The Monster of Glamis (allegedly born October 21, 1821), sometimes referred to as the Horror of Glamis, was allegedly a deformed member of the Bowes-Lyon family, kept in seclusion in Glamis Castle, Scotland.
It is difficult to determine whether the ‘Monster’ is factual or not. Much of the available information comes from James Wentworth Day’s The Queen Mother’s Family Story, published in 1967.
The alleged “monster” of Glamis was Thomas Bowes-Lyon, rightful Lord Glamis, first child of George Bowes-Lyon and Charlotte Grimstead, later the Dowager Lady Glamis. They were the great-great-grandparents of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who became Queen Consort in 1936. Thomas was recorded in Robert Douglas’s Peerage of Scotland as “born and died, October 21, 1821”.
The legend of his survival appears to have started in local villages as the result of an account by the midwife (whose name was not recorded). The deformed child was alleged to have been in rude health when the midwife left, causing suspicion when his death was announced a day or two later. The child Thomas has no gravestone, a matter which tends to support the initial rumours. (Thomas had been baptised as a Christian on birth.)
He was said to have been nursed through infancy in secret and later confined in one of Glamis Castle’s many (and several are known) secret rooms. This part of the story of Thomas did not become current until the 1960s, when family accounts were first published.
His chamber, which is recounted as measuring 10 ft by 15 ft, was entered from the chapel. There is no known account of how the room was accessible, but presumably it would have been through a removable panel or some such as there is no visible entrance from the chapel. In 1969, the Queen Mother’s biographer Michael Thornton visited Glamis and was told by the sixteenth Earl that the entrance had been bricked up after Thomas’s death.
The details of Thomas’s appearance — “His chest an enormous barrel, hairy as a doormat, his head ran straight into his shoulders and his arms and legs were toylike” — come from James Wentworth Day’s The Queen Mother’s Family Story. They are attributed to “a member of the Queen Mother’s family”. Wentworth-Day’s account is the first in which the information was gathered direct from members of the Queen mother’s family, even though they were understandably reluctant to be named. It is suspected that on several occasions, the Queen Mother herself was the source. In Peter Underwood’s A-Z of British Ghosts he is described as “an enormous flabby egg”. There is said to be a monarchical painting in Glamis, where, in the background, an armoured figure with disproportionately large arms and legs can be seen. This figure, supposedly, is the “Monster”.
Thomas was fed daily through an iron grille in his cell door by one trusted servant. It is not believed that Thomas ever left this cell, but some associated rumours claim that he was occasionally exercised by being taken for a walk, like a dog, on the battlements on moonless nights. The castle has a section named Mad Earl’s Walk to this day.
Wentworth-Day describes a tale whereby a workman carrying out renovation at Glamis in the early 1900s found the secret passage, and explored it, and became “alarmed” at what he found there. The Earl and his lawyer were summoned from London, and they stopped the work and interrogated the man. The result of this was that he was bribed into silence and emigration (to Australia) with several hundred thousand pounds of hush money, an enormous sum for those days.
Also from Wentworth-Day comes the story of the Queen Mother’s mother, the Countess of Strathmore, trying to get the Glamis factor Andrew Ralston, whom the Earl had confided in, to tell her the truth about the family secret. He told her “it is fortunate you do not know the truth for, if you did, you would never spend another night beneath this roof”. Only the Earl and his heir are ever fully in the know, told the secret – as they should know they were not the rightful inheritor of the title – on his 21st birthday. Once the “monster” had died, the heir was given a choice as to whether he wanted to know or not, there no longer being a reason why he must be told and to save him distress.
It is claimed that the workman event happened in the 1870s. This would indicate that Thomas was in his fifties at the time. The circumstances and date of his death are unknown. Thomas’s mother, Charlotte Grimstead, died in 1881. In another event, guests at the castle, upon hearing rumours of the monster, decided to hang a piece of rag from every window in the castle that they could access. Upon surveying their work from the outside, they found a number of windows ragless, and therefore termed them secret rooms. Unfortunately, the Earl returned and, discovering their experiment, threw them out.
Mentions in fiction
- In the story Vengeance for a Lonely Man (London, Headline, 1992.) by Simon Green, the plot and some events seems to be inspired heavily by the tale of The Monster and to a lesser extent Glamis Castle itself.
- The short story The Horror at Chilton Castle by Joseph Payne Brennan also has striking similarities to the tale of the Monster.
- In the comic book series The Invisibles, the character of the Moonchild is said to be the Monster of Glamis.
- in Haunted by Kelley Armstrong, the story of the Monster of Glamis is linked to the demon Dantalian, trapped within the walls of Glamis Castle.
- in the novel “Death at Glamis Castle” by Robin Paige the Monster of Glamis tale is stirred up during a murder investigation.
- In the 1940s, French surrealist author Maurice Sandoz wrote “The Maze,” a novel clearly based on the legend of the Glamis monster. In this story, however, the “monster” is a kindly, long-lived Scottish nobleman who had the misfortune to be born in the shape of a toad (or frog). His existence is kept secret, and he manages his affairs and property through a series of nephews. In 1953, the novel was filmed by director William Cameron Menzies as The Maze.
- In M. J. Trow’s Lestrade and the Gift of the Prince, “John”, Earl Beardie, is the bastard son of Queen Victoria and her ghillie John Brown.