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The story of Janet Douglas, Lady Glamis, is a tragic tale of vengeance against an innocent young woman, meted out by the king of the time, James V, and achieved by accusing her on a baseless charge of witchcraft and poisoning.
Janet was the daughter of George Douglas, Master of Angus (heir, at that time, to the Earldom of Angus) and Elizabeth Drummond, daughter of the first Lord Drummond, and was born around 1505. She married John Lyon, sixth Lord Glamis, and they had a son, who they also called John.
When Lyon died in 1528, the young widowed Janet went on to wed Walter Campbell of Skipness. Janet was also the sister of Archibald Douglas, sixth Earl of Angus, and it was this family relationship that was to be her downfall.
So why did James hates the Douglases? James V was just a child when his father, James IV, was slain with the flower of Scottish nobility at the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513. James IV’s widow, Margaret Tudor, went on to marry the Douglas Earl of Angus and, as stepfather to the young king, Angus virtually controlled the kingdom by having possession of the king.
When James V came of age, he escaped from Falkland Palace and Angus’s clutches and asserted his power. Angus fled Scotland after being besieged in Tantallon Castle in 1528, but James went on to pursue vengeance against his family. Janet was widowed the same year that her brother fled Scotland; James had forfeited the Earl of Angus, seizing his lands and property.
Janet was summoned on a charge of communicating with her exiled brother, but she failed to appear and was then forfeited herself. She and her family were besieged in Glamis Castle and then seized and brought to Edinburgh.
Although a women of impeccable character, she was accused of trying to poison James and also of witchcraft, although it took torturing Janet’s servants and friends to find any evidence against her on these charges (she may well have been guilty on the original charge).
She was imprisoned with her husband Walter Campbell and her son John in a dark dungeon of Edinburgh Castle. Although nearly blind from her jail, Janet made an eloquent speech in her defence at her trial, but it was to no avail and she was convicted, along with her son. Campbell managed to escape from the prison but he was killed, falling from the castle rock.
Unfortunately nothing could save Janet and on 17 July 1537, on what is now the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle, she was burned alive; her son was forced to watch. She was described as ‘in the prime of her years, of a singular beauty, and suffering through all, though a woman, with a man-like courage’.
John, her son, was also sentenced to death but, fortunately for him, he was not yet of an age when he could be executed; that was reserved for when he reached eighteen.
In the meantime, James V took all his lands and houses, including Glamis Castle, and plundered them. Luckily for John, James died in 1542 before he could be executed, and John was subsequently pardoned and became seventh Lord Glamis and recovered his property.
Glamis Castle is said to be haunted by the ghost of Janet Douglas, an apparition known as the Grey Lady, and reputedly seen on many occasions in the chapel of the old stronghold.
One occasion was reported in 1716 during the visit of James, the Old Pretender, during the Jacobite Rising, when her ghost was seen praying at one of the pews. This James was, of course, the direct descendant of the man who had sent her to her death.
Also see further ghost stories about Glamis Castle
© Martin Coventry 2017
text from Scotland's Wicked Witches