Since times immemorial, one room upstairs seemed to host particularly impressive apparitions. It had remained locked for centuries and no one dared venture there.
However, one night, the cries and rattles had reached such violence that the Lord Strathmore of the time had decided to see for himself. He had gone up to the threshold of the haunted room, and, gathering all his courage, had used a key found in his office to open the door. He had taken but one step in before falling backwards. As soon as he had regained his senses, he had rushed to lock the door, turning the key twice in the keyhole, and had refused to answer any questions on the matter.
The key to the mystery resides in events transpired centuries ago, back when terrible clan wars tore Scotland apart. None were as violent as the one between the Ogilvie and the Lindsay clans. During one if these battles, the Ogilvies had retreated to the Castle of Glamis and had asked the lord of the premises to shelter them. Said lord did not want to risk offending them by refusing shelter but was also reticent to incur the wrath of the Lindsay clan by hosting their enemies. Henceforth, he had politely welcomed the guests, taken them to a nice room, promised them super, and double locked the door, never to be opened again, leaving his guests to die of starvation.
It was the spectacle of those starved cadavers that had had such an effect on the criminal’s descendant upon entering the Haunted Room. Through the flickering lights of the torches held by his friends, he had glimpsed the gaping mouths, the empty eyes and the bodies contorted in atrocious agony. Since then, he had removed the bodies and held a proper burial for the poor souls. But the room remained haunted. As such, the housekeeper leading the tour vehemently refused to open the door, her master having forbidden it.
In the 16th century, a woman had been accused of witchcraft. Her name was Lady Janet Douglas, and she was the window of a certain Lord Glamis. King Jacques V, reigning monarch of Scotland at the time, wanted to acquire the lands of the so-called witch.
Janet had been arrested along with her 16 years old son. Under torture, her servants and even her adolescent son had confirmed the accusations: yes, their mistress had practiced witchcraft…She had then been sentenced to burn at the stake on Edinburgh’s public square. The vast crowd had been struck with pity for this woman, so young, so beautiful and who had withstood her horrifying trial with such dignity. The son, also condemned to death, found his sentence commuted: he was instead to remain imprisoned in the Castle of Edinburgh.
Later, the traitor who had denounced Lady Janet Douglas confessed on his deathbed that he had entirely made up the accusations and that the woman was innocent. The son was hence freed and his lands and titles restored, along with the castle of Glamis. The abomination had been repaired, but the executioners that had built Lady Janet’s gallows continued centuries later to rebuild the same gallow under the victim’s family’s window as a grim warning.
All while continuing with the others the castle’s visit, Lord Strathmore’s cousin addressed the housekeeper:
“Pray tell, Miss Ridgway, is there a secret room left that you have not yet mentioned? I must know, for it is my ancestors that built this castle!”
He was young and charming, and as much as Miss Ridgway was a perfect governess, she was also a woman. She looked at her master’s cousin carefully before whispering: “There is no secret room”.
All felt she was lying.
The story had unfolded under the “rule” of the twelfth count, father of the current one and his predecessor. While in London, he had asked for repairs to be made on some of the older parts of the castle. The worker labouring there that day had planted his pickaxe deep into the wall. What he thought was a robust wall immediately crumbled and revealed a cavity unknown to all. He enlarged the aperture and, grabbing his lamp, ventured into the hole. There he discovered a hallway, which he followed until he reached a heavy, prison-like iron-clad door. Suddenly terrified by his audacity, he ran back and immediately informed his boss of the strange discovery he had made. The factor, in charge of the castle’s administration, learnt of the incident. He telegraphed Lord Strathmore in London, who in turn returned to the castle, summoned the worker and interrogated him for hours upon his findings. He had then offered the man a great sum of money, on the condition that he and his family immediately and irreversibly immigrated to Australia.
Lord Strathmore’s cousin remarked that the factor that had warned the lord of the incident had not changed: it was still the loyal Ralston, familiar figure to the guests of Glamis.
Those who had known this Lord Strathmore claimed that he had greatly changed after uncovering this secret; he had become quiet and melancholic. Until his death, the only person who had dared bring up this secret was Bishop Brechin. The holy man, a close family friend, worried about the lord’s suffering. One day, no longer able to contain himself, he offered his help. Lord Strathmore was visibly touched. It is said that it was with a shaking voice and tears in his eyes that he answered: “In my unfortunate position, none can help me.”
The unfortunate man kept avoiding the old part of the castle for the rest of his life. He had moved his children, along with all his servants, to the more modern part of the estate. No one would have wanted to spend the night in the old part anyways. Starting with the one who “knew”, the faithful factor Ralston. He was known to be a courageous man, yet all knew nothing in the world would have made him stay a single night in the castle.
One winter night, as he was dining with the father and mother of the current Lord Strathmore, snow started falling. Lord Strathmore suggested he spend the night at the castle, adding that a room was already set in the more modern wing of the castle. Ralston would have none of it. He paid every gardener, every stable hand, to clear up a way through the snow to his own house.
“What frightful secret could possibly cause such extreme reactions?”
“Let us go back to our dear Ralston. Our hostess, Lady Strathmore, confessed that one day she herself had begged him to tell her the truth. Ralston gravely looked at her and, shaking his head, had answered: “Lady Strathmore, you are blessed to not know the secret, for if you were to but glimpse it, you would never again be the same.””
Little by little, the guests’ curiosity was replaced with emotions muddled with doubt. The clergyman then in turn addressed the group. He spent all his free time studying the history of sites, pouring over archives and registers and feeling his time had come, he started:
“Long ago, one of the ladies Strathmore was expecting her first child. A gypsy presented herself at the estate begging for alms. Scotland at the time was the choice home of seers, fortune-tellers and sorcerers. They were usually welcomed and received money.
However, on this particular day, maybe nervous due to her pregnancy, Lady Strathmore chased the gypsy away. The woman turned to the mistress of the house and cursed the child she was bearing. She declared he would be a monster so hideous he would horrify even his parents. A few weeks later, a young boy was born, hence making him the heir of Strathmore. He was indeed a monster: half man half animal. He was so horribly deformed it was impossible to show him to anyone.
The distraught parents did not know what to do. Getting rid of him was out of the question. But would he really have to one day inherit all the lands and titles? Unthinkable! Instead, they chose to conceal him from the world, and they locked him into a vast chamber.
Truth be told, they hoped the child would die young. However, he lived decade after decade, and eventually he outlived his parents. Many generations of Lord Strathmore took care of him, never letting him out. He was a giant, with a disproportionately large torso covered in fur. His head almost disappeared in his shoulders and his legs were very long and yet very scrawny. His intelligence and emotions were a mystery to all. He ate, he slept, and he almost never left the room to which he was confined.
“This monster,” murmured Lord Strathmore’s cousin in a strangled voice, “he was a distant relative of mine, and he would be nearly eighty if he is still alive…”
“Of course he is still alive!” Clamoured the guests; deeply impressed with the story they had just heard.
A woman amongst the guests took pity on the monster. He was living, sleeping, eating, breathing in the same castle in which they enjoyed such lovely vacations…Who knew, maybe he was aware that he was the legitimate Count Strathmore and owner of the estate? And was it his fault if his appearance was so terrifying? This being, this man, surely had reactions, emotions…All shuddered at the thought of the innocent man’s dreadful condition. “I must find out,” declared the cousin, “after all, even if I belong to the cadet branch of the family, this monster is my relative!”
They absolutely had to find the chamber. He suggested they take advantage of Lord Strathmore’s absence and explore once again the castle, living no stone unturned, and attaching a cloth to each window so that they might find the window of the secret chamber: it would be the one remained unmarked.
Every single person present enthusiastically approved his plan. They split into teams, each undertaking the exploration of a wing of the castle. This merry group of dandies and gentlewomen rushed in all directions, exploring attics and caves, hustling the distraught servants.
In the middle of the afternoon, they met outside in front of the main door, certain to have done their work and neglected no window. And indeed, when they looked up, all manners of cloth fluttered in the light spring breeze. Handkerchiefs, tea towels, pillowcases and even linens hung from all visible openings.
Overexcited, the guests worked their way around the castle, peering at every turret, every skylight. “Look over there, on the old tower! Look at this window, there is no cloth!” All looked up. Indeed, all the way up the old square tower that had once belonged to the fortress, there was a narrow, dark window from which no linen hung. The guests circled the dungeon. “There! At the same height, another window, and another, and another with no cloth!” In the superior levels of the old tower existed and entire apartment invisible from the exterior and inaccessible from the interior due to its invisible entrance. The legitimate heir of the family resided not into some bottomless pit but with the comfort his rank commanded.
“Let’s go up there,” feverishly suggested Lord Strathmore’s cousin, “let’s go at once!”
They were already heading for the door of the old tower, when an imperative voice stopped them in their tracks: “Stop this instant!”
They all spun around: it was Lord Strathmore, unexpectedly returned from his expedition. He needed not express his emotions; his expression alone bore sufficient anger and indignation. The guests suddenly felt perfectly stupid and silently dispersed. Diner was presided by Lord and Lady Strathmore, who, feeling better, had rejoined the party. The master and mistress of the house kept a distant attitude in which unexpressed reproach mingled with sadness. The next morning, all the guests had vacated the premises under varying pretences.
A few months later, Lady Strathmore gave birth to what would be their last child, a little girl named Elizabeth.
In 1936, the English monarchy underwent one of the biggest crisis of its history. The ruling king, Edward VIII, torn between his duty as a sovereign and his love for Wallis Simpson, an American national twice divorced, finally abdicated so that he could marry his beloved. This resolution came after months of prevarication that had divided the public opinion and greatly agitated his people.
His brother, who was never supposed to reign, succeeded him. He became George VI, and his wife the queen Elizabeth. The very same Elizabeth born to the Strathmore family at the beginning of the 20th century, a little after the tragic weekend.
The gypsy who had cursed Lady Strathmore had added that her monstrous son would live until a woman of the house rose to the throne of England…Which had happened! Hence the prophecy had come to be, and the curse been undone.
Since then, none have heard of the monster of Glamis.