The Palace of Holyroodhouse, commonly referred to as Holyrood Palace, is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland. 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. 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. 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. James III and Margaret of Denmark were married at Holyrood in 1469. 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, and by the later 15th century already had dedicated royal apartments
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. 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. The west range contained the King's lodgings and the entrance to the palace. In 1512 a lion house was constructed to house the king's menagerie, which included a lion and a civet among other exotic beasts. James V added to the palace between 1528 and 1536, beginning with the present north-west tower to provide new royal apartments. This was followed by reconstruction of the south and west ranges of the palace in the Renaissance style, with a new chapel in the south range. The former chapel in the north range was converted into the Council Chamber. The west range contained the royal library and a suite of rooms. Around a series of lesser courts were ranged the Governor’s Tower, the armoury, the mint, a forge, kitchens and other service quarters.
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. 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. 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
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. 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. 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.
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. On 10 August 1646 Charles appointed James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, as hereditary Keeper of Holyroodhouse, an office which his descendants retain. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
The precincts of Holyrood Abbey, extending to the whole of Holyrood Park, had been designated as a debtors' 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. Following the French Revolution, George III allowed 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. King George IV became the first reigning monarch since Charles I to visit Holyrood, during his 1822 visit to Scotland.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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 II. 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.
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. 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. 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
The gardens of the palace extend to some 10 acres set within the much larger Holyrood Park. In the 16th-century a privy garden was located to the north of the palace, accessed via a wooden gallery from the north-west tower. This was removed in the 19th century when Prince Albert took an interest in the grounds, forming a new carriage drive to the north to avoid the Canongate slums and laying out the garden in its present form. A small garden building surviving from the 16th-century, is known as Queen Mary's Bath House although it is not thought to have been used for bathing. 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. While she is in residence, the Scottish variant of the Royal Standard of the United Kingdom is flown; at all other times the Royal Standard of Scotland is displayed.
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. Concessionary rates are available for visitors with disabilities and an accompanying companion is admitted free of charge. Accessible lavatories are located in the Mews Courtyard, opposite the café, and in The Queen’s Gallery. Manual wheelchairs are available to borrow free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis for the duration of a visit. There are 27 steps in the Great Staircase. Visitors who require step-free access should speak to a Warden on duty. There is no wheelchair access to Mary, Queen of Scots’ Chambers, which are accessed via a steep spiral staircase consisting of 25 steps. A virtual tour is available using the e-Gallery computer terminal, located just off the Great Gallery. A complimentary descriptive audio tour for the visually impaired is available in English. Non-descriptive are also available in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese and Russian. The Visitor Information leaflet and the audio tour transcript are available in large print. Assistance dogs are welcome and water is available on request. There is a low ceiling on the steep spiral staircase leading to Mary, Queen of Scots’ Chambers. Staff will be happy to accompany blind or partially-sighted visitors.
Location : Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate, The Royal Mile, EH8 8DX
Transport: Waverley (National Rail) 15 minutes or bus. Bus Routes : 6 and 35 or open top tour buses stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 09:30 to 18:00
Tickets : Adults £12.00; Senior / Student £11.00; Disabled / Children (5 - 16) £7.20.
Tickets + Queens Gallery: Adults £16.90; Senior / Student £15.40; Disabled / Children (5 - 16) £9.50.
Tel: 0303 123 7306