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History of Glamis Castle

The origins of Glamis Castle go back to ancient times. From current ruins, it is believed that there was a religious centre on or near the site of Saint Fergus Kirk in Glamis, situated a mile to the south of the present castle, dating back to the 600sBC. The first building erected on the site of today’s castle was a royal hunting lodge, owned by the Scottish Crown, and probably comprising of a fortified house with a wall surrounding a small courtyard.

It is here that King Malcolm II of Alba was mysteriously assassinated in 1034. In William Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ (1603 – 1606), the eponymous character resides at Glamis Castle itself, however the historical King Macbeth had no actual connection to the castle. Historically speaking, even the dates are wrong. It is true that amongst the oldest part of the Castle, there is one particular chamber called ‘Duncan’s Hall’ in honour of Shakespeare’s play, as well as King Duncan I, Malcolm’s grandson and successor, however the current castle dates back to the 14th century, and the supposed murder of the King in the play takes place in the 11th century. It is certainly possible that King Duncan visited Glamis Castle, however the fact remains that that part of the Castle was built nearly 400 years after Duncan’s time.

Shakespearean lore aside, it was actually in 1372 that King Robert II of Scotland, known as Robert the Bruce, granted the Barony of Glamis to Sir John Lyon of Forteviot for services rendered to the Crown. Four years later, Sir John married King Robert’s daughter, the Princess Joanna. Shortly after this, he was appointed Chamberlain of Scotland, the most important office to the Crown. Their son, Sir John Lyon of Glamis, began working on transforming the old royal hunting lodge into Glamis Castle as it is at present. He started in 1404 by building what was known as the Palace House, which today forms the core of the eastern wing of the Castle. John’s son, Patrick, became the 1st Lord of Glamis by order of King James I. In 1435, he started building the Castle’s great tower, which was completed in 1484, after his death. At the time, this was not physically connected to the Palace House which stood on its eastern side. It was only a century later that the great tower was expanded to bridge the gap and unify the existing structures into one single building.

As a young man, King James V was kidnapped by his stepfather, Archibald Douglas, the 6th Earl of Angus. When James V gained power in 1528, he took his revenge on his stepfather’s family. Archibald Douglas’s sister, Janet Douglas, was at the time the widow of the 6th Lord of Glamis, John Lyon. James V accused Janet of treason for bringing supporters of the Earl of Angus to Edinburgh, she was also accused of plotting to poison the King, of poisoning her husband, Lord Glamis, who had died in 1528, and eventually he even brought charges of witchcraft against her. Janet’s reputation was impeccable, and finding something against her proved very difficult. It is said that eventually people were induced to give false testimony against her. In the end, he had her imprisoned and then, in 1537, had her burned at the stake. Meanwhile, King James V seized Glamis Castle for the Crown and frequently made use of it. Janet’s son, the 7th Lord Glamis, was also condemned to death by James V, however he was later released when the King died. In 1543, Glamis Castle was returned to him in a ransacked state. By 1562, when Mary Queen of Scots and her entourage visited Glamis, the East Wing was dominated by the main tower, which had been added in 1435, and the Castle was enclosed within a fortified court.

In 1606, Patrick Lyon, 9th Lord Glamis, was created Earl of Kinghorne. During the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, soldiers were garrisoned at Glamis. While the 8th Lord Glamis had been one of the richest nobles in Scotland, the 2nd Earl of Kinghorne lost most of his family fortune backing the Covenanters during the religious wars of the mid-1600s. In 1670, Patrick Lyon, 3rd Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, returned to the Castle and found it uninhabitable. He re-established the fortunes of the Lyon family and undertook extensive rebuilding work at Glamis Castle. He built the west wing, which helped provide a balance to the original east wing. He also realigned the estate so that the avenue approached the castle at the angle which we know today, as well as being responsible for turning the old great hall into a fine drawing room. Restorations took place until 1689.

The 5th Earl of Kinghorne supported the 1715 Jacobite uprising and was killed at the Battle of Sheriffmuir. A month later, King James VIII stayed at Glamis Castle with his supporters. In 1767, John the 9th Earl married Mary Eleanor Bowes, who was heiress to a coal-mining fortune, and went on to remodel the castle further. John and Mary’s son, the 10th Earl, took the family name of Bowes Lyon and established a new family crest incorporating bows and lions. The 14th Earl, Claude Bowes Lyon, had ten children with his wife Cecilia. The ninth child was Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, who grew up to marry Prince Albert, Duke of York and the younger son of King George V in 1923. She spent much of her childhood at Glamis Castle, which served as a military hospital during the First World War. The couple’s second child, Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, was born in Glamis Castle in 1930.

King George V died in 1936 and later on Prince Albert became King George VI. Elizabeth Bowes Lyon became Queen Elizabeth, and on George VI’s death in 1953, their older daughter became Queen Elizabeth II and Elizabeth Bowes Lyon became known as the Queen Mother.

Since 1987, an illustration of Glamis Castle has featured on the reverse side of the ten-pound note issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland. Glamis Castle is currently the home of Simon Bowes-Lyon, 19th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, who succeeded to the earldom in 2016.