Glamis Castle History


In 1372, King Robert II granted the thaneage of Glamis to Sir John Lyon for services to the crown. The origins of the Castle are obscure and little is known of the site before the end of the 14th century, although it is acknowledged that King Malcolm II died on the site of Glamis in 1034. The play ‘Macbeth’ was written for King James VI and I after his accession to the throne of England, when he brought Scottish courtiers and Scottish customs to the English court.  In 1603 Patrick, 9th Lord Glamis accompanied the King to England and three years later the King elevated him to the Earl of Kinghorne. It is possible that Shakespeare heard stories of Glamis which he used as a fit setting for the grim tragedy of Macbeth. In addition, the story of Macbeth being thane of Glamis could have been adopted by Shakespeare from the history of Hector Boece, the translation of which by Bellenden was the popular and acknowledged history of Scotland in the time of Shakespeare. The slaying of King Duncan by Macbeth in fact took place at Elgin, not Glamis.


Glamis was believed to be a royal hunting lodge at the time of its first grant, but the building of the Castle, as we know it today, was begun by the 2nd Sir John Lyon around 1400, who built the east wing, now housing the Royal apartments. Between 1435 and 1459, the 2nd Lord Glamis began work on building an enormous detached L-Tower of three floors, all of which were vaulted. The castle was seized by King James V and he held Court there from 1537 to 1542, during which time it was remodelled into a palace, whereby the older hall-house became the Royal apartments, which was connected to the halls in the newer L- Tower by means of a double flight staircase. In 1603 the 9th Lord Glamis (later to become the 1st Earl of Kinghorne) began the transformation of the L-Tower into a Renaissance Palace, marked by two further floors of chambers and galleries, a magnificent stair tower and impressive roof-line. H Gordon Slade states that ‘French influence is clearly to be seen, but the work – Huntly [previously known as Castle Lyon] in 1602 and Glamis in 1606 – is a little old fashioned by French fashions of the day. It is tempting to conclude that a member of the Bell family [the great Aberdeen dynasty of castle masons] brought back his own memory of France.’[1]


Patrick, 3rd Earl, began the transformation of the medieval castle into a symmetrical and castellated mansion in the architectural style of baronial baroque and the West wing and NE wing (Chapel) were built around 1679-1683.  He also set the Castle in a complex of formal gardens and laid out the main avenue at 45 degrees to the Castle. John, 9th Earl, pulled down the west wing and added new kitchens and the Billiard Room in 1773 and new service courts beyond the east wing. He began remodelling the policies pulling down the garden walls in front of the Castle and moving, in 1775, the gates to the periphery of the policies. Although his son, John, 10th Earl, lived largely on his estates in County Durham, he continued his father’s work at Glamis and re-roofed the east wing in 1797 and rebuilt the west wing in 1798-1801.


Claude, the 13th Earl modernised the Castle and gas was introduced in 1865, along with running water and then in 1866, central heating. Gas was replaced by electricity in 1929. The 13th Earl also built a 5-acre walled garden in 1866 to provide fruit, vegetables and flowers for the Castle and the Chapel re-opened in the same year. He refaced the servants’ courts beyond the east wing in 1891-1897 and created the Dutch garden in 1893. This return to a formal style was continued with the creation by The Queen Mother's parents of the Italian Garden in 1910. This was the last major alteration and completes the modern-day appearance of the Castle. Timothy, the 16th Earl, opened the Castle to visitors in 1950.


[1] Slade, H. Gordon, Glamis Castle 1372-1626: From Medieval Hunting Lodge to Feudal castle and Renaissance Palace, p.234 (Chateau Gaillard, XVI, 1994)