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Spynie Palace

Residence of the bishops of Moray

Spynie Palace

Seat of the bishops of Moray

Spynie Palace was for five centuries the residence of the bishops of Moray. During that time, the palace stood on the edge of Spynie Loch, a sea-loch giving safe anchorage for fishing boats and merchant vessels. A thriving settlement developed about it. Today, nothing remains of either the sea-loch or the medieval town. However, the gaunt ruin of Spynie Palace does survive remarkably intact. Together with St Andrews Castle in Fife, Spynie remains the largest surviving medieval bishop’s house in Scotland.

A long-lasting episcopal residence

The bishops of Moray may have established their residence at Spynie in the late 12th century. In 1207–08 Bishop Brice chose the church of Spynie as his cathedral. And although his successor, Bishop Andrew, subsequently moved his cathedra, or bishop’s seat, to a new cathedral in Elgin, the bishops continued to reside at Spynie.

The earliest buildings at Spynie have not survived. The oldest surviving masonry – the enclosure walls running around the south and west sides of the courtyard and the stump of a projecting round tower at the SW angle – date from the 14th century. In the later 15th century, Bishop David built the great tower that was subsequently named after him, David’s Tower.

By 1500, a large new great hall and chamber had been erected along the north side of the courtyard, an elaborate new gateway opened along the east side, and rectangular towers added to two of the corners. The last building works were carried out for the last pre-Reformation bishop, Patrick Hepburn – wide-mouthed gunholes inserted into the bases of the towers. He was clearly anticipating trouble.

The Protestant Reformation of 1560 did not remove bishops at a stroke. Bishop Patrick was permitted to stay in office until his death in 1573. Thereafter, non-Catholic bishops periodically came and went as new forms of church government were tried and rejected. The last bishop, William Hay, left office in 1689 and went to live with his son-in-law in Inverness.

David’s Tower

The colossal tower at the SW corner dominates the whole complex. It measures 19m by 13.5m externally and rises to a height of 22m, making it one of the largest tower houses ever built in Scotland, and the largest by volume. It is named after Bishop David Stewart (1462–76), who commissioned it. However, it remained uncompleted at his death and was finished by Bishop William Tulloch (1477–82). Bishop Patrick (1538–73) added the gunholes. The coats-of-arms of all three bishops grace the south elevation, beneath the royal arms of Scotland. The great tower had a first-floor front entrance and six storeys.

Events at Spynie Palace

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23 November 2014

Ruth Nicol: Three Rivers Meet

Duff House

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Their Name Liveth

Edinburgh Castle

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Winter Warmer Walk

Holyrood Park

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