Ancient Gowrie Castle is known for its "ghost" and its "secret chamber" - though whether there is something real behind the stories, only the heirs of the family know. This family, the Randolphs, seem hampered by some peculiarity which holds them down generation after generation. When young John Randolph (Lord Lindores) comes of age he is bright and hopeful. But on that very night his father the Earl (Lord Gowrie) awakens him and takes him to a secret chamber for a blood-curdling confrontation which will change his life.
Biographical and other notes
Margaret Oliphant's inspiration for this story was Glamis Castle. The castle had long been famous for being haunted, and several old legends of Glamis Castle appeared in print in the early nineteenth century. Then in 1827 and 1830 stories were published mentioning a secret chamber and describing the legend of wicked Earl Beardie (a historical figure) who, while playing cards in Glamis Castle, by his evil actions brought forth the Devil who then caused Earl Beardie and the whole room to disappear into the castle walls. Also in 1830 a letter by Sir Walter Scott, in his book Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, described a visit to Glamis during which he was told of a secret chamber, and that its location was known only to the earl, his heir, and the factor. After the book came out this information was repeated frequently in the press; and in later years there was speculation about what horrifying secrets the chamber might hold. Many ghostly legends and gossip published in the nineteenth century about Glamis Castle are still repeated today.
In The Secret Chamber Margaret Oliphant combines Scott’s account of the secret chamber with her own version of the wicked earl – the ghost of an ancient ancestor maintaining a malevolent hold over each generation of descendants. It was written for the 1876 Christmas issue of Blackwood’s Magazine and was a great success. It has been anthologised several times.
Mrs Oliphant later reused this story in the 1882 novel The Wizard's Son. See the Related Story Line entry below.