Palace of Holyroodhouse
The Palace of Holyroodhouse is The Queen’s official residence in Scotland. It’s located in the ‘Old Town’ area of Edinburgh, at the end of the Royal Mile. The Palace is set in about 10 acres, which are part of the much larger Holyrood Park, and features gardens laid out by Prince Albert. Immediately adjacent to the palace are the ruins of Holyrood Abbey.
The palace’s origins begin with a monastery founded in 1128 by King David I. The name, Holy Rood (‘Holy Cross’) is believed to have come from the fragment of the True Cross which was in the possession of the King’s mother, St. Margaret of Scotland (born Margaret of Wessex, she was the wife of King Malcolm III of Scotland). For many years, the Scottish royals chose to live in the guesthouse at the Abbey, instead of the more fortress-like Edinburgh Castle at the opposite end of the Royal Mile. The first palace on the site was built by King James IV in 1501-1505 and was enlarged by King James V in 1528-1536.
Perhaps the most well-known resident of the Palace of Holyroodhouse was Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary took up residence in 1561 and would remain at Holyroodhouse until her abdication in 1567. She married Lord Darnley in the palace chapel in 1565, and then married her third husband, The Earl of Bothwell, in 1567 in the great hall. The palace was also the site of the murder of Dennis Rizzio, in the Queen’s apartments in the northwest tower, in 1566.
By the beginning of the 17th century, the Sovereigns spent little time at Holyroodhouse. In 1646, King Charles I appointed an hereditary Keeper of Holyroodhouse to oversee the property. The Dukes of Hamilton holds this position to this day, although it is merely ceremonial now. It would be over 175 years before the Palace of Holyroodhouse was once again used as a formal residence for the Sovereign.
From 1671-1678, the palace was rebuilt and restored after years if neglect and several fires. The result was the building that we see today. It was used for many years as grace-and-favour residences for members of the nobility. It also housed some foreign royals. Following the French Revolution, King George III provided apartments at the palace for the Comte d’Artois, the brother of the French king Louis XVI, who lived there from 1796 until 1803. He later returned again in 1830 before moving to Austria in 1832.
It was during this time that the Palace began its return to glory as a royal residence. King George IV visited the palace in 1822, the first reigning monarch to do so since King Charles I in the mid-1600s. Although he did not stay there, he held several functions and instructed that necessary repairs be made, and the palace be updated. He ordered that the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, remain unaltered and be preserved as they were, and to remain so forever.
It was King William IV, in 1834, who made provided a home at the palace for the High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The High Commissioner (whoever is appointed), continues to have use of apartments at the palace during the sitting of the Assembly. The Queen herself has opened the Assembly several times, and each of her four children have served as High Commissioner.
Queen Victoria first visited Holyroodhouse in 1850, and a few years later, part of the palace was formally opened to the public for tours. Slowly, the royal household began clearing out the many grace-and-favour residents, and The Queen was able to reside at the palace for the first time in 1871.
King George V is credited with the modernization of the palace, with heating and electricity being added prior to his first visit in 1911. And in 1920, he had the palace formally designated as the Sovereign’s official residence in Scotland. He and Queen Mary began the tradition of spending a week each year at the palace and hosted the first garden party in the palace gardens in 1928.
The Queen spends a week at Holyroodhouse each year at the end of June and beginning of July. Upon her arrival, an ancient ceremony – The Presentation of the Keys of the City of Edinburgh – takes place in the palace forecourt. The Lord Provost welcomes Her Majesty and presents her with the great key of the city. The Queen accepts the key and then hands it back to the Provost to be kept safe until her next visit.
During Holyrood Week, the Queen holds an investiture in the Great Gallery, and she and the Duke of Edinburgh host nearly 8,000 people for a garden party on the grounds. While in Edinburgh, The Queen attends a service for the Order of the Thistle at the nearby St. Giles’ Cathedral, and hosts a luncheon for members in the Throne Room at the palace. She also hosts official visits, including the First Minister of Scotland, and other dignitaries. In 2010, she welcomed Pope Benedict XVI as part of his State Visit to the United Kingdom.
The Prince of Wales, as Duke of Rothesay, also stays at Holyroodhouse for a week each year, and other members of the Royal Family stay there occasionally when in Scotland. In July 2011, many of the Royal Family were in residence for the wedding of Zara Phillips, daughter of the Princess Royal, and Mike Tindall, who married at the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh.
The chambers of Mary, Queen of Scots, are perhaps the palace’s biggest attraction for visitors. Located on the second floor of the northwest tower, they consist of an audience chamber with two turret rooms (one of which was her private dining room), the Queen’s bedchamber and an outer chamber. In the outer chamber was the Queen’s oratory, a prayer niche. It was here that Dennis Rizzio was savagely murdered by Lord Darnley and his supporters. Immediately below, on the first floor, are a series of matching rooms, which were used by Lord Darnley. The two bedrooms were joined by a private spiral staircase.
The State apartments are primarily located on the first floor of the southern and eastern wings of the palace, while the private apartments of The Queen and members of the royal family are located on the second floor. The State Rooms include the Throne Room, the Evening Drawing Room, the Morning Drawing Room, and the Great Gallery.
The Throne Room was previously used as the Guard Hall at the time of King George IV’s visit in 1822. Today, it used for formal events, including the luncheon for Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Thistle.
The Morning and Evening Drawing Rooms are used today for private audiences with The Queen.
The Great Gallery is the largest room in the palace, and had once joined the King’s and Queen’s apartments in the east and west wings of the palace. It is decorated with 110 portraits of real, and legendary, Scottish monarchs. During the residence of the Comte d’Artois, it was used as a Catholic chapel. Today, it is used for Investiture ceremonies, banquets, and other larger functions.
Learn more about the other British Royal Residences here!