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Exploring Royal Scotland: Glamis Castle

Photo: Kristin Contino

As The Queen continues her traditional summer break at Balmoral, we’re taking a look at another Scottish castle with ties to the Royal Family. Glamis Castle was the childhood home of the Queen Mother and the birthplace of Princess Margaret, and it also served as inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Chief Reporter Kristin Contino visited the castle this summer in her quest to uncover more about Scotland’s royal history.

Set in the lush Angus countryside, Glamis Castle is the ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The castle itself dates back to 1400, but the area where the property now sits has been witness to hundreds of years of royal history prior to its construction. In 1034, King Malcolm II was murdered on the site of the present castle, and as the decades passed Glamis saw many turbulent events unfold, including the rule of Macbeth which would later inspire William Shakespeare’s famous play.

In 1537, Glamis was forfeited to the Crown and occupied by James V until his death in 1542. On the castle tour, you’ll see the room where Mary, Queen of Scots stayed in 1562. Of course, most castles in Scotland have a tie to Mary, and it would be surprising to find a place where she hadn’t lodged at one point or another.

A panoramic view of Glamis Castle and its grounds. Photo: Kristin Contino

Fast forward to a few hundred years later, and you’d find the 14th Earl and his wife Countess Cecilia living at Glamis, along with their daughter, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future queen consort to King George VI. Lady Elizabeth lived an idyllic childhood at Glamis and eventually helped with the war effort when the castle became a war hospital during WWII. (Read more about the Queen Mother’s life in our piece about her early years).

In 1926, Lady Elizabeth, now the Duchess of York, became the mother to a little girl also named Elizabeth – the girl who would become our future Queen. In 1930, the Duchess returned to her family home of Glamis Castle to give birth to Princess Margaret. The two young princesses would visit Glamis for summer holidays, and you can view some of the charming letters they wrote their grandparents in the exhibition room at the castle.

The castle is still very much a part of the Bowes-Lyon family’s legacy, and the current Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne – Simon Bowes-Lyon, a cousin of The Queen – resides on the estate.

Touring the castle

Exterior of Glamis Castle. Photo: Kristin Contino

Glamis provides an excellent free guided tour with your admission, which explores the history of the rooms and the Bowes-Lyon family. The juxtaposition of the very cold, medieval-feeling areas of the castle with the more Downton Abbey-style rooms was interesting, and the elaborately decorated dining room covered in family portraits was perhaps my favourite part of the castle.

You’ll find carved lions everywhere to honour the family name, except for one place: the chapel. This small room is said to be haunted by the ghost of the Grey Lady, otherwise known as Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis. Although she was clearly innocent, she was burnt at the stake in 1537 after being accused of witchcraft.

The Grey Lady is far from the only ghost story you’ll hear about Glamis, as this is the most haunted castle in all of Scotland. The most outrageous one includes a secret room (you could actually see the window from outside) that holds the ghost of a 15th century Earl who got trapped into playing cards with the Devil. Legend says that after being warned to stop playing cards on the Sabbath, the Earl said he would play cards as long as he wanted and would play with the Devil himself. After a mysterious man showed up and offered to join the Earl’s game, he was never seen again.

Other than spooky tales, you’ll hear about the Queen Mother’s life at the castle and even see the tiny chairs that the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret used during their childhood visits.

The Italian Garden at Glamis Castle. Photo: Kristin Contino

The Queen Mother can be felt all around the castle and its grounds, with plaques commemorating her dedication of bridges and trees. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore the beautiful grounds after your tour inside (at least if the Scottish weather cooperates). Unlike the interior of the castle, photos are welcomed here, so definitely get your camera ready to capture some of the gorgeous flowers, fountains, towering trees, and streams.

A walk in the woods will lead you to the Macbeth Trail and some delightful wooden carvings depicting scenes from the play, and you’ll even spot some Highland cows grazing. Floral enthusiasts won’t want to miss the Italian Garden, laid out by the Queen Mother’s mum, Countess Cecilia, or the equally lovely Walled Garden. There’s also a monument to Princess Margaret in a peaceful corner of the grounds surrounded by trees.

A memorial to Princess Margaret located on the grounds of the castle where she was born. Photo: Kristin Contino

Before heading home, visit the castle’s excellent cafe and gift shop. The shop is filled with some well-priced vintage royal items as well as the typical Scottish souvenirs, and I picked up a framed print of the castle and a vintage Queen Mum mug as reminders of a perfect day in Angus.

For more information on Glamis Castle or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

About author

Kristin is Chief Reporter for Royal Central and has been following the British royal family for more than 30 years. Kristin has appeared in UK and U.S. media outlets discussing the British royals including BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, Sky News, the Associated Press, TIME, The Washington Post, and many others.