Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Earliest Legends of Glamis

Mention the name Glamis to followers of Scottish ghost stories or folklore and they will probably conjure up memories of the 'Monster of Glamis', the hidden secret of the owners of the castle, which has been popularised in umpteen books (of varying credibility) from the mid-19th century onwards.  The story, with its hints of scandalous conspiracy and melodrama, is absolutely the product of its times: the Victorians loved nothing more than romantic and gothic intrigue.  But there is more to Glamis that this tale and the boast that it is one of Scotland's most haunted sites. 
   The history of the 'Monster' will be dealt with in future entries, but in the meantime it's worth asking whether there is anything in the actual site or location of Glamis that somehow made it a place where strange things could thrive.  Glamis may have been an important, if not an unusual place long before Glamis Castle was built.  The earliest reputed resident at Glamis was the 8th century Irish saint Fergus.  He came to live in a cave beside the Dean Water here and 'consecrated a tabernacle to the God of Jacob'.  When he died his head was severed in Celtic pagan fashion and carried away to a monastery at Scone.  St Fergus seems to have been a contemporary of the equally elusive St Donald of nearby Glen Ogilvy in the Sidlaw Hills.
   A small group of Class II Pictish symbol stones testify to the importance of Glamis as an early Christian site.  A few centuries after St Fergus the Scottish kings are said to have maintained a hunting lodge here.  The wooded hill just south of the village is still called Hunter's Hill, though its alternative name of Fierypans (or Fierytops) may recall a time when great ritual fires once blazed on its summit.
   Glamis Castle itself was originally planned to be built on Hunter's Hill.  But every morning the builders arrived they found the foundation stones scattered and broken.  A nightly watch was set and out of the darkness one evening came this mysterious pronouncement:

                                    Build not on this enchanted spot,
                                    where man hath neither part nor lot,
                                    but build it down in yonder bog,
                                    and it will neither shake nor shog.

   The castle was accordingly shifted to its present site, away from the domain of the supernatural beings on the hill.

Centaur from Glamis Pictish stone.

   Several early records state that King Malcolm II (1004-1034) met his death at Glamis, but they disagree about the manner of his death.  The Chronicle of Melrose vaguely speaks of 'a shameful death...underfoot', after the monarch was defeated by enemies in battle.  Another source insists that Malcolm was murdered by 'parricides', the his main opponent - termed the 'Aggressor' - was also slain.  Local opinion once stated that the king fought his last battle on Hunter's Hill, beside the King's Well.  Other sources hint at a dynastic dispute.  The chronicler John of Fordun said that King Malcolm was waylaid at midnight by followers of nobles he had executed.  The bandits were slaughtered, but Malcolm died from a haemorrhage three days later.

   There is a chamber in Glamis Castle named King Malcolm's Room, which is reputed to stand on the site of the hunting lodge where he perished.  A usefully indicative and indelible bloodstain marked the floor of the room until a squeamish owner of the castle boarded it over.  Andrew of Wyntoun, writing in 1406, writes that the king was assassinated because he had 'rewyist [ravished] a fair May of the land there lyand by'.  But, like other authorities, he gives the impression that he did not know the exact cause of Malcolm's death.

   In the manse garden at Glamis is King Malcolm's Stone, a Pictish slab predating the king by several centuries.  On the cross side are carved scenes which were once believed to be symbolic of the murder.  An unidentified beast, resembling a lion, and a centaur signified 'the shocking barbarity of the crime'.  Two fighting men were 'forming the bloody conspiracy'.  A fish on the other side represented Forfar Loch, 'in which, by missing their way, the assassins were drowned', apparently after falling through thin ice at night. 
   These traditions were recorded in 1783 by the minister of Glamis.  He also noted St Orland's Stone nearby at Cossans.  On each side of this monolith are striking water monsters.  One side shows four horsemen, which the minister said were 'officers of justice pursuing the killers'.  There is also a boat containing six people and a bull being attacked by a serpent.  Excavations in the 19th century revealed five crouched burials at the base of this stone.
   John Bellenden, translating Hector Boece's 16th century Latin version, continues the story: ;Nocht long eftir, they wer drawn out of the loch with creparis, and their quarteris hung up in sindry townis of Scotland in punition of their crueltie'.
   Malcolm's burial site is also a matter of dispute.  Fordun says he was buried on Iona, though a Pictish stone on Hunter's Hill, once surrounded by a cairn, was named King Malcolm's Grave.  The Welsh traveller Thomas Pennant, who visited Glamis in 1789, heard that when the castle was modified in 1686 a great round tower was built in an angle to retain a spiral staircase down which the royal corpse was thrown.  But who would have wanted to keep that sinister element in their house?
   The story of the king's death is too convoluted and distant to disentangle.  Was there the suggestion of a pagan sacrificial element to his end and in the ritual drowning of his killers.  Perhaps not, but the waters around Glamis are sinister and lethal.  The Dean Water, connecting Forfar Loch and Glamis, was known to be dowie or 'doleful', a characteristic acquired from its demand for human sacrifice:

                                    Dowie, dowie, dowie Dean,
                                    ilka seven years ye get eene [one].

   An alternative version runs:

                                     The Dowie Dean, its runs its leane [alone]
                                     and every seven years it gets eene.

   A third rhyme has the Dean taking one life and leaving one life every seven years.  Salt was once cast into the burn to placate its angry spirits.

   Macbeth is another king associated with the castle, though the link appears to be entirely unhistorical.  There are a string of Macbeth traditions running along the northern side of the Sidlaws.  But the ghost of Macbeth, once resident at Glamis, has not been glimpsed for many years.

King Malcolm's Stone


No comments:

Post a Comment