Sitting under the extinct volcano of Arthur’s Seat, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has been a Royal residence since 1503 when King James IV decided to convert the Royal Lodgings of Holyrood Abbey into a home fit for his new bride, Margaret Tudor.
The original Augustinian Abbey was founded in 1128 by King David I, supposedly after a hunting trip. Legend has it that he was thrown from his horse after being startled by a deer and was saved thanks to the appearance of a Holy Cross (or rood) that beamed down from the skies above. Whether you believe this miracle or not is up to you, but at least that’s one of the theories as to how Holyrood got its name.
Raids by the English during the mid-16th century destroyed many of the Abbey buildings and by the end of the Reformation all that was left of any consequence was the nave, which required some serious restoration for the Scottish coronation of King Charles I in 1633. The Chapel Royal, as it became known, was used for Catholic worship during the reign of James VII (and II of England), but by the 18th century, for various reasons, had suffered so much damage that it fell into terminal decline.
The remains of the nave can still be seen today as part of the tour of the palace.
As for the palace itself, it’s a mixture of pomp and history and the self-guided audio tour explains both. The Queen spends one week a year performing her official duties which includes honouring Scottish dignitaries and installing new Knights to the Order of the Thistle. These duties, as well as welcoming world leaders, are held in the State Apartments such as the Throne Room and the Great Gallery.
The rooms were originally laid out in such a way that they became more impressive the closer they got to the King’s Chamber, but as impressive as these rooms are, it’s the Queen’s rooms that steal the show.
The Queen’s Lobby, Bedchamber and Ante-Chamber are situated in James V’s Tower, the oldest part of the palace, and the most interesting historically. These rooms have a feel to them that no other part of the building has, and they take on even more significance when you realise that this was where David Rizzio, the secretary (and lover?) of Mary Queen of Scots, was brutally murdered by her husband Lord Darnley and his accomplices in the Queen’s presence.
With so many things to occupy people’s time in Edinburgh, not everyone will want to spend money on visiting a royal household, but with historical events like the murder of David Rizzio, there’s more to the palace than just grand rooms.
As you would expect, photography inside the palace isn’t allowed, but if the Palace of Holyrood House appeals to you, then check out their website below for all the latest up to date information.