The home secretary, the castle and a royal baby

Glamis Castle was the childhood home of the Queen Mother.'''Picture Neil Hanna
Glamis Castle was the childhood home of the Queen Mother.'''Picture Neil Hanna
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Sajid Javid’s first trip to Scotland as Home Secretary took him to Glamis Castle for a visit that prompted tales of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the last time a politician of his status came to the stronghold.

As the host at the recent meeting of Angus Tories, the Earl of Strathmore told Javid and local activists the story of how a previous home secretary came to Glamis for the birth of Princess Margaret in order to check that she was a genuine royal baby.

The Queen Mother with the infant Princess Margaret. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock

The Queen Mother with the infant Princess Margaret. Picture: Rex/Shutterstock

It was in August 1930 that the then Labour home secretary John Robert Clynes came to Angus because the late Queen Mother had returned to her childhood home of Glamis Castle to give birth to her second child.

In those days, it was a convention that the home secretary should be present at a Royal birth in order to verify the new born was not a changeling. The tradition had its origins in suspicions that the son of James II/VII and Mary Modena had been substituted back in the 17th century.

Strathmore told how Clynes became stranded in Angus because Princess Margaret arrived two weeks late.

The episode was related in the 1962 memoirs of Mabel Countess of Airlie, who put up Clynes and an anxious Home Office official named Harry Boyd at her nearby family seat of Airlie Castle.

A telephone line was installed between the two castles to let them know when the baby was coming. As a precaution, a motor cycle and despatch rider were installed at Glamis in case the wire broke.

Clynes, the son of an Oldham labourer and a famous trade unionist, was described as a shy man, who became enraptured by the Angus countryside.

“I have seen things up here which I shall remember as long as I live,” he told his hostess. Finally, on the evening of 21 August, the telephone at Airlie Castle rang. The baby was due in an hour’s time. Boyd panicked and rushed into the Countess of Airlie’s bedroom wearing a blue kimono.

In contrast, Clynes was calm and stood by the door in his coat and Homburg hat. Pointing at the sky he said: “In such a night did Dido from the walls of Carthage...”. But before he could finish his recitation from The Merchant Of Venice, Boyd had shoved him into the waiting car. They made it to Glamis with half an hour to spare and were able to accomplish their unusual mission.

Before leaving Angus on the following day’s night train, Clynes took the trouble to go downstairs and thank the servants for making his visit so pleasant. They were drinking the health of the new Princess.