“If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret,”
said Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore, “you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.”
That awful secret was once the talk of Europe. From perhaps the 1840s until 1905, the Earl’s ancestral seat at Glamis Castle, in the Scottish
lowlands, was home to a “mystery of mysteries”—an enigma that involved a
hidden room, a secret passage, solemn initiations, scandal, and shadowy
figures glimpsed by night on castle battlements.
The conundrum engaged two generations of high society until, soon after
1900, the secret itself was lost. One version of the story holds that it
was so terrible that the 13th Earl’s heir flatly refused to have it
revealed to him. Yet the mystery of Glamis (pronounced “Glarms”)
remains, kept alive by its association with royalty (the heir was
grandfather to Elizabeth II) and by the fact that at least some members
of the Bowes-Lyon family insisted it was real.
This celebrated historical mystery seems to be largely forgotten now, but as
late as the 1970s it was chilling new generations as a staple of
numerous ghost books. Come to think of it, paperback compilations of old
ghost stories seem to have gone the way of the dodo as well, but those
crumbly Armada books used to frighten me when I was young. Anyway, you
can read the unexpurgated story over at Past Imperfect.
[This is a fully revised, expanded and updated account of a mystery first discussed here, featuring the fruits of much subsequent research.]