History of Palace of
Palace of Holyroodhouse, also known
as Holyrood Palace was originally built by James IV of Scotland
between 1501 and 1505, as a Gothic palace adjacent to the 12th-century abbey.
The Old Holyroodhouse
The oldest part of the present building is the massive north-west
tower, built between 1528 and 1532 by William Aytoun for James V. Two carved panels have been
inserted in the tower, relicas of earlier panels, one with the arms of Mary of Guise, second
consort of James V, and the other with a background of thistles and a unicorn in full relief,
the Royal Arms of Scotland.
Except for this tower, the entire 16th-century palace was destroyed by
an English army in 1544. Over a century later the building remained semi-derelict, and the
decision to re-create a palace on the site was taken by Charles II of England and Scotland
The contract to rebuild Palace of
Holyroodhouse is dated March 1672. Responsibility for the work was shared by
Sir William Bruce, His Majesty’s Surveyor-General in Scotland, and Robert Mylne, His Majesty’s
Master Mason in Scotland. Bruce acted as superintendant and overseer, but his connection with
the work seems to have ended in 1678.
The original sketch plan seems to have been by Mylne, but several
alterations had to be made on the express orders of the King. The proposed ‘low vaulted
Chappell’ was converted into ‘a large vaulted cellare’, and the number of royal apartments was
reduced from three to two.
The King also ordered that a passage be made to connect the old royal
chambers in the north-west tower to the new royal chambers in the east wing; this passage
became the great gallery. These alterations made the internal arrangements of the palace far
more orderly and convenient.
The New Holyroodhouse
The present Holyroodhouse Palace is of a quadrangular
form, with an open court in the centre, nearly 30 m square. It is built entirely of local
stone, some of it reused.
The west front consists of the original castellated tower, four
storeys in height, its windows enlarged to suit 17th-century taste; a second tower very similar
to the first; and the two towers joined by a low screen of two storeys, with a platform roof
and double balustrade.
Both towers have three circular turrets at their exterior angles,
rising from the ground to the battlements and topped with conical roofs; the fourth angle of
each tower is concealed by the building that surrounds the inner court. In the middle of the
connecting screen is the entrance, ornamented by four Doric columns, which support an octagonal
cupola surmounted by an imperial crown.
Beneath the cupola is a clock, its face bearing the date 1680, and
over the gateway are the Royal Arms of Scotland. The elevation to the east has 17 bays, with
superimposed pilaster orders. The north and south elevations are almost featureless. The inner
court is surrounded by a handsome arcade, faced with Doric pilasters. On the entablature of
these are cut the ensigns of Scottish royalty: the thistle and the crown, the sword and the
Between the windows of the second floor there is a range of Ionic
pilasters, and above these an equal number of the Corinthian. On a pediment on the west-facing
façade of the court are the royal arms.
At the south-west angle of the court is the large staircase leading to
the royal apartments, and on the north side of the building is the great gallery, 45 m long, 7
m broad, and 6 m in height. At one stage a gate with Gothic pillars, arches and towers joined
the palace to the abbey, but this was destroyed in 1755.
The series of staterooms in the south range contains some fine late
17th-century work. In the Morning Drawing Room and the King’s Bedchamber and Closet there are
corniced doorcases with acanthus leaf friezes by Alexander Eizat; elaborate drapery and
festoons carved by Jan van Santvoort; and very fine ceilings by John Houlbert and George
Dunsterfield, with deeply moulded plasterwork, drapery, oak leaves and cherubs. The marble
mantelpieces are Italian, and there are several French, Flemish and Italian
Between 1740 and 1741 William Adam redecorated and refurnished the
apartments of the Duke of Hamilton in the highest style, but this work was almost completely
destroyed in the course of later redecorations. In the north-west tower there are apartments
associated with Mary, Queen of Scots. These contain wooden ceilings, probably of the early 16th
century, with some painted decoration and friezes in tempera.
Palace of Holyroodhouse Map&Location
Address: Palace of Holyroodhouse, Canongate, Edinburgh, EH8. Get help
with directions using the map provided bellow:
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Holyrood Palace Photos
Palace of Holyrood and remains of Abbey
Palace of Holyroodhouse
Palace Courtyard Fountain
Holyroodhouse Palace courtyard
Holyroodhouse Palace - Door detail in Queen's Gallery
Holyroodhouse Palace Main Gate
Holyroodhouse Palace - Sightseeing bus
Holyrood Palace North-West Tower (The James' Tower)
In front of Holyroodhouse Palace