“Monsters cannot be announced. One cannot say: ‘Here are our monsters,’ without immediately turning the monsters into pets” ― Jacques Derrida

American ghosts…freaking amateurs!

One of the few guaranteed ways to have yourself decades of paranormal experiences is to get yourself named Earl.  Not the guy who works at the local auto shop.  I mean the Old Scottish kind.  You know, like Macbeth (okay technically he was a Thane, but same difference in the grand scheme of things).  There are certainly lots of fringe benefits to being an earl.  You get to hobnob with the nobility, oppress the peasants, live in a castle, and surround yourself with quality wenches or pageboys (if you swing that way).  Now, these all sound like wonderful perks, but there is a downside.  The king might be a freak, and you’re bound by oath to follow his lead; The peasants have this nasty habit of revolting and dabbling in retributional beheading; The wenches get needy after a while; and make no mistake, your castle will be stalked by something supernatural and decidedly unhappy.  Them’s the breaks.  For instance, take Glamis Castle in Angus, Scotland, the ancestral home of the Strathmore Earls since the 15th Century.  Glamis Castle has long been suspected of hosting a monster.

And what better place to accommodate some preternatural grotesque as a castle considered the epitome of Scottish baronial architectural style?  Shakespeare’s Macbeth had the lofty title of Thane of Glamis.  Scottish King Malcom II (d.1034) was murdered there.  The Glamis Castle that we see today was in large part completed by the 15th Century, replete with 16 foot thick walls, but has largely been uninhabited since the 18th Century, since its dark, oppressive, drafty, and rather melancholy.  Oh, and did I mention, there is a monster that lurks in its dark corners and stalks its battlements.

It seems like being elevated to the aristocracy would offset the nastier points of being burdened with a horrific family secret and rubbing shoulders with a monstrosity, and in fact most of us would say, “So what?  I’m an earl”.  Despite not being an earl, I say this to myself every morning.  It doesn’t make it any more true, but it has a certain uplifting effect.  Or maybe it’s the cocktail.  I like to hedge my bets.  In point of fact, that would likely be your last thought as you were being slowly digested by a paranormal apex predator.

So what is it exactly that haunts the dark and dank halls of Glamis Castle?  Well, certainly the Earls of Strathmore, but while they may have had snooty attitudes as befit such an old noble lineage, odds are we wouldn’t classify them as monsters.  Yet people have been muttering about the “Monster of Glamis” since the 11th Century.

Down the years a story persists that Macbeth, attaining Glamis, murdered Duncan in the vaulted King’s Chamber. Glamis is rife with legend, much of it, I am told, apocryphal. The tale of the secret room wherein dwells perpetually the “monster of Glamis” (whether the same individual or the creature of succeeding generations is never divulged), credited with being a deformed giant, has so many variations, denials, and affirmations that it must be accepted or discredited as one sees fit, as are so many legends stemming from antiquity. Glamis in itself is a grandiloquent gesture in champagne-colored, smooth-dressed stone. Seen from a long avenue of approach up a gradient from the town of Forfar, the pile is mightily towered, turreted, pinnacled, and buttressed. The interiors are richly furnished, with red, gold, strong yellows, and silver-gilt galloon bandings on curtains, and damask coverings predominant, to liven white-washed stone barrel vaulted apartments (Reynolds, 1955, p341-342).

Glamis Castle was the royal residence of the King of Scotland until 1372, when Sir John Lyon, a favorite of King Robert II was made Lord High Chamberlin of Scotland, fell in love with the King’s daughter Princess Jean, and was granted the Thanedom of Glamis on his wedding day, and it has been the seat of the Lyon family ever since (his descendant Patrick Lyon was granted the title Earl of Kinghorne, a title created in the Peerage of Scotland in 1606; the title was updated in 1643 to the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne).  Any respectable royal residence has to have two things.  A dungeon and a crypt.  Glamis does not disappoint, and its particular venues have been proposed as the source of the Monster of Glamis.

A flight of steps to the right of the entrance leads down to the dungeons, vaults, and the old well (now filled up) which supplied the inmates with water in times of siege; while another stair to the left leads up to the Retainers’ Hall (or Crypt as it is now called), low, and fifty feet in length, with walls and arched roof entirely composed of stone. Of the seven windows, which are small, four or five are cut out of the thickness of the walls, and make recesses just large enough to form small rooms, which might have been used as sleeping chambers in old days. Lay figures, clad in complete armour, stand in the recesses, which, especially in the dusk, give an eerie effect to this part of the Castle. It is said that a ghostly man in armour walks this floor at night—possibly the original of one of those armoured figures standing silently in the Crypt year after year, who may, perchance, have ended his life in the dungeon that lies exactly underneath. A square stone, now practically immovable, formed the covering of the hole by which prisoners were lowered into the dungeon beneath” (Malan, 1900, p100).

You can’t really swing  a slacán cruicéid in Scotland without hitting an armored ghost, so it is unlikely that it would have achieved the notoriety of the reputedly fearsome Monster of Glamis, but what would a medieval castle be without a few ghosts to spare?  Reportedly, only the Earls of Strathmore know the secret of the Monster of Glamis, and it’s passed on from one earl to the next earl, and none has ever divulged it.  Scholars have suggested that the rumors of foul things afoot at Glamis date back to the 14th century, when Sir John Lyon brought a horrible curse down on the succeeding generations of Strathmores, this despite the fact that the blood soaked semi-history of Macbeth and King Malcom II could no doubt generate phantoms enough on their own.

Although Glamis is very old and grim, it may well be doubted if anything quite so ancient as the times of Macbeth and Malcolm the Second remain to it; and although those half-legendary, half-historic events are sufficiently tragical and have been sublimated by Shakespeare into the finest stage tragedy extant, they have no relation to the stories of unnamed horrors that reside in some undiscovered corner of the hoary pile. Those undesirable items date only from the coming of the Lyon family, in 1371. It was in this year that Sir John Lyon, Baron Fortevist, was given the lordship by Robert the Second, King of Scotland, whose daughter he had married. Among other honours conferred upon him was that of Great Chamberlain of Scotland, but he ended in a duel in 1383. It was this Sir John who brought with him to Glamis a kind of family curse, the famed “Lion Cup,” a hereditary possession whose ownership is said to have caused many tragedies in the family. The plain man at this point naturally inquires why this accursed goblet was never thrown away, or at least sold, or given to some unsuspecting beneficiary against whom the Lyon family nursed a grudge, after the old Scots sort (Harper, 1907, p177).

Some suspicion has fallen upon the nefarious dark arts practiced by Lady Janet, the beautiful widow of the sixth earl of Strathmore, who along with her sons and several relatives were indicted for attempting to end the life of James V through sorcery.  A lot of torture and burning at the stake ensued.  After this, a lot of bad luck seems to have followed the Strathmores.  The third earl died of wounds received at the Battle of Sheriffmuir at the height of the Jacobite rebellion.  The fourth earl had four sons, and all four succeeded to the Earl title, presumably because everybody kept dropping dead.  The sixth earl died in a duel over a card game in 1728, but it is with the sixth Earl of Strathmore that we start getting increasingly disturbing reports of a monster lurking about Glamis Castle, but let us not be premature, as some scholars maintain that the evil extant at Glamis originates with the 1st Earl of Strathmore, referred to as Earl Patie, who was considered to be something of a monster by the locals, even by the relatively lax moral standards of 1454.  One commentary I reviewed suggested his character, “exhibited the harsher features of feudalism”.  Earl Patie was a notorious gambler, and would play cards with anyone from the King to the chambermaid or the “veriest scullion”, and for any stakes, great or small, even on the Sabbath.  One dark and stormy Sunday night in November, Earl Patie hit up everyone in the castle to play cards with him, from the steward to the chaplain, and with no partner forthcoming (presumably in fear for their immortal souls), Earl Patie declared that he was prepared to play with the devil himself if nobody joined him.  The Devil, as the devil is wont to do, obliged, proposing rather high stakes as you might imagine.  It is said the Devil played with Earl Patie every Sabbath night for the next five years.  Satan is a professional gambler, so we can assume the outcome of their games was inauspicious for poor Earl Patie, although it is said, one can still occasionally hear the Devil and Earl Patie quarreling over hands to this day.

Most folks have long associated the Monster of Glamis with a secret chamber in Glamis castle.  The key to the secret chamber and the secret held within has always only been known by three individuals – the current Earl of Strathmore, his heir, and the steward of Glamis Castle.  People have searched for the secret room in Glamis Castle for the past few centuries without success.

A well-known antiquary furnishes the following local legend connected with the old stronghold, to account for the sights and noises heard about it. He states that the tradition is that in olden time, during one of the constant feuds between the Lindsays and the Ogilvies, a number of the latter clan, flying from their enemies, came to Glamis Castle and begged hospitality of the owner. He did not like to deny them the shelter of his castle walls, and therefore admitted them, but, on the plea of hiding them, so it is averred, he secured them all in a large out-of-the-way chamber—that afterwards known as the haunted one—and there left them to starve. Their bones lie there till this day, according to the common tradition, their bodies never having been removed. It has been suggested that it was the sight of these which so startled the late Lord Strathmore on entering the room, and which caused him, subsequently, to have it walled up. The scene is believed to have been particularly horrifying, some of the unfortunate captives having died apparently in the act of gnawing the flesh from their arms (Ingram, 1897, p99).

Various visitors to Glamis Castle over the centuries reported a whole host of apparitions, strange noises, and various disturbing encounters.

According to one account “a lady, very well known in London society, an artistic and social celebrity, went to stay at Glamis Castle for the first time. She was allotted very handsome apartments just on the point of junction between the new buildings—perhaps a hundred or two hundred years old—and the very ancient part of the castle. The rooms were handsomely furnished; no grim tapestry swung to and fro, all was smooth, easy, and modern, and the guest retired to bed without a thought of the mysteries of Glamis. In the morning she appeared at the breakfast table cheerful and self-possessed, and, to the inquiry how she had slept, replied, “Well, thanks, very well, up to four o’clock in the morning. But your Scottish carpenters seem to come to work very early. I suppose they are putting up their scaffolding quickly, though, for they are quiet now.” Her remarks were followed by a dead silence, and, to her surprise, she noticed that the faces of the family party were very pale. But, she was asked, as she valued the friendship of all there, never to speak on that subject again, there had been no carpenters at Glamis for months past. The lady, it seems, had not the remotest idea that the hammering she had heard was connected with any story, and had no notion of there being some mystery connected with the noise until enlightened on the matter at the breakfast table (Dyer, 1895, p102-103).

But again, your garden variety poltergeist does not really account for all the weirdness associated with Glamis Castle.  Obviously, in order to have a proper monster, the back story has to be a little more impressive.  A card game with the devil, some ghost carpenters, and some undead knight tromping about is pretty much par for the course in your average Scottish castle.  Doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.  Making an impression requires lurking around for a few centuries, locked in a secret room with some sort of hideous deformity.  And of course, you need a secret chamber.  Hell, I need a secret chamber.  What would I do with it?  I don’t like to talk about it.  Go away, it’s a secret.  My fetishes aside, what do we know about the Monster of Glamis?Well, it turns out someone bribed a housekeeper to spill the beans.

Amongst the adherents of the family is an old housekeeper, who has gradually formed her story from hints let fall and shrewd guesses. From her comes the following: Almost two hundred years ago, the wife of the then Earl of Strathmore had a son and heir. There were great rejoicings at his birth, but in a short time these ceased and mourning took their place, for the son who was born was a monster without a brain. In vain the best doctors were consulted, and the father and mother, in deepest despair, offered a large reward to anyone who could help them; it was useless. After a time a second son was born, and since the eldest could not be the earl, the second was made heir. When his parents died, the new earl had his brother put in one of the dungeons of the castle, which was fitted up for him so that he was well out of the way. From that time till now he has lived in the dungeon, and this is what the firstborn sees on his twenty-first birthday, when the story of his house is told him. The real earl still lives, or exists, he cannot be said to really live, as he merely vegetates, and he may continue to exist, as such brainless monsters may, for an indefinite period, as now he has lived almost two hundred years; but he will never come into his rights as the Earl of Strathmore (Daniels, 1903, p1365-1366).

One Victorian visitor reported an attempt to find the Monster of Glamis, which ended in a perplexing struggle.

It is a matter of common knowledge that there is a secret chamber at Glamis, a chamber which enshrines a mystery known only to a few members of the Strathmore family, and three or four generations ago a lady, staying as a visitor at Glamis, vowed she would solve the riddle. Her first difficulty was to locate the actual room, but one afternoon, when all the rest of the household were going out, she feigned a headache and thus contrived to be left completely alone. Her next move was to go from room to room, putting a handkerchief in the window of each, and having done this she went outside and walked round the castle to see whether any room had evaded her search. Very soon she observed a window which had no handkerchief in it, so she hastened indoors again, thinking that her quest was about to be rewarded. But try as she might she could not find the missing room; and while she was searching the other guests returned to the house, along with them being the then Lord Strathmore. He was fiercely incensed on learning what had been going forward, and that night shrieks were heard in a long corridor in the castle. The guests ran out of their rooms to find out what was wrong, and in the dim light they perceived a curious creature with an inhuman head, wrestling with an aged manservant who eventually contrived to carry them away. There the story ends, but as remarked before, it bears a semblance of truth, the probability being that some scion of the Glamis castle family was mad or hideously deformed, and was accordingly incarcerated in a room to which access was difficult and secret. And no doubt endless other ghost-stories rest on some basis of this sort, for, while the diverting practice of showing freaks in public is a comparatively new one, freaks themselves are among the world’s most ancient institutions, perhaps almost as ancient as spectres and visions (Spence, 1920, p202-203).

The Monster of Glamis was a popular Victorian topic of discussion and there’s a fair amount of literature floating around on the subject, including an account of the personal experiences of Walter Scott in his Letters on Witchcraft and Demonology, where he details his time at Glamis Castle.  The primary lesson here is that if you want to get deeply involved in the paranormal, your best bet is to become an Earl of Strathmore.  Failing this, any old Earldom will do.  Beggars can’t be choosers.  And while you may think your family is screwy, you should try being one of these folks with multiple generations of degenerate depravity with unhealthy doses of human unkindness.  It’s like they’re just begging to be haunted.  Here in America, we’ve only been around for 300 odd years, so our ghosts tend to be a little more egalitarian.  Anybody can encounter a monster, from tinker to tailor to candlestick maker, but our ghosts are amateurs.  They haven’t been tormenting the same families for half a century.  That’s democracy for you, baby.  Ghosts and monsters leave us a little room for eternal mystery in our lives.  If every time a preternatural critter appeared it made some clear statement regarding the reasons for its existence, the justice it was seeking, or the origin of its species, we’d have nothing to talk about around the campfire.  Don’t try to exorcise them.  Thank them for the mental exercise.  Of course, they may not have much choice in the matter, for as Kelley Armstrong said, “There must be a rule in the ghost handbook—if in danger of evaporating, make sure you’re in the middle of a dire pronouncement “.  If you have any questions, I’ll be in my secret chamber.

Daniels, Cora Linn (Morrison), Mrs., 1852-. Encyclopedia of Superstitions, Folklore, And the Occult Sciences of the World: a Comprehensive Library of Human Belief And Practice In the Mysteries of Life … Chicago: J. H. Yewdale & sons co., 1903.
Dyer, T. F. Thiselton 1848-. Strange Pages From Family Papers. London: S. Low, Marston & company limited, 1895.
Harper, Charles George, 1863-1943. Haunted Houses: Tales of the Supernatural. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1907.
Ingram, John Henry, 1842-1916. The Haunted Homes and Family Traditions of Great Britain. London: Gibbings & co., ltd, 1897.
Malan, A. H. More Famous Homes of Great Britain and Their Stories. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900.
Reynolds, James, 1891-. Sovereign Britain. New York: Putnam, 1955.
Spence, Lewis, 1874-1955. An Encyclopædia of Occultism: a Compendium of Information On the Occult Sciences, Occult Personalities, Psychic Science, Magic, Demonology, Spiritism And Mysticism. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1920.