The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK Tourist Attractions and Travel

Founded as a monastery in 1128, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh is The Queen's official residence in Scotland. Situated at the end of the Royal Mile, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is closely associated with Scotland's turbulent past, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived here between 1561 and 1567. Successive kings and queens have made the Palace of Holyroodhouse the premier royal residence in Scotland. Today, the Palace is the setting for State ceremonies and official entertaining.


The history of the Palace of Holyroodhouse reaches back almost nine centuries.

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According to legend, David I founded the Palace as an Augustinian monastery in 1128. It is said that the king had a vision in which a cross, or 'rood', belonging to his mother St Margaret appeared between the antlers of an attacking stag. Hence the Abbey's symbol - a stag's head, with its horns framing a cross.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

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The Abbey prospered. With Edinburgh now recognised as Scotland's capital, her kings chose to live in Holyroodhouse, surrounded by parkland, rather than in the bleak Castle, high on a rock overlooking the town and exposed to the elements.

In 1501 James IV (1488-1513) cleared the ground close to the Abbey and built a Palace for himself and his bride, Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII). Only a fragment of the gatehouse survives today.

His successor James V (1513-42) added a massive Tower between 1528 and 1532, and a new west front south of the Tower between 1535 and 1536.Prague

These alterations, which included the addition of a great expanse of glazing, gave the Palace a domestic rather than a defensive feel. It has been suggested that James made these changes in preparation for the arrival of his first wife, Madelaine (daughter of Francis I of France). His second wife, Mary of Guise, was crowned in the Abbey. Their daughter Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-67), returned to Scotland after the death of her husband Francis II, King of France.

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Mary, Queen of Scots spent most of her turbulent life in the Palace - a dramatic and often tragic chapter in the history of the building. She married two of her husbands in the Abbey. Her private secretary David Rizzio was murdered in her personal rooms by a group led by her husband Lord Darnley, who believed she was having an affair with Rizzio.

Under Mary's son James VI (1567-1625), later James I of England and Scotland (1603-25), the Palace fell into decline. However, it was renovated when James returned to Edinburgh in 1617.

Further renovation was carried out in 1633 to mark the Scottish coronation of James's son Charles I (1625-49). During the Civil War Oliver Cromwell's troops were billeted at the Palace, which suffered extensive fire damage at this time.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II (1660-85) was crowned in Scotland. Although he never returned there, he did initiate a programme of substantial rebuilding at Holyroodhouse. Mainly classical facades were built round a central quadrangle.

Charles also added a new Royal apartment to the east, had the Abbey Church made into the Chapel Royal and created accommodation on the second floor for the Court during the sovereign's residence, and for officers of state in his absence.

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Charles II never saw the new Palace, but the rebuilding he had initiated transformed the fortress-like building into a private residence for his brother James, Duke of York. When the Duke succeeded to the throne as James VII and II (1685-88), he adapted the Chapel Royal so that Catholic services and the ceremonies of the Order of the Thistle, Scotland's ancient Order of Chivalry, could be held there.

However, before the work could be completed he was forced to flee the country and his daughter Mary and son-in-law William of Orange succeeded to the throne.

After the Union of Parliaments at the beginning of the eighteenth century the Palace began to be neglected in favour of Scotland's castles, becoming a sanctuary for poor and distressed 'noblemen' who lived in the royal apartments on a 'grace-and-favour' basis.

In 1745 royalty returned when the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, held court there during his attempt to reclaim the throne for his father. He was followed by the Duke of Cumberland whose Hanoverian troops suppressed the Jacobean Rebellion of 1745. The roof of the Abbey Church collapsed in 1768, leaving the Chapel Royal in ruins.

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No further renovations were carried out until the early nineteenth century. George IV's State visit to Scotland on 15 August 1822 provided the impetus, and money was voted for improvements.

George IV ordered that the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots should be 'preserved sacred from every alteration'. He also decided that the Lord High Commissioner to the Church of Scotland should have full use of the Palace during the General Assembly, held each May.

It was Queen Victoria who, after the purchase of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, reintroduced the custom of staying at Holyroodhouse. Her return to the Palace inspired the Scottish people to undertake an extensive programme of renovation. As a result of these improvements, Holyroodhouse was reinstated as Scotland's premier royal residence.

In the twentieth century, King George V and Queen Mary continued restoration and renovation work on the Palace, which they regarded as a family home. They were instrumental in bringing Holyroodhouse into the twentieth century, installing bathrooms, electricity and lifts. They also began the tradition of Garden Parties being held at the Palace.

However, the smooth running of the Palace today owes much to the foresight of an earlier predecessor, Charles II, who built the spacious upper floor where the Royal Family's private apartments are situated.

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The longest and largest room in the Palace is the Great Gallery which is decorated with 89 of the original 110 Jacob de Wet portraits of the real and legendary kings of Scotland, from Fergus I to Charles II.

The room has served many purposes. It was used for the election of Scotland's representative peers after the Union of Parliaments in 1707. George V made it into the State Dining Room, and today it is used for receptions, State occasions and Investitures.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse has never been as busy as it is today.

Standing as it does at the end of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, it is very much a working Royal residence. It functions as the centre of national life during The Queen's stay in Scotland as well as at other times of the year.

Members of the Royal Family frequently stay in the Palace when carrying out engagements in Scotland. During The Queen's Holyrood week, which usually runs from the end of June to the beginning of July, Her Majesty carries out a wide range of official engagements in Scotland.

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The Investiture held in the Great Gallery is for Scottish residents whose achievements have been recognised in the twice-yearly Honours List which appears at New Year and on The Queen's Official Birthday in June.

King George V and Queen Mary held the first garden party in the grounds of Holyroodhouse and the tradition has been maintained to the present day. Each year, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh entertain around 8,000 guests from all walks of Scottish life during Holyrood week.

The Palace also provides the backdrop for formal State occasions. Most recently, it was the setting for a lunch during the State Visit of President Putin of the Russian Federation, who visited Edinburgh with The Duke of York during June 2003.

The new Queen's Gallery was opened by Her Majesty The Queen on 29 November 2002. It hosts a programme of changing exhibitions from the Royal Collection.


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