Glamis Castle is recognized as the family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, but women have played a major role in the history of Glamis. Ranging from queens and princesses to countesses and businesswomen, botanists, composers, novelists, poets, philanthropists, servants and charity workers, the women of Glamis have remarkable stories to tell and this exhibition recognizes the valuable contributions these women have made to history from the late 14th century to the present.

The idea for the exhibition resulted from various archive enquiries which revealed new information on lesser known women of Glamis, including the heroine nursemaid, Annie Jackson, who saved the life of the 13th Earl’s grandson, Hubert during the shipwreck of the S.S. Sidon off the Bay of Biscay in 1885;  Lilian Bowes Lyon, cousin to HM The Queen Mother, author/poet, dubbed ‘Queen of the Slums’, who sponsored two Jewish boys in the Second World War; and the opera composer, Lady Mildred Bowes Lyon, great-aunt of HM The Queen.

Born at Glamis Castle on 6th October 1868, Lady Mildred Marion Bowes Lyon was the eighth of eleven children of the 13th Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She married Augustus Jessup, an American citizen from Philadelphia, at Glamis Castle in 1890. Mildred participated in frequent concerts at Glamis with her musically accomplished family, including her sister Maud, who was a gifted violinist. Encouraged by her pianist mother, Frances Dora, Mildred’s musical talents were destined to gain public recognition.

Augustus purchased Lenzburg Castle in Switzerland in 1893, which he lavishly restored and refurbished for his wife and where they lived with their two sons, Alfred and Alexander. In view of her musical talent, Augustus had a music salon built at Lenzburg Castle overlooking the rose garden with a large glass door, and it is likely there that Lady Mildred composed her opera. Entitled Ethelinda, it was performed under the nom de plume ‘M. Marion’ in Florence in front of HRH Princess Beatrice in April 1894, who praised it highly. Performed by an orchestra of 70 with 80 singers, 12 choirboys and 12 dancers, Ethelinda was a significant production of the times. The identity of the composer was not disclosed until the second night, when in response to enthusiastic calls from the audience, Lady Mildred appeared before the curtain and bowed her acknowledgement, inducing gasps from the audience. It is lamentable that she died in 1897 at the age of just 28 of unknown causes (generally assumed to be tuberculosis) before she could develop her composition skills further and three years before her niece, Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon (HM The Queen Mother) was born.

In association with Classical Musicians Scotland, Glamis Castle presented excerpts from Ethelinda in the Drawing Room in April 2019 to mark the 125th Anniversary of its first performance in Florence in 1894.

Also featured in the exhibition are Princess Johanna, great-granddaughter of King Robert the Bruce, who married Sir John Lyon in 1376; the ill-fated Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, who was burnt at the stake in 1537 following false accusations of treason against King James V; Mary, Queen of Scots, who visited Glamis in 1562; the wealthy and highly educated 18th century heiress, Mary Eleanor Bowes, who paved the way for the rights of women in her landmark divorce case; HM The Queen Mother, HM The Queen and HRH Princess Margaret, who was born at Glamis in 1930; as well as various Countesses, who played important roles in castle and estate affairs, including the well-loved Dowager Countess of Strathmore.

Exhibits comprise portraits, photographs, original documents, clothing and shoes, including  letters from ‘Lilibet’ (Princess Elizabeth) to her grandparents, the 14th Earl and Countess of Strathmore. HM The Queen has kindly given her permission for these letters to be displayed to the public for the first time in the Women of Glamis exhibition.  The exhibition will be open daily from 28 March 2020 until 31 October 2020 and will be included in regular admission ticket prices.

New exhibits for 2021

One of the new exhibits is a magnificent reproduction of the 18th century style bridal gown worn by Mary Eleanor Bowes when she married John Lyon, the 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne in 1767. At the time she was the richest heiress in Great Britain after she inherited an enormous fortune from her father George Bowes, MP, a prominent coal magnate in County Durham. This Rococo style dress has been specially created for the exhibition by the talented and skilled textile designer, Jerri Charlton. It helps to tell a story by the way it has been designed and the dress is sure to delight and inspire visitors.

A stipulation of Mary Eleanor’s marriage contract, as laid down by her father in his will, was that any future husbands should take the name of Bowes, so the 9th Earl relinquished his illustrious surname ‘Lyon’ for ‘Bowes’.  She was splendidly robed in a silver and white wedding dress glinting with diamonds, worth around £3000. Her mother provided a diamond-studded stomacher – a stiffened bodice to fit over the front of the dress – worth £10,000, as well as further diamonds worth £7,000. It is rumoured that Mary Eleanor was buried in her original wedding dress in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey in 1800 and at today’s value the original diamond-encrusted gown would be worth around £2.5 million. The stomacher of the dress is embroidered with flora and fauna to reflect Mary Eleanor’s interest in botany and embellished with Swarovski crystals to represent the original diamonds.

Alongside this unique creation, Lord Airlie has kindly agreed to lend the beautifully embroidered original mid-18th century dress made of brocaded silk (with later alterations) which was reputedly worn by Lady Margaret Ogilvy when she was presented at court to Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Palace of Holyrood House in 1745. Lady Ogilvy and her husband, David Ogilvy, 6th Earl of Airlie, were leading Jacobites who were active in the 1745 Rising. Lady Ogilvy was a spectator at the Battle of Culloden, and along with other women was later taken prisoner by the Duke of Cumberland. She was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, where she was condemned to death as a traitor. She managed a daring escape by swapping clothes with a washerwoman and eventually journeyed to France to join her husband. The 6th Earl of Airlie was the grandson of Lady Grizell Lyon, daughter of Patrick, 3rd Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, who married David Ogilvy, 3rd Earl of Airlie. The Strathmore family also had Jacobite sympathies and John, 5th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne was killed at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. The Old Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s father, visited Glamis in January 1716.

The Dowager Countess of Strathmore and Lady Elizabeth Leeming have also kindly agreed to allow a remarkable collection of sketchbooks by Martha Helen Davidson to be displayed for the first time at Glamis Castle. Martha was the first cousin of John Davidson of Ridley Hall, Northumberland, who married Susan Hussey Elizabeth Jessup, the daughter of Lady Anna Maria Jessup (nee Bowes) and granddaughter of John, 9th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and Mary Eleanor Bowes.  Thus, Susan Jessup was a first cousin of John Bowes, founder of the Bowes Museum. Mary, Dowager Countess of Strathmore became interested in Martha Helen Davidson after finding miniatures and sketchbooks in the writing table of her mother-in-law, Mrs Michael Bowes Lyon at the White House, Glamis.  This led to an interesting series of discoveries, one of the most significant due to a reference to Martha Helen Davidson in Nancy Ridley’s book A Northumbrian at Large, which led to the acquisition of two further sketchbooks by Martha, which had previously been saved from a skip!

Martha’s sketchbooks comprise beautifully and intricately drawn sketches of mainly buildings and landscapes, dated 1810-1833. These contain places of interest in England (e.g. Ridley Hall, Gibside, Streatlam Castle) as well as in Scotland (e.g. Glamis Castle, Edinburgh), France, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Hungary and the Tyrol. Martha’s artistic talent is clear and her sketches serve as a fascinating contemporary insight into early nineteenth century life.

In addition, Glamis is delighted to display the replica official engagement outfit of Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon (HM The Queen Mother), created and kindly loaned by volunteers from The Arts Society for Polesden Lacey, National Trust. The wedding took place on 26th April 1923 and the newly married Duke and Duchess of York (later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, Queen Consort) spent part of their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey, as well as Glamis Castle.

The exhibition will be open from 6 May until 31 October 2021 and will be included in regular admission ticket prices.