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Holyrood Palace

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Title: Holyrood Palace  
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Subject: Edinburgh Castle, Timeline of Edinburgh history, Agnes Sampson, John Mylne (1611–1667), Court music in Scotland
Collection: Category a Listed Buildings in Edinburgh, Gardens in Edinburgh, Historic House Museums in Edinburgh, History of Edinburgh, Houses Completed in 1679, Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes, Listed Palaces in Scotland, Renaissance Architecture in Scotland, Reportedly Haunted Locations in Edinburgh, Royal Mile, Royal Residences in Scotland, Scheduled Ancient Monuments in Scotland, Scottish Parliamentary Locations and Buildings, Visitor Attractions in Edinburgh, William Bruce Buildings
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Holyrood Palace

Palace of Holyroodhouse
Palace front with the abbey ruins and 16th-century north-west tower on the left. The rest dates from the 17th century. The forecourt fountain on the far right is a Victorian addition.
Holyrood Palace is located in Edinburgh
Holyrood Palace
Location in Edinburgh, Scotland
General information
Location Royal Mile, Edinburgh, Scotland

The Palace of Holyroodhouse ( or [1]), commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. Located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.

Queen Elizabeth spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and ceremonies. The 16th century Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments, used for official and state entertaining, are open to the public throughout the year, except when members of the Royal Family are in residence.


  • Architecture 1
  • Interior 2
    • 17th-century apartments 2.1
    • North-west tower 2.2
  • Gardens and grounds 3
    • Big Royal Dig 3.1
  • History 4
    • 12th-15th centuries 4.1
    • 16th century 4.2
    • 17th century 4.3
    • 18th century 4.4
    • 19th century 4.5
    • 20th century 4.6
    • 21st century 4.7
  • Ghost 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
    • Bibliography 7.1
  • External links 8
  • Gallery 9


The quadrangle designed by Sir William Bruce, drawn in the 1850s.[2]
The palace as it stands today was built between 1671-1678 in a quadrangle layout, approximately 230 feet (70 m) from north to south and 230 feet (70 m) from east to west, with the exception of the 16th-century north-west tower built by James V. Sir William Bruce designed the 3-storey plus attic Baroque palace for Charles II upon the restoration of the monarchy. The principal entrance is located on the west front in a recessed 2-storey range that links the 16th-century north-west tower with a matching south-west tower with three ball-finialled, conical bell-cast roofs. The entry gateway is framed by massive coupled Roman Doric columns, with the carved Royal Arms of Scotland and an octagonal cupola with clock-face above.

The north and south fronts have symmetrical 3-storey facades that rise behind to far left and right of 2-storey range with regular arrangement of bays. General repairs were completed by the architect Robert Reid between 1824-1834 that included the partial rebuilding of the south-west corner tower and refacing of the entire south front in ashlar to match that of the east.[3] The east front has 17 pilastered bays with superimposed columns at each floor. The ruins of the abbey church connect to the palace on the north-east corner. For the internal quadrangle, Bruce designed a colonaded piazza of nine arches on the north, south and east facades superimposed with columns from the three classical orders to indicate the importance of the three main floors. The plain Doric order is used for the services at ground floor, the Ionic order is used for the state apartments on the first floor while the elaborate Corinthian order is used for the royal apartments on the second floor.[4]

Architectural historian Dan Cruickshank selected the palace as one of his eight choices for the 2002 BBC book The Story of Britain's Best Buildings.[5]


The rooms open to the public include the 17th-century former King's apartments and Great Gallery, and the 16th-century apartments in the north-west tower.

17th-century apartments

The landing of the Great Stair

The Great Stair in the south-west corner of the quadrangle has a 17th-century Baroque ceiling featuring plaster angels holding the Honours of Scotland. The Italian paintings on the walls are fragments of frescoes painted circa 1550 by Lattanzio Gambara, illustrating scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses. They were bought by Prince Albert in 1856, and placed here in 1881.[6] At the top of the stair is the Royal Dining Room, formerly part of the Queen's apartments. The Adam style decoration dates from around 1800, when this was part of the Duke of Hamilton's apartment.[7]

Royal Dining Room

The King's apartments occupied the whole of the south and east sides of the quadrangle. Accessed from the Great Stair, the suite of rooms comprising a guard hall, presence chamber, privy chamber, antechamber, bedchamber and closet. The level of privacy, as well as the richness of decoration, increased in sequence. From the visit of George IV in 1822, the guard hall has been used as a throne room, and the order of rooms reversed. The Evening Drawing Room and Morning Drawing Room occupy the former presence chamber and privy chamber, and retain their rich 17th-century ceilings. The Morning Drawing Room is hung with French tapestries bought by Charles II, and is used for private ceremonies.[8] The King's Antechamber, Bedchamber and Closet are laid out along the east side of the palace. The King's Bedchamber, at the centre of the east façade, has the finest of the 17th-century plaster ceilings, augmented by paintings of Hercules by Jacob de Wet (II). The 17th-century bed was made for the Duke of Hamilton, although it was long referred to as "Queen Mary's Bed" when it occupied the older Queen's rooms.[9]

The Great Gallery, the largest room in the palace, links the King's Closet with the former Queen's apartments in the west range. The gallery is decorated with 110 portraits of the Scottish monarchs, beginning with the legendary Fergus I, who supposedly ruled from 330 BC. The portraits were all completed between 1684 and 1686 by Jacob de Wet. After 1707, Scotland's representative peers were elected here to be sent to Westminster. Bonnie Prince Charlie held evening balls in the gallery during his brief occupation, and it later became a Catholic chapel for the Comte d'Artois. Today it is used for large functions including investitures and banquets.[10]

North-west tower

The suite of rooms on the first floor of the north-west tower comprises an audience chamber, accessed from a lobby next to the Great Gallery, and a bedroom, leading from which are two turret rooms or closets. These rooms were occupied by Lord Darnley in the 17th century, and later formed part of the Queen's apartment in the reconstructed palace, before being taken over by the Duke of Hamilton from 1684.[11] Queen Mary occupied an identical suite of rooms on the second floor of the tower: the bedchambers are linked by a private spiral stair. The Queen's outer chamber contains her oratory, and was the scene of the murder of David Rizzio, after he was dragged from the supper table in the northern turret room.[12] In later centuries, tourists were often convinced that they could see his blood stains on the floor.

The wooden ceilings of both the main rooms date from Queen Mary's time, and the monograms MR (Maria Regina) and IR (Jacobus Rex) refer to her parents, Mary of Guise and James V. Shields commemorating Mary's marriage to Francis II of France are believed to have been carved in 1559 but put in their present position in 1617, when the grisaille frieze was also added.[13]

Gardens and grounds

Forecourt fountain
Statue of Edward VII outside the Palace

The gardens of the palace extend to some 10 acres (4.0 ha), set within the much larger


  • Holyrood Palace from Gordon of Rothiemay's map c.1647
  • Palace of Holyroodhouse, The Royal Collection website
  • The Royal Residences: Palace of Holyroodhouse, official website of the British Monarchy

External links

  • Laing, Henry (1867). "Queen Mary's Audience Chamber at Holyroodhouse". Proceedings of the  
  • Jamieson, Fiona (Summer 1994). "The Royal Gardens of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, 1500-1603". Garden History 22 (1): 18–36.   (JSTOR subscription required)
  • Gallagher, Dennis (1998). "Holyrood Abbey: the disappearance of a monastery". Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 128: 1079–1099. 
  • Dunbar, John (1999). Scottish Royal Palaces. Tuckwell Press.  
  • Clarke, Deborah (2010). The Palace of Holyroodhouse: Official Souvenir Guide. Royal Collection Publications.  


  1. ^ "Holyrood". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  2. ^ Daniel, William S. (1852), History of the Abbey and Palace of Holyrood. Edinburgh : Duncan Anderson. facing p. 139.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g McWilliam et al. p. 128.
  5. ^ Cruickshank, Dan. "Choosing Britain's Best Buildings". BBC History. Retrieved 3 June 2008. 
  6. ^ Clarke, p. 33.
  7. ^ Clarke, p. 36.
  8. ^ Clarke, pp. 39–43.
  9. ^ Clarke, pp. 43–45.
  10. ^ Clarke, pp. 49–50.
  11. ^ Clarke, pp. 51–52.
  12. ^ Clarke, pp. 56–58.
  13. ^ Clarke, p. 55.
  14. ^ Clarke, p. 64.
  15. ^ a b Clarke, pp. 63–64.
  16. ^ a b Clarke, p. 30.
  17. ^ Clarke, p. 28.
  18. ^ "Digging at the Palace". Time Team Big Royal Dig. Channel 4. Archived from the original on 20 June 2008. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  19. ^ "Seal Matrix". Time Team Big Royal Dig. Channel 4. Archived from the original on 20 June 2008. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  20. ^ "Double Tournois". Time Team Big Royal Dig. Channel 4. Archived from the original on 20 June 2008. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  21. ^ a b c d Clarke, p. 8.
  22. ^ a b c d e McWilliam et al. p. 125.
  23. ^ Clarke, p. 9.
  24. ^ a b c d McWilliam et al. p. 126.
  25. ^ a b Clarke, p. 10.
  26. ^ a b Clarke, p. 12.
  27. ^ Clarke, p. 56.
  28. ^ Thomson, ed., Diurnal of Occurrents, (1833) p.232, 234
  29. ^ Clarke, p. 17.
  30. ^ Clarke, p. 14.
  31. ^ a b c McWilliam et al. p. 127.
  32. ^ Clarke, p. 16.
  33. ^ Clarke, p. 49.
  34. ^ Clarke, pp. 17–19.
  35. ^ Clarke, pp. 19–20.
  36. ^ a b Clarke, p. 20.
  37. ^ Clarke, p. 22.
  38. ^ Clarke, p. 23.
  39. ^ Clarke, p. 24.
  40. ^ Clarke, p. 26.
  41. ^ Clarke, pp. 27–28.
  42. ^ a b c Clarke, p. 4.
  43. ^ "Champagne reception a recipe for disaster". The Herald Scotland. 2 July 1994. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  44. ^ Clarke, p. 5.
  45. ^ "Pope Benedict XVI's speech at Holyrood Palace".  
  46. ^ "1992 Conservative Party General Election Manifesto".  
  47. ^ "Organisation of the Royal Collection: Management". THe Royal Collection. Retrieved 2011-05-20. 
  48. ^ "Why you've more than a ghost of a chance of seeing a spook - News -". 8 November 2004. Retrieved 2011-12-28. 


See also

The naked ghost of one Bald Agnes (Agnes Sampson), stripped and tortured in 1592 after being accused of witchcraft, is said to roam the palace.[48]


Holyroodhouse remains the property of the Crown, and as one of the occupied royal residences is maintained by the Property Section of the Royal Household. Public access is managed by the Royal Collection Trust, with revenues used to support the work of the trust as custodians of the Royal Collection.[47]

In its role as the official residence of the monarch in Scotland, Holyroodhouse has hosted a number of foreign visitors and dignitaries, including Harald V of Norway in 1994,[43]Margrethe II of Denmark, François Mitterrand, Helmut Kohl, Nelson Mandela, Vladimir Putin in 2003,[44] and Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.[45] A meeting of the European Council was held at the palace during the British presidency of the council in 1992.[46]

, visit in a less official capacity. Princess Royal while other members of the royal family, including the [42],Duke of Rothesay also stays at Holyrood for one week a year, carrying out official duties as the Prince Charles. First Minister of Scotland At the Palace the Queen meets and appoints the [16], is held on her arrival.Lord Provost form her ceremonial bodyguard. The Ceremony of the Keys, in which she is formally presented with the keys of Edinburgh by the Royal Company of Archers During the Queen's visits, the [42] is displayed.Royal Standard of Scotland is flown; at all other times the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom While she is in residence, the Scottish variant of the [42]The present Queen spends one week at Holyrood in summer, during which time investitures are held in the gallery, audiences are held in the morning room, and garden parties are hosted.
The Scottish version of the Royal Standard is flown when the monarch is in residence.

21st century

Although official residence in Scotland, and became the location for regular royal ceremonies and events.[41]

20th century

On the first visit of Queen Victoria to Scotland in 1842, she also stayed at Dalkeith, and was prevented from visiting Holyrood by an outbreak of Scarlet Fever.[38] In preparation for her 1850 visit, more renovations were carried out by Robert Matheson of the Office of Works, and the interiors were redecorated by David Ramsay Hay.[39] Over the next few years, the lodgings of the various nobles were gradually repossessed, and Victoria was able to take up a second floor apartment in 1871, freeing up the former royal apartments as dining and drawing rooms, as well as a throne room.[3] From 1854 the historic apartments in the north-west tower were formally opened to the public.[40]

1822 visit to Scotland. Although he stayed at Dalkeith Palace, the king held a levée (reception) at Holyrood, and was shown the historic apartments. He ordered repairs to the palace, but declared that Queen Mary's rooms should be protected from any future changes.[37] Over the next ten years, Robert Reid oversaw works including the demolition of all the buildings to the north and south of the main quadrangle.[3] In 1834 William IV agreed that the High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland could make use of the palace during the sitting of the assembly, and this tradition continues today.[3]

Following the Louis XVI's youngest brother, the Comte d'Artois to live at Holyrood, where he took advantage of the abbey sanctuary to avoid his creditors. Artois stayed at Holyrood from 1796 to 1803, during which time the King's apartments were renovated. The Comte d'Artois inherited the French throne in 1824 as Charles X, but following the July Revolution of 1830, the French royals lived at Holyrood again until 1832 when they moved to Austria.[36]

Engraving of Holy Rood Palace by Thomas Hearne, 1800

19th century

The precincts of Holyrood Abbey, extending to the whole of Holyrood Park, had been designated as a debtor's sanctuary since the 16th century. Those in debt could escape their creditors, and imprisonment, by taking up residence within the sanctuary, and a small community grew up to the west of the palace. The residents, known colloquially as "Abbey Lairds", were able to leave the sanctuary on Sundays, when no arrests were permitted. The area was controlled by a baillie, and by several constables, appointed by the Keeper of Holyroodhouse. The constables now form a ceremonial guard at the palace.[36]

Bonnie Prince Charlie held court at Holyrood for five weeks in September and October 1745, during the Jacobite Rising. Charles occupied the Duke of Hamilton's apartments rather than the unkempt king's rooms, and held court in the Gallery. The following year, government troops were billeted in the palace after the Battle of Falkirk, when they damaged the royal portraits in the gallery, and the Duke of Cumberland stayed here on his way to Culloden.[34] Meanwhile the neglect continued: the roof of the abbey church collapsed in 1768, leaving it as it currently stands. However, the potential of the palace as a tourist attraction was already being recognised, with the Duke of Hamilton allowing paying guests to view Queen Mary's apartments in the north-west tower.[35]

After the Union of Scotland and England in 1707 the palace lost its principal functions, although it was used for the elections of Scottish representative peers.[33] The nobles who had been granted apartments in the palace continued to use them: the Duke of Hamilton had already taken over the Queen's Apartments in 1684. The King's Apartments were meanwhile neglected.[3]

A view of the palace and abbey in 1789

18th century

Interior work was still in progress when the Glorious Revolution in late 1688.[3] In 1691 the Kirk of the Canongate was completed, to replace the abbey as the local parish church, and it is at the Kirk of the Canongate that the Queen today attends services when in residence at Holyrood Palace.

[32] Work began in July 1671, starting at the north-west, which was ready for use by Lauderdale the following year. In 1675

Plans for complete reconstruction were drawn up by Sir William Bruce, the Surveyor of the King's Works, and Robert Mylne, the King's Master Mason. The design included a south-west tower to mirror the existing tower, a plan which had existed since at least Charles I's time. Following criticism from Charles II, Bruce redesigned the interior layout to provide suites of royal apartments on the first floor: the Queen's apartment on the west side; and the King's apartment on the south and east sides. The two were linked by a gallery to the north, and a council chamber occupied the south-west tower.[31]

The following year saw the Restoration of Charles II in England and Scotland. The Privy Council was reconstituted and once more met at Holyrood. Repairs were put in hand to allow use of the building by the Earl of Lauderdale, the Secretary of State for Scotland, and a full survey was carried out in 1663 by John Mylne.[30] In 1670, £30,000 was set aside by the Privy Council for the rebuilding of Holyrood.[31]

In 1650, either by accident or design, the east range of the palace was set on fire during its occupation by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers. After this, the eastern parts of the palace were effectively abandoned. The remaining parts were used as barracks, and a two-storey block was added to the west range in 1659.

When James became King of England in 1603 and moved to London, the palace was no longer the seat of a permanent royal court. James visited in 1617, for which the chapel was redecorated. More repairs were put in hand in preparation for the coronation of Charles I as King of Scotland at Holyrood in 1633.[24] On 10 August 1646 Charles appointed James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, as hereditary Keeper of Holyroodhouse, an office which his descendants retain.[29] The post is one of the Great Offices in the Royal Household in Scotland, and indeed the private ducal apartments cover a larger area of the palace than the state ones. As well as his own deputy, the Keeper still appoints the Bailie of Holyroodhouse, who is responsible for law and order within the Holyrood Abbey Sanctuary. The High Constables of Holyroodhouse are responsible to the Keeper.

The west range of the palace drawn around 1649 by James Gordon of Rothiemay, prior to reconstruction in the 1670s.

17th century

During the subsequent Marian civil war, on 25 July 1571, William Kirkcaldy of Grange bombarded the Palace with cannon placed in the Black Friar Yard, near the Pleasance.[28] James VI took up residence at Holyrood in 1579 at the age of 13 years. His wife, Anne of Denmark, was crowned in the diminished abbey church in 1590, at which time the royal household at the palace numbered around 600 persons.[26]

The royal apartments in the north-west tower of the palace were occupied by Mary, Queen of Scots, from her return to Scotland in 1561 to her forced abdication in 1567. The Queen had archery butts erected in her private gardens to allow her to practice, and hunted deer in Holyrood Park. It was at Holyrood that the series of famous interviews between the Queen and John Knox took place, and she married both of her Scottish husbands in the palace: Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, in 1565 in the chapel, and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, in 1567 in the great hall.[26] It was in the Queen's private apartments that she witnessed the murder of David Rizzio, her private secretary, on 9 March 1566. Darnley and several nobles entered the apartment via the private stair from Darnley's own apartments below. Bursting in on the Queen, Rizzio and four other courtiers, who were at supper, they dragged the Italian through the bedchamber into the outer chamber, where he was stabbed 56 times.[27]

The Murder of David Rizzio, painted in 1833 by William Allan.

In 1544, during the War of the Rough Wooing, the Earl of Hertford sacked Edinburgh, and Holyrood was looted and burned. Repairs were made, but the altars were destroyed by a Reforming mob in 1559.[24] After the Scottish Reformation was formalised, the abbey buildings were neglected, and the choir and transepts of the abbey church were pulled down in 1570. The nave was retained as the parish church of the Canongate.[24]

[25] The west range contained the King's lodgings and the entrance to the palace. James IV also oversaw construction of a two-storey gatehouse, fragments of which survive in the Abbey Courthouse. In 1512 a lion house was constructed to house the king's menagerie, which included a lion and a

Between 1501 and 1505, James IV constructed a new Gothic palace adjacent to the abbey. The impetus for the work probably came from the marriage of James IV to Margaret Tudor, which took place in the abbey in August 1503 while work was still ongoing.[21] The palace was built around a quadrangle, situated west of the abbey cloister. It contained a chapel, gallery, royal apartments, and a great hall. The chapel occupied the north range of the quadrangle, with the Queen's apartments occupying part of the south range.[22]

Detail of a sketch made by an English soldier in 1544, showing the palace and abbey in front of Arthur's Seat.
The gatehouse built by James IV, with the north-west tower of the palace behind, in a 1746 drawing by Thomas Sandby

16th century

The ruined Augustinian Holyrood Abbey that is sited in the grounds was founded in 1128 at the order of King David I of Scotland. The name derives either from a legendary vision of the cross witnessed by David I, or from a relic of the True Cross known as the Holy Rood or Black Rood, and which had belonged to Queen Margaret, David's mother.[21] As a royal foundation, and sited close to Edinburgh Castle, it became an important administrative centre. A Papal legate was received here in 1177, while in 1189 a council of nobles met to discuss a ransom for the captive king, William the Lion.[22] Robert the Bruce held a parliament at the abbey in 1326, and by 1329 it may already have been in use as a royal residence. In 1370, David II became the first of several Kings of Scots to be buried at Holyrood. Not only was James II born at Holyrood in 1430, it was at Holyrood that he was crowned, married and laid to rest.[22] James III and Margaret of Denmark were married at Holyrood in 1469.[21] The early royal residence was in the abbey guesthouse, which most likely stood on the site of the present north range of the palace, west of the abbey cloister,[22] and by the later 15th century already had dedicated royal apartments.[21]

12th-15th centuries


The archaeologists uncovered part of the cloister of Holyrood Abbey, running in line with the existing abbey ruins, and a square tower associated with the 15th-century building works of James IV was discovered. The team failed to locate evidence of the real tennis court used by Queen Mary to the north of the palace, as the area had been built over in the 19th century. An area of reddened earth was discovered, which was linked with the Earl of Hertford's burning of Holyrood during the Rough Wooing of 1544. Among the objects found were a seal matrix used to stamp the wax seal on correspondence or documents,[19] and a French double tournois coin, minted by Gaston d'Orleans in 1634.[20]

The Palace of Holyroodhouse, along with Buckingham Palace Garden and Windsor Castle, was excavated on 25–28 August 2006 as part of a special edition of Channel 4's archaeology series Time Team. Timed to coincide with the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II, this marked the 150th dig conducted by Time Team, and presented a rare opportunity for trenches to be dug within the royal gardens.[18]

Big Royal Dig

There was formerly a Keeper of Holyrood Park, and the title was held on an hereditary basis by the Earls of Haddington. This was purchased by the Crown and the office extinguished in 1843 after disputes over the Keeper's right to allow quarrying within the Park.

The buildings to the west of the palace, are the 19th-century guardhouse which replaced the tenements of a debtor's sanctuary, and adjacent to this, the former Holyrood Free Church and Duchess of Gordon's School built in the 1840s. These buildings were converted into the Queen's Gallery in 2002 to display works of art from the Royal Collection.


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