only to the Earl himself, and passed on from elder son to elder son. The secret concerns a hidden room and a living beast known only as the Monster of Glamis.

Our task today is to look at what's known about the Monster, and come to an informed best-bet conclusion to whether it really ever existed at all; or indeed, may even still haunt the grounds today...

The castle has fabled ghosts, of course. Any castle worth its salt has its share of those. There is the Tongueless Woman, alleged to be the spirit of a girl mutilated by castle guards for illicit relations with the Earl. There is the ghost of Jack the Runner, a black slave boy, said to have been killed by the Earl and his mounted party by their dogs in a variation of fox hunting. The grounds have a White Lady, and the chapel has a Grey Lady. And one the early Earls — variously described as either the second or the fourth — is said to have demanded a game of cards on the Sabbath, and when none of his guests would accommodate him, the Devil appeared at the castle gate and played cards with the Earl all night long. Some say he still plays in a secret, hidden room, condemned to gamble for eternity for his sin.

But it was during the reign of the 11th Earl of Strathmore that the Monster first came into the world. The wife of the Earl's son Thomas George, who would later become the 12th Earl, gave birth to a son, heir to the title on October 21, 1821. The boy was named Thomas Bowes-Lyon, and sadly, history records that the infant died that same day, and the title eventually passed to the second son, Claude, born in 1824.

But the legend says that young Thomas did not die, though perhaps it might have been better if he had. He was described as so horribly deformed that to look upon him was to invite madness. The poor infant was sent to a special hidden room and kept out of sight, as they expected him to die quickly. But he did not. The Monster lived and grew to manhood, fed by a single trusted servant through a grate in his door. He was said to be fat and round like an egg, with no neck, and only small, nearly useless arms and legs. The author James Wentworth Day first made this description public in his 1967 book The Queen Mother's Family Story. His unnamed source, whom some researchers believe to be the Queen Mother herself, gave the following description:

His chest an enormous barrel, hairy as a doormat, his head ran straight into his shoulders and his arms and legs were toylike.

The tale goes on to say that on moonless nights, the same trusted servant would walk the Monster along the castle's battlements, and that section is still to this day called "The Mad Earl's Walk". What did lumber along the ramparts late at night, bellowing its mournful regrets, and scaring the flimsier ghosts back to their effigies?

Another story from Wentworth Day's book is that sometime in the 1870s, a stonemason engaged in remodeling encountered something that frightened him, and perhaps even discovered the secret room. The castle was equipped with a telegraph, and the Earl was summoned back from Edinburgh. He questioned the stonemason, then paid him a large sum to move to Australia.

Legend has it that the secret of the Monster is passed from father to son, from Earl to Earl:

In 1904, the 13th Earl is said to have told an inquiring friend "If you could only know the nature of the terrible secret, you would go down on your knees and thank God that it were not yours."

His wife badgered the estate's mid-nineteenth century factor, Andrew Ralston, to reveal the secret to her, and he said "It is fortunate that you do not know it and can never know it, for if you did know you would not be a happy woman."

When his son, the 14th Earl, was asked about the secret by his daughter, the Lady Granville and the elder sister of the Queen Mother, he said "You cannot be told; for no woman can know the secret of Glamis Castle."

Years later, she reported "We were never allowed to talk about it when we were children. My father and grandfather refused absolutely to discuss it."

Now there's one thing that should raise a big red flag for you when you hear talk of a "family secret". Real secrets are secret, and you wouldn't be hearing about them on a podcast if they were so. At the bottom of this page you'll find a list of references discussing this so-called "secret". So, clearly, if there was a secret, there were always at least a handful of people who knew it (trusted servants and factors at least), and it sounds like just about everyone else knew about it. At least, enough of them to furnish James Wentworth Day with enough material for his book.

But Wentworth Day's account is suspect on at least one level. According to the Queen Mother (he says), her own grandfather had insisted that the family secret not be given to him, and so it never was. So it's hardly likely that he could have then passed it down to his son, her father. How, then, could she have learned of the Monster? And why do we have accounts of both her father and grandfather issuing warnings about the secret?

It's a question we could chew on, but it may not be necessary to do so, when we look closer at our source. James Wentworth Day wrote over forty books on various subjects, but one of his favorite genres was — you guessed it — ghost stories. His bibliography includes such works as Here Are Ghosts and Witches (1954), A Ghost Hunter's Game Book (1958), and In Search of Ghosts (1969). He was not so much an historian as he was a weaver of illustrious tales. Nearly all the accounts you'll read of the Monster of Glamis reference Wentworth Day's 1967 book.

That's not to say that he invented the stories at all; I'm merely suggesting that he compiled and codified the history of the Monster, the hidden room, and the accompanying "family secret" into the version we have today. It turns out that for each of these story elements, Glamis Castle's earlier history provides a more concrete precedent, and one that is, conveniently, out of reach for researchers.

Glamis Castle has, since its earliest days, had a tale of a hidden room with a gory secret. In 1486, the 2nd Lord Glamis offered sanctuary to a fleeing band from a rival clan called the Ogilvies. But he betrayed them. They were led to a room, the door was locked and barricaded, and it was over a month before anyone ventured to look inside. Only one Ogilvie was still alive, having survived by eating the starved corpses of his companions. He was killed, and the room was permanently bricked up and sealed, to conceal the crime of having betrayed a promise of sanctuary. Though no known proof exists of this crime, it is consistent with the actual history of the day. And so Glamis Castle acquired a family secret, and a secret room that remains hidden. The purpose of passing the secret from father to son might well be to insure that the room is never opened.

In 1882, the New York Times published an account, many times retold and altered, of a party of guests who heard about the secret room and hung fabric from every interior window they could find. When they looked outside, a few windows had been missed, usually described as two adjacent windows in the central square tower. Many versions of this story exist, and in a castle as expansive as Glamis, secret or inaccessible rooms should surprise no one.

Wentworth Day even had a source for the stern warnings about revealing the secret, a 1925 autobiography by A.M.W. Stirling called Life's Little Day: Some Tales and Other Reminiscences.

All of this leaves us with one item to explain: the origin of the story of the Monster himself. No history exists for young Thomas Bowes-Lyon, so the unfortunate infant probably did die of his birth defects. But hanging in the castle is an enigmatic family portrait from 138 years earlier. It depicts the 3rd Earl of Strathmore with his three sons. The Earl had five children, but this portrait includes only the male members of the family. The Earl himself is seated in the portrait. To his right stands his son and future Earl John, and to his left are two boys, one perhaps a young teen and the other a small boy. Two dogs stand with them, and watching over is an angel winging about in the sky. Glamis Castle identifies that portrait as having been painted in 1683 by the artist Jacob de Wet; in fact, we even have a diary entry noting the payment for "2 great Pieces for my Lord and his 3 sonns". We also have a contract from 1688 for de Wet to create a number of other artworks for the castle. So the portrait's provenance is well established.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

But there is still a problem concerning the number of boys in the portrait. The Earl's two younger sons, Charles and Patrick, were not even born until 1692 and 1695, respectively; nine and twelve years after their portrait was painted. And Charles, the middle son, is recorded as having died in childbirth.

This has fueled rampant speculation that Charles did not actually die, but was horribly deformed, yet politely "cleaned up" by the artist. The painting is almost certainly the original source of the rumor of the Monster, but could it also be evidence that he was real?

Well, it certainly could be, but there's a much more rational explanation. It was common in past centuries, when a family picture was an expensive and time-consuming project, to depict babies and young children as older. We know for a fact that de Wet referenced "3 sonns" when only one had been born. At the time of the portrait's commission, the Earl and his wife may well have planned for more sons, and so chose to add two children to the picture. Both were eventually born, but one sadly died, and is now remembered only by the strapping teenage image of the young man he may have become.

Much of Glamis Castle is now open to the public and is easy to see, but much of its history has been lost to centuries of interclan squabbles, bureaucracy, remodeling, and the gradual merging of fact and fiction. Plenty of evidence exists of the circumstances in which the Monster of Glamis might have lived out his tormented years; but of that he ever actually had them at all, we have mere legend. The pitiable dear beast now resides with the White Lady only in the twilight land of legend. We may get more answers one day, when archaeology tells all Glamis Castle's secrets. Perhaps a few poor unfortunates can be buried on that day, and help us all rest a little easier.

Brian Dunning

© 2011 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Dash, M. "The Monster of Glamis." CFI Blogs. Charles Fort Institute, 9 Jun. 2009. Web. 16 Sep. 2011. <http://blogs.forteana.org/node/75>

Day, J. The Queen Mother's Family Story. London: Hale, 1967.

Douglas, R. The Peerage of Scotland. Edinburgh: R. Fleming, 1764.

Hope-Simpson, J. Who Knows? Twelve Unsolved Mysteries. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1974. 135-141.

Maple, E. The Realm of Ghosts. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1964.

Smyth, F. Ghosts and Poltergeists. London: Aldus Book Ltd., 1975. 76-80.

Stirling, A. Life's Little Day: Some Tales and Other Reminiscences. London: T. Butterworth, Ltd., 1925. 326.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "The Monster of Glamis." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 20 Sep 2011. Web. 25 Oct 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4276>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 43 comments

Patience, Steve. I'm sure he's saving the big moment of apology for a future corrections podcast.

In all seriousness, you don't actually need to say the words "I'm sorry" for people to know you are remorseful. The tone of his post makes his apologetic intent quite clear.

Tiffany, Connecticut
October 18, 2011 6:00am

I dunno... Steves can be precious

Mud, Sin City, Oz
November 3, 2011 7:33am

Hi! I can suggest two more explanations for the portrait of the Third Earl of Strathmore and his three sons.

1. It was common at the time to include deceased people in family portraits. In particular, children who died as infants were depicted as the age they would have been, had they lived. This may have been the case with this portrait.

2. I didn't see anything in the diary entry or contract which specified the Earl's sons were legitimate. Illegitimate children were a fact of life at the time, and were often openly acknowledged and provided for by their father. There are many examples of such children being raised with their legitimate half-siblings. It would be entirely possible for a proud father to have his illegitimate offspring included in a portrait.

Lisa, Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
November 13, 2011 12:13am

In the 1970's I happened to comment to a much older lady friend, an English-born Scot (b 1906) about the legend and she was absolutely shocked that I would even know of it, being then only about 30, as well as American. She had even been to the castle on social occasions and knew the family. What she hadn't realized was there was a movie made (prob. late 1950's) which borrowed from the legend called, "The Maze." I believe Hugh Marlowe was in it. No one ever mentions it, so perhaps it's pretty obscure.

Barrett, NY, NY
May 3, 2012 7:06pm

First of all,congratulations for a great website, especially for science-ignorant folks like myself. It's refreshing to read you rwell-presented,non-polemical information.

However, I do have a question about this particular article. The 1683 portrait of Patrick Lyon, the 3rd Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne (1643-1695)and his three sons is presented as problematical, since it is stated that the two younger boys were not even born when the picture was painted. I suggest this is incorrect.

I don't know the origin of the 1692 and 1695 birthdates for Charles and Patrick, repectively, but other sources give Patrick's birthdate as 1669 (13-14 years old in 1683), and Charle's birthdate as 1679 (3-4 years old in 1683). Charles did die young, in 1692, when only 12 or 13 years old, a distressingly common event in this era.

They are shown with their elder brother John (born 1663), who became 4th Earl in 1695. Patrick, the 3rd Earl, and his wife Helen (nee Middleton) do not seem to have had anymore children after 1686. The ages of the three sons does seem to correspond with their apparent ages in the portrait.

Perhaps the 1690s birthdates are for children of John, the 4th Earl?

Sources:

The Scots peerage / edited by Sir James Balfour Paul (Edinburgh : D. Douglas, 1904-1914)

Wikipedia article for "Patrick Lyon, 3rd Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorn"

Roberta Fagan, Lincoln NE
June 6, 2012 7:42am

Just a minor point and completely pedantic - Glamis is in Strathmore, in the county of Angus which is in the Eastern Lowlands of Scotland. It was Pictish territory and never part of Gaeldom. Hence it is wrong to refer to any of the local families as "clans". That is a term that applies only to the Gaelic speaking people of the North and West - the Highlands.

John Symon, Comrie
August 20, 2013 12:04pm

"Clearly this is an example of life imitating legend considering the history of the Whately family in Arkham, MA."
Rob Jase, New Britain, CT
September 20, 2011 12:28pm

Sorry to disagree, but you're thinking of Dunwich and Dunwich County.
It says so in my copy of the New English Version of The Necronomicon. I picked it up during my last visit to Innsmouth, MA. ;)

'"Castle in England". "England's Queen Mother"! Obviously not getting enough donations to be able to do some basic geographical/political research.'
Rob W, UK
September 22, 2011 8:38am

So? Who cares about "royality" and "aristocracy", anyway? Carryovers from the Dark Ages, and totally useless.

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
October 11, 2013 1:35pm

Given the Royal's habit of inbreeding the idea that they've produced a few deformed "monsters" that needed to be kept from view is hardly far-fetched.

Just today a disabled cousin of the Queen on the Lyon-Bowes side of the family who was kept locked away in an asylum her entire life died.

In a time before such facilities existed, locking the baby with the obvious disabilities, be they physical, mental or both would have been the done thing.

Can you imagine the scandal if a member of the aristocracy was revealed to have some misshapen creature for an heir?

Dr Reefer, Margate UK
March 9, 2014 3:54am

"Given the Royal's habit of inbreeding the idea that they've produced a few deformed "monsters" that needed to be kept from view is hardly far-fetched...
...Can you imagine the scandal if a member of the aristocracy was revealed to have some misshapen creature for an heir?"
Dr Reefer, Margate UK
March 09, 2014 3:54am

You're talking about ALL "royality", "aristocracy" and "nobility", as far as I'm concerned! :D

They're downright weird!
But then, what else can I expect from a bunch of parasites carried over from the Dark Ages?

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
March 27, 2014 9:01pm

Most Probably just a legend but a very very good and frightening one.

Matthew from Maine, Maine
October 2, 2014 4:08am

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