The Palace of Holyrood House & Holyrood Abbey

Mary, Queen of Scots Home Page

Holyrood Abbey Holyrood Abbey

Legend tells how Kind David I was hunting in the woodland that once covered this whole area, when he was attacked by a stag. A silver cloud appeared in the sky, from which descended a holy cross. At the sight of this the stag fled, and in acknowledgement of this miracle, King David founded the Monastery of the Holy Rood. The year was 1128, and it is from this time that Edinburgh's tumultuous religious history grew. It was not long before the humble monastery had grown into an abbey, and the lives of an illustrious trail of Scottish monarchs became entwined with this place. James II, III and IV were all married in the Abbey, James V and Charles I were both crowned here, and James III's grave is amongst those numbered here. It was one of the abbeys pillaged by the Earl of Hertford on his march through Scotland in 1544, and in 1688 it was plundered by a mob celebrating the accession of William of Orange. On that occasion the vaults were opened and the Royal coffins broken into. Among the objects removed was the head of Darnley. Subsequent restoration work culminated in the new roof in 1758. Ten years later this gave way, and was never repaired, and eventually the Abbey crumbled into the evocative ruins we see today.

Palace of Holyroodhouse Sketch of the palace

The processional stretch of the "Royal Mile" leads eventually to the gates of the magnificent Palace of Holyroodhouse. It was built under the orders of James IV in 1498, who enlarged an existing guesthouse of the nearby abbey. Little of the original building is left today. Fifty years after its construction, the palace suffered serious damage by the Earl of Hertford's troops and a century later Cromwell's army left their own mark on it. By the time the monarchy was restored, there was little left of the grand palace that Holyrood had once been. The drawing above shows the palace as it was in 1647.

In the 1670s, Charles II ordered the palace to be restored, and Sir William Bruce redesigned and reconstructed large parts of the building. In the event, Charles II never even visited Holyrood to appreciate the marvellous craftsmanship, but we have him to thank for the continued existence of this royal home.

The most famous wedding of all to take place here was that of the twenty-two year old Mary, Queen of Scots, to the nineteen year old Darnley on 29th July 1565. Darnley placed three rings on Mary's finger and knelt beside her while the catholic priest said prayers for their union. Darnley, whose vacillating religious beliefs were notorious, was Protestant at the time and left Mary in the private chapel of Holyrood to hear Mass. Mary was dressed in black mourning to represent the widow's life she was leaving behind. After the ceremony she was divested of her mourning clothes and robed in a brightly coloured, jewel-encrusted outfit. A trumpet fanfare accompanied the couple's procession to the Great Hall where a sumptuous feast awaited them. Crowds cheered outside throwing gold coins, while Mary and Darnley were being entertained with a masque and a dance. Atholl, Morton, Crawford, Eglinton, Cassilis and Glencairn were present at the banquet to attend the couple. These festivities continued for the following two days, but he euphoria was of short duration, as Mary soon realised that she had married a complete waster.

Mary's Bedroom Mary's outer chamber

The above two pictures show Mary's Bedroom and Audience Chamber respectively. The picture on the left reveals the small inner chamber where Mary liked to convene with her friends and Secretary David Rizzio. It was there that the tragic murder of the latter was committed. Rizzio's body was dragged through the Audience Chamber and stabbed several times.

On 15th May 1547, thirteen weeks after Darnley's death, Mary and Bothwell were married in the Council Hall of Holyrood in a Protestant ceremony. Adam, Bishop of Orkney and friend of Bothwell, preached a sermon to the effect that Bothwell had repented of his former life of evil and wickedness, while Huntly and Maitland were among the witnesses. This short ceremony was followed by a dour wedding breakfast eaten in silence. In stark contrast to her previous two weddings, there were no rejoicings or expensive trousseau. Mary contented herself with an old yellow gown relined with white taffeta, an old black dress decorated with gold braid, and a black taffeta petticoat refurbished. To Bothwell she only gave a second-hand genet fur, recycled from her mother's cloak. Later, she broke down in tears before Bishop Leslie, repenting of her Protestant wedding. Two days after the wedding, Mary and Bothwell were heard screaming at each other, Mary calling for a knife that she might kill herself. The next day, she threatened to drown herself. The marriage, which ended a month later at Carberry Hill, was an unhappy one. On public occasions, Bothwell displayed an exaggerated deference for Mary, but otherwise, he was rude, jealous and violent, and delighted in humiliating her in public. It also leaked that he was maintaining his ex-wife, Lady Jean Gordon, whom he had divorced in order to marry Mary, in Crichton Castle. To appease him, Mary gave up all her little pleasures such as card-playing, hunting, golf, hawking and music.

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