Can a family be cursed? It is hard not to harbour such thoughts in light of the revelations surrounding the Queen’s cousin Simon Bowes-Lyon.
Perhaps cursed is too strong a word. But down the decades the Bowes-Lyons have been dogged by scandal and intrigue.
We learnt yesterday that the 19th and 6th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, to give him his full title, is facing prison for sexually assaulting a guest at Glamis Castle, his ancestral home in Scotland which has been the family seat since the 14th century.
His great-great aunt, the Queen Mother, spent her childhood in the castle. Princess Margaret was born there and photographs of the royals adorn the walls.
Yet despite the castle’s magnificence and its owners’ position in the first rank of aristocratic wealth and privilege, behind the fabulous facade lie some murkier stories.
Anyone who has followed the Netflix series The Crown will be familiar with at least one of those dark episodes.
The latest instalment featured the Queen’s ‘hidden cousins’ who were locked up in an asylum and registered as dead after being born with severe learning difficulties. The siblings in question were Katherine and Nerissa Bowes-Lyon — the Queen Mother’s nieces — who were aged 15 and 22 when they were incarcerated in 1941.
Some storylines in The Crown have stretched dramatic licence to the limit, but not this episode.
Despite Glamis Castle’s magnificence and its owners’ position in the first rank of aristocratic wealth and privilege, behind the fabulous facade lie some murkier stories
Cana family be cursed? It is hard not to harbour such thoughts in light of the revelations surrounding the Queen’s cousin Simon Bowes-Lyon
Simon Bowes-Lyon is a great-great nephew of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother through his great-great grandfather Claude
The towering walls of Glamis Castle — which inspired Shakespeare to make it the setting for his tragedy Macbeth — have witnessed many family secrets spilled. But the most recent scandal came last year when playboy Simon Bowes-Lyon, 34, carried out an attack on a 26-year-old woman that lasted more than 20 minutes. At the time, several people were staying at the 14,000-acre estate in rolling countryside near Forfar in Angus.
Bowes-Lyon became Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne after the tragic early death of his father from colon cancer, at the age of 58, in 2016.
The young man had a taste for life in the fast lane and ties to the world of reality TV. Known to his friends as ‘Sam Glamis’, he was pals with the glamorous Chelsea set when he was in London, some of whom — including Hugo Taylor and the fashionista Rosie Fortescue — became ‘stars’ of TV’s Made In Chelsea.
And Sam Glamis was never far from the headlines.
In 2010, he was banned from driving for nine months after being caught doing more than 100mph on a 60mph Scottish road on his motorbike. It was noted, as he was fined £500, that his licence had accumulated 23 penalty points because of various speeding convictions. He was just 24.
More recently, in June last year, he was contacted by Durham police for violating Covid-19 travel restrictions that were then in place, after he had reportedly travelled 200 miles to the family’s second stately home, Holwick Lodge, in Middleton-in-Teesdale near Barnard Castle, and was outed when his butler went to the shops and was spotted doing so.
Like father, like son?
His father Mikey was certainly a larger-than-life character who battled alcoholism, married three times and was once caught consorting with prostitutes from an establishment called the Pleasure Zone.
Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and the Duke of York, later the Queen Mother and George VI, at Glamis in January 1923
The Queen Mother with baby Princess Margaret
The 18th Earl was considered to be ‘head of the Queen’s Scottish Family’ and walked behind Prince Charles and Prince William at the Queen Mother’s funeral. Sam was pictured walking behind Prince William.
Mikey had been commissioned in the Scots Guards after Sandhurst and served in Northern Ireland, then in Hong Kong, where he met his first wife, captain’s daughter Isobel Weatherall. They had three boys, of whom Simon was the eldest.
What was life like for him? A visitor to Glamis Castle when he was growing up there provides a revealing insight.
Simon — or Sam, as he liked to be known — was at the breakfast table with his nanny when his father sat down. ‘She gave me this odd look,’ the visitor recalled. She obviously knew what was coming.
Mikey promptly asked for an ‘orange juice’, into which he poured the contents of a bottle of vodka (about 80 per cent vodka and 20 per cent orange juice, if the visitor’s memory serves). The shadow of alcoholism was a long one.
In 2004, Mikey was discovered with three call girls from the Pleasure Zone massage parlour in Darlington, not far from Holwick Lodge. During a four-day ‘sex marathon’ with £100-a-night prostitutes, he is alleged to have boasted of his royal bloodline while Fleetwood Mac was playing on the stereo.
The women described to a red- top newspaper how, when they arrived at Holwick, they were shown down a long corridor by a butler, who explained that M’lud was just finishing his supper and would be along shortly.
Most embarrassingly, however, it emerged that Mikey had discussed the Queen Mother — who had died two years earlier at the age of 101 —– with the women, remarking that she had never lifted a finger in her life. As one commentator observed at the time: ‘For a man who had maintained a long and loving relationship with his great- aunt, it was a cheap shot.’
A young Simon Bowes-Lyon with his father the 18th Earl of Strathmore
Simon Bowes-Lyon with Mary Dowager Countess of Strathmore
The Queen Mother was, in fact, extremely fond of Mikey. He stayed with her at Windsor and she considered them close. Glamis Castle, after all, was where she grew up; where she was wooed by Bertie, then Duke of York, the future King George VI; and where, as a little girl ‘full of mischief’, she poured ‘icy water’ from the ramparts on arriving guests.
After the unfortunate Pleasure Zone imbroglio, Mikey expressed regret, issuing a statement to say that the event had happened during an ‘extremely difficult phase’ in his life.
Not surprisingly, acrimonious divorce proceedings followed.
Isobel — the first Lady Strathmore — initially refused to relinquish her keys to Glamis Castle and demanded the right to live there until 2016, the year when her youngest son would reach the age of 25.
In the end, though, she accepted a £5 million divorce settlement, which at her insistence included paintings and the couple’s matrimonial bed.
She later sold the bed at auction in London — but not before publicly erasing the ‘Countess of Strathmore’ title from her name badge and writing in ‘Iso’ (short for Isobel) instead.
While he was still married to Iso, her husband had begun an affair with Damaris Stuart-William, a clinical psychologist whom he had met on the Orient Express,
Perhaps cursed is too strong a word. But down the decades the Bowes-Lyons have been dogged by scandal and intrigue
They had a boy together and were married shortly afterwards. She is credited with helping him to overcome his alcohol problems. Nevertheless, the marriage ended three years later in 2008.
In 2012, the Earl went on to marry divorced mother-of-two Karen Baxter, who managed the local ironmonger’s shop in Forfar. She was one of the main beneficiaries of his £40 million estate on his death. The recent history of the Royals has become inextricably linked with Glamis Castle and the Strathmores. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall have visited in more recent times.
Yet who could have predicted that the bespectacled Scottish teenager in an ill-fitting collar and tie who walked behind Prince William at the funeral of the Queen Mother would end up in court, charged with sexual assault.
Dundee Sheriff Court was told how, during the dinner event, the victim noticed how nobody was talking to Bowes-Lyon and so considerately engaged him in conversation.
After she went to bed, he carried on drinking before arriving uninvited at her room at 1.20am and repeatedly pushed her onto a bed, tried to pull up her nightdress, pushed her against a wall and tried to kiss her before she eventually managed to get him to leave.
He admitted a charge of sexual assault and was placed on the sex offenders register. His sentence was deferred for reports.
Speaking outside court, Bowes-Lyon said: ‘I am greatly ashamed of my actions, which have caused such distress to a guest in my home. Clearly I had drunk to excess on the night of the incident.
‘As someone who is only too well aware of the damage that alcohol can cause, I should have known better. I recognise, in any event, that alcohol is no excuse for my behaviour. I did not think I was capable of behaving the way I did but have to face up to it and take responsibility.’
Sheriff Alistair Carmichael ordered Glamis Castle to be assessed for its suitability for a tagging order.
There could be technical problems because of its thick walls and large open spaces.
A technical assessment by the tagging firm G4S has yet to be carried out, but it is seen as improbable that Bowes-Lyon could stay at the castle while wearing a tag.
The system works by triggering an alert if the tagged person strays beyond a specified area, with radio signals used rather than GPS satellite surveillance, which has yet to be given approval for widespread use.
One source close to the case said: ‘It’s highly unlikely that he could stay in a castle and be tagged successfully. A radio transmitter box is set up within the premises and that sends a signal if the person goes outside strict limits beyond certain times.
‘There are big rooms, wide open spaces and usually very thick walls in old buildings like this, so it’s not really suitable — he may have to move out and specify another property.’
Back in the summer, Bowes-Lyon was interviewed by a travel writer over a glass of whisky at the castle.
He was asked about the so-called monster of Glamis, a child of noble birth ‘so wretchedly malformed’, to quote from the travel writer’s article, that ‘he was not allowed to be seen in public, so hideous that he remained hidden in the castle in which he was spawned, so accursed that mention of his very existence was forbidden . . .’
Did he happen to know who this monster of urban legend was, Bowes-Lyon was asked.
‘Look no further. Here I am,’ came the reply.