No visit to Edinburgh is complete without an exploration of the Palace of Holyrood House - isn't that name alone intriguing?
Disclosure: some of the links below are affiliate links. If you purchase a linked item, I will make a commission, at no extra charge to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Edinburgh is a city that overflows with stunning, stone buildings to explore. The center of the medieval town a complex maze of small, winding streets and cobbled lanes, leading up to Edinburgh Castle, which looms large over the ancient city.
And, of course, for fans of Royal history, Edinburgh has a few Royal families for us to learn about, and sites to visit up to the modern day, including the Royal Yacht Britannia, which appears to be enjoying a splendid retirement parked outside of Edinburgh.
You may also be aware that this week is "Holyrood Week" - the time that the Queen spends at Holyrood House, meeting various members of Scottish society. Shortly, she'll head over to Balmoral, which is more isolated, and where she spends some vacation time, though still very much in Scotland. So thanks for stopping by, and let's learn a little bit about Holyrood House - the most significant royal palace in Scotland!
The History of Holyrood Palace
The history of the "British Royal Family," currently the "House of Windsor" is a long and complicated one, with an intriguing connection to Scotland that is more than political. Inhabiting the same island and running in the same "circles" led to a tenuous connection between the House of Stuart and the House of Tudor, which ultimately ended in the thrown of both countries being held by the same man, James I (James VI), son of Mary, Queen of Scots. After the Acts of Union in 1707, the countries were not only ruled by the same person, but also part of a consolidated national entity.
A variety of palaces have stood on the site and, like most castles and palaces, the ultimate building is an amalgamation of different buildings, that evolved over a number of years, jumbled together. The majority of the palace that you will tour was built in the 1670's. The palace had burned during the English Civil War and was largely rebuilt after the Restoration of Charles II, though it was no longer the permanent seat of the Scottish monarchy at that point, after the two thrones merged, to be held by the same person/family, in 1603.
Mary, Queen of Scots, is a central figure of a tour of Holyrood Palace, as she not only spent much of her time there, when she was in Scotland, but also owing to her unique role in uniting the two royal houses. Many of the more salacious aspects of her life occurred at Holyrood, including her wedding to Lord Darnley and the scandalous murder of her secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her...yup...(you'll see the place). Mary is a confusing historical figure, in part for many people because they get her confused with "Bloody Mary," or they have trouble placing her in history. Mary was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth, and mother of Elizabeth's successor, known to history as James I of England, though he was of course first James VI of Scotland. Always a rival to Elizabeth's throne, the two women had a rocky relationship for many years...until Elizabeth ultimately had her executed in London in 1587. If this interests you, I'd strongly recommend Simon Schama's History of Britain as a primer for your trip - the episode covering this portion of history is phenomenal. Or, if you'd prefer the story told in a slightly more exciting fashion, the recent film about Mary's life, Mary Queen of Scots, is also enjoyable, though of course keep that Wiki page open for a bit of fact checking! And, finally, if you're trying to get some kiddos hooked just in time for the visit, check out Reign, which is a fairly Gossip-Girl-ed version of events, but it'll teach the characters at least!
What does "Holyrood" mean?
"Rood" is the Scots word for "cross." So, Holyrood means "Holy Cross."
Planning a visit to Holyrood Palace
It should not be too difficult to incorporate Holyrood into your time in Edinburgh, as it makes up one end of the stunning Royal Mile. Edinburgh Castle looms large over the peak of the town, and forms the "top" of the Royal Mile - you'll then walk down the mile, toward Holyrood. The shops and historical sites thin out a bit toward the bottom of the mile, and then you'll see the Palace!
Tickets are available in advance online from the Royal Collection Trust, or on the day-of at the gates. Audiotours are also available, as they are at most Royal Collection sites. Don't forget to check out the gift shop - they really do have some of the best gift shops I've ever visited...and I'm going to consider myself a pro, at least on this front!
The Jacobite History of Holyrood Palace
The story of Holyrood Palace highlights the stories of Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie, the last of the Jacobite "pretenders" to the British throne. We're about to dive into a bit of a history lesson, but in short, a "pretender" is someone who claims a throne, but does not currently sit on the throne because it passed "legally" to another branch of the family, or another family all together.
Interestingly, I did find that there is still an understanding of who the "rightful" heir would be under the Jacobite succession, if you're curious about this sort of thing. Due to a lot of people not marrying / not having children over the years, the line has jumped families quite a few times. The holder of this title currently is Franz, Duke of Bavaria, and as he has no children, upon his death, the "title" will presumably fall to the Duke's younger brother, then that man's daughter, and finally, her son, Prince Joseph Wenzel of Liechtenstein. So there's a little history lesson for all my fellow nerds!
Of course, the Jacobites weren't always merely an intellectual exercise in royal history. In 1745, Charlies Edward Stuart, who'd go down in history as "Bonnie Prince Charlie" invaded England, through Scotland with the support of some of the Highland clans, in an attempt to overthrow George II and gain the throne for himself (well, technically his father, James, discussed below, as he was still alive, but let's be real - it was for himself). Prince Charlie was the grandson of King James II, who lost his crown during the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when his daughter and son-in- law, William and Mary, were invited by some leading English protestants to sit on the throne, for fear of James's new, Catholic, wife and recently born (Catholic) son inheriting the throne. James fled into exile, and his family lived in Catholic countries, never forgetting that they were the heirs to the British throne. His son, also James, grew up to be known as "The Old Pretender" and attempted to reclaim his birthright in 1715. The movement was, at the time, and is still, referred to as "Jacobite" because their aim was to restore the House of Stuart, through the line of King James...and Jacobus is Latin for James.
Bonnie Prince Charlie's more successful attempt of 1745 "the '45'" or "The Rising," based on the wide-spread Catholicism of Highland Scots, but also in resentment toward the ruling English, ended in tragedy, with thousands of Highlanders lying dead at Culloden Moor the following year. The English used this as a pretext to stamp out the Highland clans and Highland culture, including outlawing the wearing of tartan and kilts for many years. This is, of course, the premise of the first few seasons of the still very popular series Outlander, in which an English woman from the 1940s is transported back in time to the era of the Rising.
In the fall of 1745, the Bonnie Prince stormed into Edinburgh, where he was welcomed with open arms and set-up court at Holyrood House, which of course had the been the main Palace of the Stuart branch of his family, through James I and Mary, Queen of Scots. Six weeks later, he was off, and the following spring, the whole thing was over.
Exploring Holyrood Abbey
For me, one of the highlights of our visit was Holyrood Abbey - connected to Holyrood Palace and accessible on the same ticket. Much more so than the Palace, it oozes Scottish romance, particularly if you are able to visit on a beautiful day.
Founded as an abbey with a guest house, the guest house grew into Holyrood Palace and the accompanying church began to serve the royal family. After the royal families merged and the Scottish royal family moved south to also rule England, tourists were interested in visiting the church, where they would not previously have been allowed. The Abbey was the burying place of several Scottish monarchs, though their tombs were destroyed when a mob broke into the Abbey during the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (previously discussed above - this is when William & Mary overthrew Mary's father, James I). The Abbey survived this looting, but after a renovation during which the exterior slabs were replace with new, heavier stones which could not be supported by the existing pillars, the church began to collapse and was ultimately closed to visitors. The roof collapsed in 1768.
The Royal Family in Edinburgh
Today, the BRF spends most of their time in Scotland at Balmoral Castle, rather than Holyrood. Thus, you're unlikely to find a time when you are unable to visit Holyrood due to any of them being in residence (while, of course, the opposite is true at Buckingham Palace, which is only open to the public for a short period each summer, when the Queen is at Balmoral).
Thanks so much for stopping by! xx
Love it? Pin it!
This website uses marketing and tracking technologies. Opting out of this will opt you out of all cookies, except for those needed to run the website. Note that some products may not work as well without tracking cookies.Opt Out of Cookies