Linlithgow Palace

The ruins of Linlithgow Palace are situated in the town of Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland, 15 miles (24 km) west of Edinburgh. The palace was one of the principal residences of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries. Although maintained after Scotland's monarchs left for England in 1603, the palace was little used, and was burned out in 1746. It is now a visitor attraction in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.

The south face of Linlithgow Palace
North side of Linlithgow Palace on a sunny evening
Linlithgow Palace from Linlithgow Loch looking east
St. Michael's Church and Linlithgow Palace from the Peel
North and west faces of Linlithgow Palace
Near infra-red kite aerial photo of Linlithgow Palace looking westwards
St Michael's Church with its modern crown steeple, viewed across part of the palace.
Linlithgow, 1836 proof engraving by William Miller after J.M.W. Turner
The fore entrance to Linlithgow Palace, built by King James V around 1533, gave access to the outer enclosure surrounding the palace
The four European orders of chivalry to which James V belonged are engraved above the arch of the fore entrance: The Order of the Garter, The Order of the Thistle, The Order of the Golden Fleece, and The Order of St. Michael.
Great Hall or Parliament House

Early historyEdit

A royal manor existed on the site in the 12th century.[1] This was replaced by a fortification known as 'the Peel', built in the 14th century by occupying English forces under Edward I. The site of the manor made it an ideal military base for securing the supply routes between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. The English fort was begun in March 1302 under the supervision of two priests, Richard de Wynepol and Henry de Graundeston. The architect, Master James of St George, was also present.[2] In September 1302, sixty men and 140 women helped dig the ditches; the men were paid twopence and the women a penny daily.[3] One hundred foot-soldiers were still employed as labourers on the castle in November and work continued during the Summer of 1303.[4]

In September 1313, Linlithgow Peel was retaken for Scotland by an ordinary Scot named William Binning or Bunnock[5] who was in the habit of selling hay to the garrison of the peel. When the gate was opened for him, he halted his wagon so that it could not be closed, his eight compatriots leapt out from their hiding place under the hay, and they captured the peel for King Robert the Bruce. King Robert sent reinforcements and had the peel dismantled so that it could not be retaken by the English.[6]

In 1424, the town of Linlithgow was partially destroyed in a great fire.[7] King James I started the rebuilding of the Palace as a grand residence for Scottish royalty, also beginning the rebuilding of the Church of St Michael immediately to the south of the palace: the earlier church had been used as a storeroom during Edward's occupation.[8] Over the following century the palace developed into a formal courtyard structure, with significant additions by James III and James IV.

James IV and Margaret TudorEdit

James IV bought crimson satin for a new doublet to wear while formally welcoming the Spanish ambassador Don Martin de Torre at Linlithgow in August. Silverware and tapestries were brought from Edinburgh for the event, and the wardrobe servant David Caldwell brought cords and rings to hang the tapestry in the palace. New rushes were brought from the Haw of Lithgow for the chamber floor. Entertainment included a play performed by Patrick Johnson and his fellows.[9] After a visit to Stirling the king returned to Linlithgow and played dice with the Laird of Halkett and his Master of Household, and on 17 September rewarded stonemasons working on the palace with two gold angel coins.[10] James IV spent Easter 1490 at the palace, visited the town of Culross, and returned on 18 April to play dice with the Earl of Angus and the Laird of Halkett, losing 20 gold unicorn coins.[11] The king spent Christmas 1490 and Easter 1491 at Linlithgow. On 9 April he bought seeds for the palace gardener. James IV was interested in medicine and experimented taking blood from his servant Domenico and another man at Linlithgow.[12] The king's mistress Margaret Drummond stayed at Linlithgow in the autumn of 1496.[13] The park dykes were rebuilt in 1498.[14]

His son James V was born in the palace in April 1512. The household of his mother Margaret Tudor at Linlithgow included the African servants Margaret and Ellen More.[15] In April 1513 the roof of the chapel was altered and renewed, and a new organ was made by a French musician and craftsman called Gilyem and fixed to the wall. Timber was shipped to Blackness Castle and carted to the Palace. The windows of the queen's oratory, overlooking the Loch, were reglazed.[16]

The infant king was not kept at Linlithgow, but came to the Palace from Stirling Castle dressed in a new black velvet suit accompanied by minstrels in April 1517, and went on to take up residence in Edinburgh Castle.[17] Margaret Tudor rewarded the king's nurse and governess, Marion Douglas, with a grant of the lands near Linlithgow palace called the Queen's Acres in July 1518. Marion's daughter, Katherine Bellenden, made the king's shirts.[18]

James VEdit

James V added the outer gateway and the elaborate courtyard fountain.[19] The stonework of the south façade was renewed and unified for James V in the 1530s by the keeper, James Hamilton of Finnart.[20] Timber imported from Denmark-Norway, including "Estland boards" and joists, was bought at the harbours of Dundee, South Queensferry, Montrose, and Leith, and shipped to Blackness Castle to be carted to the Palace. Three oak trees were cut down in Callender Wood to provide tables for dressing food in the kitchens, and seven oak trees from the Torwood. The improvements included altering the chapel ceiling and trees were brought from Callender to make scaffolding for this. Six hogshead barrels were bought to hold the scaffold in place.[21]

The older statues of the Pope, the Knight, and Labouring Man on the east side of the courtyard, with the inscriptions on ribbons held by angels were painted. New iron window grills, called yetts, were made by blacksmiths in Linlithgow, and these, with weather vanes, were painted with red lead and vermilion. A metal worker in Glasgow called George Clame made shutter catches for the windows and door locks in iron plated with tin. The chapel ceiling was painted with fine azurite. Stained glass was inserted in the chapel windows and the windows of the "Lyon Chamber", meaning the courtyard windows of the Great Hall.[22] A chaplain, Thomas Johnston, kept the palace watertight and had the wallwalks and gutters cleaned. Robert Murray looked after the lead roofs and the plumbing of the fountain.[23]

During a visit in December 1539 Mary of Guise was provided with gold, silver, and black thread for embroidery, and her ladies' embroidery equipment was brought from Falkland Palace. Tapestry was brought from Edinburgh to decorate the palace. The goldsmiths Thomas Rynde and John Mosman provided chains, tablets or lockets, rings, precious stones, necklaces, and jewelled coifs for ladies called "shaffrons" for the king to give as gifts to his courtiers on New Year's day. On the feast of the Epiphany in January the court watched an "interlude" that was an early version of David Lindsay's play, A Satire of the Three Estates. Mary of Guise returned to Edinburgh on 3 February and was crowned soon afterwards.[24]

Mary, Queen of ScotsEdit

Mary, Queen of Scots, was born at Linlithgow Palace in December 1542 and lived at the palace for a time. In January 1543 Viscount Lisle heard that she was kept with her mother, "and nursed in her own chamber".[25] In March 1543 the English ambassador Ralph Sadler rode from Edinburgh to see her for the first time. Mary of Guise showed him the queen out of her swaddling and Sadler wrote that the infant was "as goodly a child I have seen, and like to live".[26] The Earl of Lennox came to see the infant queen on 5 April 1543.[27]

The blacksmith William Hill was employed at this time to increase the security of the palace by fitting iron window grills, called yetts. Lord Livingstone was paid £813 for keeping the infant queen in the palace.[28] Regent Arran was worried his enemies, including Cardinal Beaton, would take Mary in July 1543. He came with the Earl of Angus and brought his artillery. He considered putting the queen in Blackness Castle, a stronger fortress. Henry VIII hoped thay Mary would be separated from her mother and taken to Tantallon Castle. Mary was teething and plans to move her were delayed.[29] Following lengthy negotiations between the armed factions at Linlithgow, Mary was taken to Stirling Castle by her mother on 26 July 1543, escorted by the Earl of Lennox.[30]

As an adult she often visited Linlithgow, but did not commission new building work at the palace. She returned on 14 January 1562 with her half-brother Lord James Stewart and received the Earl of Arran as a guest. She returned to Edinburgh on 30 January after visiting Cumbernauld Castle.[31] Lord Darnley, her second husband, played tennis at Linlithgow.[32] Mary came to Linlithgow in December 1565 to take the air and have a quiet time with few visitors, but her husband Lord Darnley was expected. She was pregnant and was carried to Linlithgow in a horse-litter.[33] She had a bed at Linlithgow of crimson velvet and damask embroidered with love knots.[34]

James VIEdit

James VI of Scotland came to Linlithgow in May 1583, and his courtiers, including the Earl of Bothwell and the Earl Marischal played football.[35] James VI held a parliament in the great hall of the palace in December 1585, the first gathering of the whole nobility in the palace since the reign of his grandfather James V of Scotland.[36] James VI gave lands including the palace to his bride Anne of Denmark as a "morning gift". On 14 May 1590 Peder Munk, the Admiral of Denmark, rode to Linlithgow from Niddry Castle, and was welcomed at the palace by the keeper Lewis Bellenden. He took symbolic possession or (sasine) by accepting a handful of earth and stone.[37] The next keeper was the English courtier Roger Aston, who repaired the roof in 1594 using lead shipped from England.[38] Roger Aston was of doubtful parentage and as a joke hung a copy of his family tree next to that of the king of France in the long gallery, which James VI found very amusing.[39]

In January 1595 the Earl of Atholl, Lord Lovat, and Kenneth Mackenzie were kept prisoners in the palace, for pacifying "Highland matters".[40] Lord Lovat gained the king's favour and soon after married one of Anne of Denmark's ladies in waiting, Jean Stewart, a daughter of Lord Doune.[41]

The daughter of James VI and Anna, Princess Elizabeth lived in the Palace in the care of Helenor Hay, Countess of Linlithgow, helped by Mary Kennedy, Lady Ochiltree.[42]

Decay and repairEdit

After the Union of the Crowns in 1603 the Royal Court became largely based in England and Linlithgow was used very little. The old North Range, described as 'ruinous' in 1599, collapsed on 6 September 1607, and The 1st Earl of Linlithgow wrote to King James VI & I with the news:

Please your most Sacred Majestie; this sext of September, betuixt thre and four in the morning, the north quarter of your Majesties Palice of Linlithgw is fallin, rufe and all, within the wallis, to the ground; but the wallis ar standing yit, bot lukis everie moment when the inner wall sall fall and brek your Majesties fontane."[43]

King James had it rebuilt between 1618 and 1622. The carving was designed by the mason William Wallace. In July 1620, the architect, James Murray of Kilbaberton, estimated that 3,000 stones in weight of lead would be needed to cover the roof, costing £3,600 in Pound Scots (the Scottish money of the time).[44] On 5 July 1621 the then Earl of Mar wrote to James to tell him he had met Murray and viewed the works at 'grate lenthe.' He said the Palace would be ready for the King at Michaelmas.[45] The carving at the window-heads and the Royal Arms of Scotland were painted and gilded. and the old statues of the Pope, Knight, and Labouring Man on the east side had also been painted.[46] However, the only reigning monarch to stay at Linlithgow after that date was King Charles I, who spent a night there in 1633.

In 1648, part of the new North Range was occupied by The 2nd Earl of Linlithgow.[47] An English visitor in October 1641 recorded in a poem that the roof of the great hall was already gone, the fountain vandalised by those who objected on religious grounds to the motto "God Save the King," but some woodcarving remained in the Chapel Royal.[48]

The palace's swansong came in September 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie visited Linlithgow on his march south but did not stay overnight. It is said that the fountain was made to flow with wine in his honour.[49] The Duke of Cumberland's army destroyed most of the palace buildings by burning in January 1746.

Keepers and Captains of the PalaceEdit

The positions of official keeper and captain of the palace have been held by: Andrew Cavers, Abbot of Lindores, 1498;[50] John Ramsay of Trarinzeane, 1503;[51] James Hamilton of Finnart, 1534, Captain and Keeper; William Danielstoun from 19 November 1540; Andrew Hamilton in Briggis, from 22 August 1543; Andrew Melville of Murdocairney, later Lord Melville of Monimail, brother of James Melville of Halhill, from 15 February 1567; George Boyd, deputy Captain, 1564; Andrew Ferrier, Captain of the Palace, 1565, Frenchman; John Brown, June 1569; Andrew Lambie, June 1571; Ludovic Bellenden of Auchnoul 22 November 1587, and 1595 Roger Aston. The office was acquired by Alexander Livingstone, 1st Earl of Linlithgow, and remained in that family until 1715 when the rights returned to the Crown.[52]

Present dayEdit

The palace has been actively conserved since the early 19th century and is today managed and maintained by Historic Environment Scotland. The site is open to visitors all year round, usually subject to an entrance fee for non-members, but on occasion the entry fee is waived during the organisation's "Doors open days".[53] In summer the adjacent 15th-century parish church of St Michael is open for visitors, allowing a combined visit to two of Scotland's finest surviving medieval buildings. The site was visited by 103,312 people in 2019.[54]

For over 40 years, tours of the palace for children are led by 'Junior Guides', pupils at Linlithgow Primary School[55]

A Strathspey for bagpipes was composed in honour of Linlithgow Palace.[56]

The Palace is said to be haunted by the spectre of Mary of Guise, mother to Mary, Queen of Scots.[57]

Artistic and cultural uses

On 4 December 2012, the French fashion house Chanel held its tenth Métiers d’Art show in the palace. The collection, designed by Karl Lagerfeld, was called 'Paris-Édimbourg' and inspired by classic Scottish styling using tweed and tartan fabrics worn by models Stella Tennant, Cara Delevingne, and Edie Campbell.

Linlithgow Palace at Night

The show renewed media interest in the possibility of restoring the roof of the palace.[58]

In August 2014, a music festival was held on the palace's grounds called 'Party at the Palace'. This became a yearly event and again took place in 2015; from 2016 it was moved to the other side of the loch due to its popularity and need for more space. The festival still boasts views of the palace.

Some scenes in the time-traveling romance TV series Outlander are set at a fictional castle for which Linlithgow Palace stands in; this has attracted a number of international tourists.[59]


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  4. ^ Simpson, Grant, & Galbraith, James, ed., Calendar Documents Scotland in PRO and British Library, vol. 5 supplementary, SRO (n.d), no. 305, no. 472 (h, j, u), 'j' mentions Robert de Wynpol (Wimpole) working in Summer 1303, 472 (k) mentions the Warwolf lupus-guerre siege engine at Stirling Castle.
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  56. ^ Archie Cairns - Book 1 Pipe Music 'Linlithgow Palace' Strathspey 1995
  57. ^ "Haunted trail of Mary, Queen of Scots - News". The Scotsman. 8 December 2005.
  58. ^ Chanel Paris-Edimbourg Archived 11 April 2013 at Vogue Metiers d'Art: Scotsman Newspaper, 3 March 2013, 'Roof for Linlithgow'
  59. ^ Baynes, Richard (15 February 2020). "'Outlander' TV Show Prompts Tourist Boom in Central Scotland". Weekend Edition Saturday. Retrieved 16 February 2020.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 55°58′42.6″N 3°36′4.0″W / 55.978500°N 3.601111°W / 55.978500; -3.601111