Pleasure palace of the royal Stewarts | An ancient site | Their Majesties’ palace
Pleasure palace of the royal Stewarts
The majestic royal palace of the Stewarts at Linlithgow today lies roofless and ruined. Yet the visitor still feels a sense of awe on entering its gates. It was begun by James I in 1424, after a fire destroyed Linlithgow Castle. It became a truly elegant ‘pleasure palace’, and a welcome stopping-place for the royal family along the busy road linking Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle.
The Stewart queens especially liked its tranquillity and fresh air. The ancient palace served as the royal nursery for James V (born 1512), Mary Queen of Scots (born 1542) and Princess Elizabeth (born 1596), later known as ‘the Winter Queen’. But in 1603, James VI moved the royal court to London following the union of the crowns and his coronation as James I of England. Thereafter the palace fell quickly into decline, though the north quarter was rebuilt on his behalf around 1620. The end came ignominiously in January 1746, when another fire swept through the palace.
An ancient site
Linlithgow Palace stands on a low green promontory overlooking a small inland loch. The name Linlithgow means ‘the loch in the damp hollow’. The location has a history of occupation, possibly reaching back at least to Roman times 2,000 years ago. David I (1124–53) was the first monarch to build a royal residence on the site. He also founded the town that sprang up in its shadow.
The peace of Linlithgow was shattered in 1296 when Edward I of England invaded Scotland. In 1302 the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ had a formidable defence built around the royal residence. He called it his ‘pele’ (from Old French pel, meaning ‘stake’). Nothing of the original Linlithgow Peel survives, but the word is now used for the attractive parkland surrounding the later palace of the Stewarts.
Their Majesties’ palace
In 1424 a great fire swept through the town. The old palace was badly damaged. James I (1406–37), recently returned from captivity in England, started to build anew. Over the course of the next century and more, his heirs completed the great task.
The end result was a monumentally impressive quadrangular palace, with four ranges grouped around a central courtyard. At its centre stood James V’s wonderful fountain (1538). James I’s great hall dominated the east quarter. The royal chapel and royal apartments added by James IV (1488–1513) graced the south and west quarters.
The north quarter came crashing to the ground in 1607, and was rebuilt for James VI (1567–1625). That quarter may have housed the queen’s apartment, meaning that the room where Mary Queen of Scots was born in December 1542 no longer exists.