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Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh


Of all the British royal palaces, this may not be the best-known, or largest, or oldest, but it's certainly the one with the most puzzling name, one which I didn't understand until a visit earlier this year.

Holyrood Abbey and Palace, 1544, under attack by British troops, foreground

P1310906Goes this way: Scots King David I, a deeply religious man, inherited a holy cross, or rood, from his mother, Saint Margaret. In 1128, David ordered Holyrood Abbey built for it, including a royal lodging in the abbey guesthouse.

In turn, that monastic 'house' gave its name to the palace built next door in 1501, by James IV for his new bride, Margaret Tudor, a marriage that led, later, to James VI of Scotland becoming King James I of England as well.

1200px-Holyroodhouse_and_abbey_in_1789Left, St Margaret, by Louis Davis, 1920;
above, Abbey and Castle, 1789P1310902A timeline of Holyrood events

Which is to say, not only does it have deep roots in Scottish history, but not always happy ones. Kings were born, married and died and were buried there, but it was also the scene of a bizarre and still mysterious plot in the time of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her husband, Lord Darnley was implicated in the murder of her secretary in her rooms, and an apparent attempt to seize the crown.

MQS Bedchamber crop_3Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014

Interior photos are largely frowned upon, so I can't show you the mark on the floor in Mary's bedroom, above, that is believed by some to be evidence of the murder. But you'd think that in a palace still inhabited part of each year by the royal family, someone would have found a way to clean the floor.


The Royal Family takes up residence for a week at the beginning of summer; we only missed them by a week, which is fortunate because when they are there, mere folk such as we are not welcome, even on tour. This year, in addition to usual ceremonies and award-givings, the king's Scottish coronation was part of the program. Clearly, the rooms and furnishings are 'fit for a King!'

640px-Holyrood_Palace_-_Galerie Otto DomesPalace_of_Holyroodhouse_photo_1640px-Holyrood_Palace_Dining_Room Saffron Blaze640px-Holyrood_Palace_Stairwell Saffron BlazeWikimedia Commons/Otto Domes, Saffron Blaze, Saffron Blaze

Interior photos are frowned upon, nay forbidden, so I'm not sure how these came to be taken, but apparently some people were bolder than I, and I'm grateful for their sharing on Wikimedia.

Palace_of_Holyroodhouse_photo_2Palace_of_Holyroodhouse_photo_5Palace_of_Holyroodhouse_photo_6 Alf van BeemWikimedia/Alf van Beem

I did have the opportunity for a very few interior photos of my own, in the Palace Family Room, a charming space for families to take a break from a tour that may or may not be of interest to their children. Note the caution on the sign!


The room is nicely equipped with objects and supplies to capture children's attention, including an assortment of art materials, crowns and cushions and, to the fascination of this child, something she had probably never seen before: a dial telephone.


The palace itself has been greatly modified over the past five centuries, with rooms and wings and towers added, subtracted and rebuilt to create its present fairly symmetrical appearance, seen below. Some of the work involved restoring damage done by British troops in 1544 during the so-called 'Rough Wooing," Henry VIII's military attempt to force Mary to marry his son Edward.


The Abbey, on the other hand, didn't fare as well. By 1559, damage to both the Palace and the Abbey had been repaired, but later that year, Protestant mobs destroyed the church's altars, and the church was neglected despite the Catholic reign of Mary from 1561 to 1567. In 1570, all but the nave was pulled down and the nave turned into a small local church, and even that ended when James VII evicted the Protestant worshipers. Now unroofed and largely abandoned, it is undergoing work to stabilize its remaining walls.


The interior great courtyard of the Palace functions much as the cloister of the abbey must once have; a space for contemplation, ceremony, and outdoor air.


Passing through from the exterior to the central courtyard. Notice the highly polished doorbell on the pillar...


The area outside the palace offers interesting views that show off the different eras of construction and style that were used over the years.


The planted area outside the main entrance is barely a teaser for the extensive gardens attached to the Palace. The gardens, first set up as hunting and pleasure grounds for the royals, have changed over the years, and were completely redesigned by Prince Albert in the 1850s. More on the gardens in another story soon!



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  • Palace_of_Holyroodhouse_photo_6 Alf van Beem
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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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