In December 2021 we made our first trip to Scotland.
We only got as far north as Edinburgh, but our visits to the Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse were highlights.
We will visit Edinburgh Castle another time, but today we dive into the fascinating history of the Palace that now is only blessed with royalty for one week a year.
Additionally, we will discover the history of Holyrood Abbey and the Royal Mile.
I hope that you will enjoy our visit to Scotland this week and Traveling Through History with me in these fascinating locations.
As always, if you love this newsletter, please consider sharing it with people you know and on your social pages, I’d be grateful with help to ‘spread the word’.
Till next week, enjoy Issue 16.
Savvy Travel Historian
September - Palaces
The Palace of Holyroodhouse
Starting its life as an abbey, the Royal Palace of Holyroodhouse has played a pivotal role in the development of Scottish royal and religious history.
Located at the end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is one of several historical places located in the City.
The Gothic palace we see today was constructed next to Holyrood Abbey (whose history is outlined in the latter part of this newsletter) by James IV between 1501 and 1505.
The Palace extension was likely done as James and Margaret Tudor were married there in 1503 and it was built around a quadrangle west of the abbey cloisters.
The State Apartments show you how successive monarchs put their own personal stamp on the palace.
Additionally, as we progress closer to the King’s bedroom, the rooms become grander and more lavishly decorated.
The Great Staircase
The Great Stair was installed as an entrance to the King’s Apartments and was the first step in the progression towards the King’s Bedchamber.
The cantilevered stair, which was state of the art technology at the time, is made of stone with a wooden balustrade and the eight framed fresco fragments on the walls are from 1550 and were purchased by Prince Albert in 1881.
The Dining Room
Originally the Queen’s Guard Chamber, this room was first used as a dining room at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and is still used by the Royal Family today.
The portrait at the end of the room, is King George IV, who became King in 1820 and was the first reigning monarch to visit Scotland since Charles II.
Royal Stuart tartan was used for the jacket and the kings full outfit was said to have cost over £1300 (an enormous amount at that time).
The Throne Room
The pair of thrones in this room were made by Morris & Co (yes, William Morris’s business), in 1911 for King George V and Queen Mary.
At the far end of the room is the magnificent portrait of Charles II, celebrating the restoration after the Civil War and displaying the might and majesty of a monarch secure on his throne.
The King’s Apartments
The rooms leading to the King’s bedroom, were ornately decorated and demonstrated so by the richness of the furniture and tapestries, the closer to the bedroom one was able to get.
Morning Drawing Room/ Privy Chamber
This room was originally the Privy Chamber for Charles II and was later used as a morning drawing room by Queen Victoria and her family after extensive renovation.
Used for harp playing and other musical pursuits this was the last room to enter before reaching the King’s bedroom. During Queen Victoria’s reign it was her bedroom.
The Flemish tapestries on the walls in here depict the Destruction of Troy, illustrating the King of Troy, Priam, beneath a canopy. In front of him is Sinon (with his hands tied behind his back) and behind him the wooden horse which he persuades the Trojan’s to admit into the city of Troy.
This link allows you to explore the tapestry in greater detail.
Placed in a similar geographical position in the Palace as Louis XIV’s bedchamber at Versailles. The main feature of the room is the bed, that was used by the Duke of Hamilton who held the title of ‘Hereditary Keeper of the Palace’ from 1684-1740.
The bed underwent extensive conservation in 1976 and the headboard, cornice and canopy are original, while the rest was replaced due to its deteriorating condition.
The King’s Closet
This room was designed to be the King’s study but was used by Queen Victoria as a breakfast room.
The cabinet on the far wall, is inscribed as belonging to Mary Queen of Scots and is 17thC Flemish in origin, veneered with silver and red tortoise shell and silver-guilt mounts, which precludes her from owning it as she died in 1567 but such as the interest in her, that people believed this story.
The Great Gallery
The largest room in the palace is the Great Gallery and connects the King’s and Queen’s Apartments. It is often used for investitures, state dinners and receptions by the Royal Family.
The portraits on the wall future every Scottish monarch all the way back to Fergus 1, 330BC and were commissioned by Charles II between 1684-1686.
The Queen’s Apartments
Originally these rooms were the King’s but with additions in the 1670’s became the Queen’s series of rooms. They occupy a small area on the ground and first floors.
Mary Queen of Scots bedchamber is reached via a spiral staircase.
Mary’s bedchamber was occupied by her from 1561-1567.
While the ceiling contains insignias from Mary’s parents James V and Mary of Guise his Queen, nothing else appears to be original to the time. Her notoriety resulted in a fascination with her since the mid 18thC and the bed now displayed once belonged to the Duke of Hamilton and while beautiful, was never slept in by her.
This room now serves as a small museum to the history of the Palace but would have been used by Mary as a room to receive visitors.
The painting below is believed to be one of the earliest to enter the Royal Collection having been painted by Italian artist Toeput and purchased in Venice in 1615. It is called Pleasure Garden with a Maze.
It was in this room that her private secretary David Rizzio, was famously murdered in 1566.
There are a number of other treasures to see in the Palace such as the ‘Darnley Bed’ which was actually supplied by the Duke of Hamilton in 1682, with some of the linen dated as English from the 1700s. It is preserved behind glass.
Royals In Residence
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary was only a few days old in 1542 when she succeeded her father James V as monarch and remained in the palace until she was sent to France for safety in 1548. Ten years later she married the French Dauphin, heir to the French throne and became Queen of France in 1559.
The death of the King, only one year later saw the young queen return to Scotland in 1561.
She lived in Holyroodhouse occupying the Queen’s Apartments on the second floor.
Many of the historic moments of her reign occurred at Holyrood.
She married her second husband Lord Darnley in the Palace chapel in 1565, and in 1567 she also married her third husband, the unpopular Earl of Bothwell here.
Victoria’s first visit to Scotland was in 1842 and she fell in love with it, and it was her and Albert that purchased Balmoral Castle (which is still owned by the Royal Family today).
The Palace of Holyroodhouse was a strategic stop along the route to Balmoral and thus regained its prominence as a royal residence and was renovated for her first ‘official’ visit in 1850.
Until this time, much of the palace was used as ‘grace & favour’ apartments for tenants and it wasn’t until the renovation work was completed that Victoria and her large family returned the Palace to its prominent status which resulted in a renewed interest in it from members of the public.
Victoria’s first tartan dress (made in 1835 before she became monarch) is on display.
The Darnley Jewel
Purchased by Queen Victoria in 1842, the ‘Darnley Jewel’ was likely made for Mary Queen of Scots’ mother-in-law, Lady Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox.
Her son Lord Darnley was Mary’s 2nd husband and her grandson became King James VI of Scotland and succeeded Elizabeth I as James I of England. The jewel is said to depict her aspirations for her grandson, who ultimately became King.
Royal ‘Holyrood Week’
In 2023, the King and Queen, accompanied by the Prince and Princess of Wales were at the palace for the start of ‘Holyrood Week’, which occurs each year usually around the beginning of July.
During the week, the monarch holds a garden party, investitures and in 2023, the new King received the ‘Honours of Scotland’ which are considered to be the Scottish Crown Jewels.
A full outline of this year’s Holyrood Week can be found here:
History of Holyrood Abbey
Annexed to the Palace, Holyrood Abbey was founded in 1128 as a ‘Canons Regular’ Augustinian church by King David I of Scotland.
It is said that the king was riding his horse and fell off after the horse was startled by a stag.
Legend has it that he was saved by the appearance of a ‘holy cross’ from the heavens, while he was holding the stag’s antlers, and it was distracted by the light, thus he was not killed by it. The site where the abbey is located, was where the king fell, and he decided to establish an abbey there in thanksgiving for being saved. The name ‘Holyrood’ means Holy Cross, as ‘Rood’ is the word used for the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
Originally, the Abbey guest house was developed into a royal residence but after the Scottish Reformation (from 1560), the Palace of Holyroodhouse was extended to provide accommodation fitting for a ruling monarch.
The Abbey acted as a parish church until the 17thC and only became a ruin in the 18thC.
The original abbey church constructed between 1197 and 1230, consisted of six bays in the choir, three transepts, a central tower and an eight-bay aisled nave (as shown above).
Between 1256 and 1410, the Abbey hosted a number of meetings of the Parliament of Scotland and by 1329 it was also being used as a royal residence.
During the War of Rough Wooing, the invading English armies damaged the Abbey’s structure in both 1544 and 1547. The bells were removed and some of the contents of the Abbey plundered.
Then during the Scottish Reformation in 1559, an angry mob destroyed the alters and looted the rest of the church.
By 1570 the east end of the church was in such disrepair that the choir and transepts were demolished.
For the coronation of Charles I in 1633 the Abbey was extensively remodelled and in 1686 James VII converted it into a Roman Catholic Church after the Kirk of Canongate (just down the road) was established for Protestants.
At the same time the ‘Order of the Thistle’ was created for the chapel, along with adding thrones and stalls for each individual Knights of the Thistle (like the Order of the Garter area in St Georges Chapel at Windsor Castle).
The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle consists of the sovereign and sixteen knights and ladies and a few ‘extras’ which are usually members of the royal family. Queen Camilla was made a Lady of the order this year.
Replacement of roof trusses in 1758-60, made of stone proved disastrous for the structural integrity of the building and in July 1768 the roof collapsed in two stages. The ruin we see today is the result of that destruction.
There have been several proposals to restore the Abbey, none of which have succeeded.
In 1829 Felix Mendelssohn visited Holyrood and this was the inspiration for the composing of his Scottish Symphony.
The Abbey was the site of 5 coronations and three royal weddings including that of James IV and Margaret Tudor (Henry VIII’s sister) in 1503.
In 1910-11 excavations were made to expose the inside and outer foundations of the Abbey and its surrounding buildings and it allowed for an assessment of the extent to which it occupied the site.
Relevant Travel Information:
Open almost everyday.
Royal Family Website:
Out & About
Edinburgh’s Royal Mile
Flanked by Edinburgh Castle at one end and the Palace of Holyroodhouse at the other, ‘The Royal Mile’ is one of the most famous routes in Scotland and is inside the UNESCO World Heritage Site for the area.
The term ‘Royal Mile’ was first coined by WM Gilbert in his book Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century, published in 1901. He described the city “with its Castle and Palace and the royal mile between”, and the name stuck!
It has also conveniently been the processional route for kings and queens for over 500 years.
The Royal Geographical Society has created a guided walk along the streets so that you can see all the highlights.
The route is the length of a ‘Scottish’ mile, which is now obsolete but is equal to approximately 1.8kms.
The ‘high’ end of the Royal Mile is the site upon which Edinburgh Castle sits and was the site of a former volcano, which has a distinct crag & tail formation. The ‘tail’ slopes eastward down towards the Palace from a height of 42 metres to 109m at the Castle end.
When Mary Queen of Scots married Francis II of France in July 1558, the Royal Mile served as the main area for entertainment in celebration of the event.
The Royal Mile is a must visit area when you are in Edinburgh.
Thanks for reading Traveling Through History! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and consider collecting this edition to support my work.
Michelle is a speaker, author, content marketer, historian and mother of 3 boys.
After 25 years in business and as the ‘Content Marketing Queen’ for the past 12 years, she has helped countless small businesses understand and develop their content strategies and focus on a customer first approach.
Savvy Travel Historian is her passion project, and her weekly newsletter is available on Substack, Paragraph and Mirror. The latter two allows you to collect each Issue as an NFT.
Michelle is co-host of the Web3 By Three Podcast, a weekly show which talks about current stories in the Web3 space and how it applies to B2B marketing, sales and operations. The show is recorded live every Wednesday at 4pm EST/ 9pm UTC on LinkedIn, YouTube & Bolt+.
You can follow Michelle in these places:
Savvy Travel Historian Instagram
- Loading comments...