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13 Mar 2020

Lady Blanche Drummond

Written by Kirstin Ingram
A woman holding an omega-shaped sign, which reads ‘Love, the National Trust for Scotland’, stands in front of a stone archway with wooden doors and castle walls in the background.
Kirstin Ingram, Visitor Services Assistant
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re publishing a series of blog posts written by our volunteers and staff, highlighting both historical female characters and their influences at their properties.

In the fourth of these posts, Kirstin Ingram, Visitor Services Assistant at both Castle Fraser and Haddo House, tells us about Lady Blanche Drummond of Castle Fraser.

Much mystery surrounds the image of Lady Blanche Drummond at Castle Fraser, and some of the stories may be elaborations or tall tales. Daughter of George Drummond, 14th Earl of Perth, Blanche married Frederick Mackenzie Fraser in 1871, but within a couple of years of their marriage she succumbed to fever and died in Bournemouth.

Although Blanche may not have been married to Frederick (or lived at Castle Fraser) for very long, her influence and images can be seen in multiple places throughout the castle. A case in the Governess’s Room displays some of her personal items, such as a gold sewing box filled with thread, buttons, ribbons and crochet hooks. We also have photographs and miniatures, a calling card, a necklace and hair pins that she can be seen wearing in one of the painted miniatures.

An oil portrait of a woman with auburn hair, dressed in black, turned to the left and wearing gold earrings, a medallion necklace and black hat, sits in a gold frame adorned with gold curtains. It hangs on a brown and white patterned wallpaper.
An oil painting of Lady Blanche Drummond, which hangs in Castle Fraser

The most important image of Blanche at Castle Fraser is an oil painting which hangs in the Victorian sitting room. In this half-length portrait with her head slightly turned to the side, she wears a black dress with white collar, dark-blue ribbon and hat, and an oval medallion. Although it’s a beautiful painting, it’s actually the curtains that hang over it that attract the most attention.

During the Victorian era, it was not uncommon to hang curtains over portraits of the deceased as a sign of mourning. However, this may not be the case with Blanche’s portrait. Anecdotes tell of Theodora, Frederick’s second wife, being extremely jealous of Blanche. If she was enjoying the room to herself she could close the curtains over Blanche’s portrait so she wouldn’t have to be reminded of Frederick’s first and possibly favourite wife; if Frederick joined her in the room, then the curtains would have to stay open. This story, and the many images of Blanche throughout the house, tell of Frederick’s rumoured obsession with Blanche.

Two black hair pins with a flower design, displayed against a grey background
Lady Blanche Drummond’s hair pins

Many of the black and white photographs of Blanche show her long hair flowing loose, and miniature paintings highlight the brilliance of her golden auburn hair. So, it’s not surprising that Frederick kept a lock of her hair, as was Victorian custom when someone passed away, as a token of remembrance and affection. However, Frederick was unable to part with Blanche’s beautiful golden hair, and instead of taking a small curl of her hair, he shaved her completely bald. Her hair is still in the collections at Castle Fraser, and has retained its rich auburn colour.

A sepia-coloured photograph of a woman with long hair in a half-up do, wearing a white dress, is displayed in an ornate wooden photo frame.
A photograph of a young Lady Blanche Drummond

As Blanche died a young and tragic death, it’s no surprise that stories of her haunting Castle Fraser have appeared through the years. It’s said that you can see her walking around the castle and grounds dressed in a long black gown. Although there’s much unknown about Blanche, she’s still considered one of the key women who lived at Castle Fraser, and one of the staff’s favourite characters to talk about.