Although Sir Iain Moncreiffe of that Ilk, perhaps the greatest Scottish herald and geneologist of this century, believed that this family were of Celtic origin and descended from a younger son of the Lamonts, the generally accepted view is that they descend from a French family called de Leon, who came north with Edgar, son of Malcolm II, at the end of the eleventh century to fight against his uncle, Donald Bane, the usurper of the throne. Edgar was triumphant, and de Leon received lands in Perthshire which were later called Glen Lyon.
Roger de Leonne witnessed a charter of Edgar to the Abbey at Dunfermline in 1105. In 1372 Robert II granted to Sir John Lyon, called the White Lyon because of his fair complexion, the thanage of Glamis. Five years later he became Chamberlain of Scotland, and his prominence was such that he was considered fit to marry the king’s daughter, Princess Jean, who brought with her not only illustrious lineage, but also the lands of Tannadice on the River Esk. He was later also granted the barony of Kinghorne. He was killed during a quarrel with Sir James Lindsay of Crawford near Menmuir in Angus. The family have descended in a direct line from the White Lion and Princess Jean to the present day, and their crest alludes to this. His only son, another John, was his successor, and he strengthened the royal ties by marrying a granddaughter of Robert II. Sir John’s son, Patrick, was created Lord Glamis in 1445 and thereafter became a Privy Councillor and Master of the Royal Household. He had earlier discovered that being a courtier was not always an easy life, when he was one of those sent to England as a hostage in 1424 for the ransom of James I. John, the sixth Lord Glamis, was, according to tradition, a quarrelsome man with a quick temper. He married Janet Douglas, granddaughter of the famous Archibald ‘Bell the Cat’, and in the years following his death she suffered terribly for the hatred which James V bore to all of her name. Lady Glamis was accused on trumped-up charges of witchcraft and, despite speaking boldly in her own defence, her doom was preordained. She was burned at the stake on the castle hill at Edinburgh on 3 December 1540. Her death was much lamented, as she was ‘in the prime of her years, of a singular beauty, and suffering all, though a woman, with a man-like courage, all men conceiving that it was not this but the hatred which the King carried to her brothers’. Her young son was also found guilty of conspiracy and sentenced to death, the sentence to be carried out when he had come of age. He was fortunate that he did not do so until after the king’s death, when he was released. The king took possession of Glamis and plundered it.
The eighth Lord Glamis renounced his allegiance to Mary, Queen of Scots and served under the Regents Moray and Lennox. He was made Chancellor of Scotland and Keeper of the Great Seal for life, and his son, the ninth Lord, was captain of the Royal Guard and one of James VI’s Privy Councillors. In 1606 he was created Earl of Kinghorne, Viscount Lyon and Baron Glamis. His son, the second Earl, was a close personal friend of the Marquess of Montrose and was with him when he subscribed to the National Covenant in 1638. He accompanied Montrose on his early campaigns in defence of the Covenant, but despite his great affection for the Marquess, he could not support him when he broke with the Scots Parliament to fight for Charles I. Lyon almost ruined his estates in supporting the Army of the Covenant against his friend.
In 1677 the third Earl of Kinghorne obtained a new patent of nobility, being styled thereafter Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne Viscount Lyon, Baron Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie. He paid off the debts he inherited from his father by skilful management of the estates and was later able to alter and enlarge the Castle of Glamis. John, his son, although a member of the Privy Council, opposed the Treaty of Union of 1707. His son was a Jacobite who fought in the rising of 1715 at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in Tulli-bardine’s regiment. He died defending his regiment’s colours. In 1716 James, the ‘Old Pretender’, son of James VII, was entertained at Glamis. Thirty years later another king’s son, but a much less welcome one, the Duke of Cumberland, stopped at the castle on his march north to Culloden. It is said that after he left the bed which he had used was dismantled.
Among the Jacobite relics now preserved at Glamis are a sword and watch belonging to James VIII, the ‘Old Pretender’, and an intriguing tartan coat worn by him. The youngest daughter of the fourteenth Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne was the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.