Women of Glamis Who Helped Shape History

The impact of the inspirational women whose strength of character built the foundations of Glamis Castle and continue to support its place in history can never be underestimated.

Considered one of the most important and beautiful castles in Scotland, Glamis has been home to extraordinary women through the ages. A recent exhibition, Women of Glamis, collected some of their stories for the first time. Research by castle archivist Ingrid Thomson reveals their place in the history of the Highlands. Queens, princesses, countesses, poets, novelists, philanthropists, servants, and charity workers are all associated with the castle.

It starts with Princess Johanna Stewart, the daughter of King Robert II and the great granddaughter of Robert the Bruce. She married John Lyon in 1376 and, as the King’s daughter, was a prominent figure who would shape the beginnings of the dynasty at Glamis Castle.

Isobel Ogilvy, the widow of Partick, First Lord Glamis, managed the rebuild of the Great Tower and palace house of Glamis Castle. Mary Eleanor Bowes was a wealthy heiress who married John Lyon, the 9th Earl of Strathmore and lived at Glamis. After his death, her second marriage led to her becoming the first divorced woman to have her properties restored after a landmark Chancery decision, the first step on the long road of protecting women’s rights. Her story inspired a book by William Makepeace Thackery. Her own writings are in the castle archives, including The Siege of Jerusalem, a poetical drama.

Mary Eleanor Bowes

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. Encouraged by her pianist mother, Mildred was a musical protégé from an early age. She later composed an opera, Ethelinda, that was performed in Florence in front of an appreciative Princess Beatrice in 1894.

During the First World War Glamis Castle was converted to an auxiliary hospital, affiliated to the Dundee War Hospital. The great table was removed from the dining room and replaced by 16 beds. Nurses were employed to care for soldiers and women took over many jobs previously held by male employees who had gone to war.

Soldiers convalescing in the dining room at Glamis Castle during the First World War

Lilian Bowes-Lyon was first cousin to Lady Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, later the Queen Mother. She travelled, spoke several languages and between the World Wars wrote two novels and produced acclaimed poems. During the Second World War she worked in the bombed-out streets of East London and assisted in the evacuation of local children to the countryside.

Mary Pamela McCorquodale, the Dowager Countess of Strathmore, was a driving force in converting the medieval castle into a family home after her husband became the 17th Earl in 1972. She led work to improve the visitors’ centre and restaurant as the castle welcomed more tourists. Her leadership opened up the estate to opportunities and shows how the women of Glamis continue to be a part of castle life.