Abroad Special Feature: The History of Holyrood Palace and Abbey

3 min read

Olivia Papp ’23

Features Editor

Holyrood Palace sits on the bottom end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, opposite the Edinburgh castle. This palace is historically known as the official residence in Scotland for British monarchs. It is directly beneath Arthur’s Seat, a local mountain that gives breathtaking views of the city below. The Holyrood Palace is where the famous, Mary, Queen of Scots would reside in the tower apartments. These apartments are distinguished by the beautifully plastered ceilings, the incredibly detailed woodwork, and the intricately crafted paintings. 

The name ‘Holyrood’ was originated from the term ‘holy rood,’ meaning ‘holy cross.’ What is fascinating about this location is that it was not formally known as a palace at first but rather an Abbey. An Abbey is a place that is communally occupied by monks or nuns. Now, the Abbey resides next to the palace as a ruin. It is believed that David I founded this monastery for the Augustinian order in the year 1128. The Abbey was the place where Scottish Parliament meetings were hosted, and many royal monarchs would visit the Abbey quarters. Unfortunately, during a series of invasions in the 1500s, the Abbey was damaged. The Holyrood Abbey changed from Catholic to Protestant following the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Then, due to structural weaknesses, the roof collapsed in 1768, which is why its appearance today is that of ruin. 

In 1501, Holyrood Palace was built beside the Abbey by James IV. James IV intended to build this new place of residence for himself and his new queen Margaret Tudor. In 1528, James V renovated the palace by creating a tower. These renovations made the Holyroodhouse appear as a palace more than a regular mansion. Next, Mary, Queen of Scots came to live in the Holyrood Palace following her stay in France. In this palace, Mary, Queen of Scots married both her second and third husbands. Following the Civil War, the Holyroodhouse underwent significant damage, and, as a result, the palace was rebuilt by Sir William Bruce in 1671. The creator of this new palace designed it to look the same as its original version, and he also added royal state apartments for guests. This 17th century, redone model of the palace is what we now see standing today. 

The state apartments inside the palace include a bedchamber where only the highest-ranking of visitors are allowed to stay. One room is called the Great Gallery. Here, 89 timeless paintings of Scottish Kings are hung up. The Gallery was once used as a dining room but now is used for formal receptions. Another room located in the palace is called the Throne Room, a place where Knights and Ladies would dine once a member of the new Order was named. Another section of the palace is designated as the Mary, Queen of Scots rooms. These rooms were used by Mary, Queen of Scots when she lived there. These are the most famous rooms and are maintained in a manner that would have looked similar during Mary’s lifetime. These were the first rooms of the palace to be opened for visitors. If you ever find yourself in Edinburgh, you must book a tour to the Palace of Holyrood and see for yourself the history and royal presence that lies behind those doors. 

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