Forever associated with Mary Queen of Scots.
Palace of Holyroodhouse and Holyrood Abbey
The Palace of Holyroodhouse, also known as Holyrood Palace, stands on the edge of Holyrood Park at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. It’s been an important royal residence for hundreds of years.
Forever associated with Bonnie Prince Charlie and Mary Queen of Scots, today’s visitors can explore the magnificent State Apartments, Throne Room, royal gardens and much more.
History of the Palace of Holyroodhouse
The story of the palace of Holyroodhouse began with an Augustinian abbey (Holyrood Abbey) founded by David I in 1128. With new monastic buildings, guest accommodation and royal chambers, the abbey expanded considerably over the next three decades.
However, it was James IV, at the time of his wedding to Henry VIIIs daughter Margaret Tudor in 1503, who began the work of converting the royal chambers into a palace.
Successive monarchs continued the palace’s development. In 1528, James V built new royal lodgings housed in a large tower at the north west corner of the building. It had a drawbridge and may also have had a protective moat.
It was here that Mary Queen of Scots, James V’s daughter, witnessed the brutal murder of her Italian secretary David Rizzio.
Today the tower is the oldest part of the palace and houses Queen Mary’s chambers which the public can visit. Mary lived at Holyroodhouse between 1561 and 1567.
The burgeoning grandeur of Holyroodhouse was laid to waste as the army of Henry VIII, in 1544 and again in 1547, rampaged through the borderlands and Edinburgh.
It was Henry’s response to Scotland’s refusal to allow the marriage between the infant Mary Queen of Scots and his son Prince Edward.
Mary’s son James VI/I made further improvements to the palace.
Coronation Charles I
Although, following the Union of the Crowns in 1603 it was used less, there was still a royal role for the building. In 1633, for example, it was the venue for the Scottish coronation of the deeply unpopular Charles I.
In 1649, Charles was executed and parliament abolished the monarchy establishing, in its place, a republic under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell.
By the time Cromwell arrived in Edinburgh, after his victory over the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, he was in no mood to leave the city with the building remaining intact.
Once again, the Palace of Holyroodhouse was sacked and left burning.
Following the period of Cromwellian rule, Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660 and Holyroodhouse again became a royal palace.
Within a decade a substantial rebuilding programme began, carried out to a design by Sir William Bruce. His skill and imagination transformed the building into the royal palace that we see today.
The Royal Collection Trust says, “The newly rebuilt palace glorified Scotland and emphasised Edinburgh’s royal and government role.”
Other notable figures who visited the royal residence included Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, who stayed briefly in 1745, as did the Duke of Cumberland the following year after victory over Charles at the Battle of Culloden.
By the time George IV visited Scotland in 1822, the palace had deteriorated and wasn’t really fit to host royal events. Fortunately, Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert were more passionate about Scotland and made a considerable investment in the building and surrounding park.
Most notable perhaps was the new fountain modelled on the Renaissance fountain in the courtyard of Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.
George V continued the modernisation and Queen Elizabeth II has plans for future development work.
All that remains of David’s original abbey, which adjoins the palace, are the ruins of the nave, the foundations of the choir, transepts and part of the chapter house. Ruins yes, but still a potent reminder of Scotland in another age,
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The nearby Queen’s Gallery, part of the Royal Collection Trust holds a regular programme of exhibitions from the royal collection.
How to get to Holyrood Palace
The queen’s official residence in Scotland is located on Canongate, at the foot of Royal Mile. If you’re travelling on a tour coach you can park directly at the venue. While there is parking for private cars in nearby places it can be problematic during the busy summer months. There are a number of local buses which will drop you close to the venue or the walk from Waverley Station will take around 15-20 minutes.