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Linlithgow Palace - Linlithgow, Central Scotland (HS)

Situated half-way between the great castles of Stirling and Edinburgh, Linlithgow was built on what was probably the site of a royal manor house dating from the mid twelfth century, when King David I founded the burgh and granted the parish church to St Andrews Cathedral Priory. In 1301 it was visited by the English King Edward I while his army had invaded Scotland following the complicated and contentious granting of the Scottish throne to John Balliol. Its position made it a good military base and Edward, never one to neglect a military opportunity, began the building of a castle under the guidance of Master James of St. George who had already worked for the King at Harlech and Rhuddlan in Wales. Here at Linlithgow however, the first castle was mainly of wood and earth, with a defensive ditch and  pele or stockade to protect a gatehouse and wooden towers overlooking the loch. The work was completed in time for Linlithgow to be used as the main supply base for the English during their siege of Stirling Castle in 1304.  

Linlithgow Palace

Edward II of England also spent time at the castle in 1310, but after the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, it came back to Scottish hands. David II held court at Linlithgow in 1343 and repairs were carried out by his successor, Robert III. Nothing now remains of the building as it was at this time. A huge fire destroyed most of the town including the parish church in 1424 and King James I set about rebuilding on a fittingly royal scale. What we see today is the completion of this Stuart phase of building, which was to last for over a hundred years, although at first glance seems all of a piece.

Although no real documentary evidence survives of the original plans of the first phase of building, from stylistic evidence it is assumed that it was a C-shaped plan, open to the west and including the east range with its Great Hall and the adjacent parts of the north and south ranges. The main entrance on the east survives, although the drawbridge and ramp are long gone. A large stone carving over the doorway proclaims the Royal ownership, supported by angels and on either side the tall niches were for statues of perhaps Sts. James and Andrew. The Great Hall dates from this time, although it was slightly altered by James IV and it remains one of the finest medieval interiors in Scotland. At the north end was a screens passage and servery, leading to the kitchen with a high vaulted ceiling. The royal apartments were probably in the south range.

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James I was murdered at Perth in 1437 and was succeeded by his young son of seven, James II. He seems to have taken little interest in Linlithgow and also came to a sticky end when his leg was severed by an exploding cannon at Roxburgh in 1460. His son, James III, also succeeded at a very young age, but he seems to have been more involved with the palace at Linlithgow than his father. During his reign, the fugitive King Henry VI of England took refuge here. James III married in 1469 and his wife, Margaret of Denmark, was given both Linlithgow and Doune as part of her marriage portion. Records show both repairs and more substantial building work at Linlithgow around this time. The Scottish throne was once again inherited by a boy when James III was killed during the battle at Sauchieburn in 1488. James IV was fifteen at the time, but seems to have taken control himself almost right away. Construction at Linlithgow may already have been underway, but James IV decided to make this a true Renaissance Palace and work was virtually complete by his death in 1513. The west wing was built to close off the central courtyard and the south eastern tower was completely rebuilt from ground level.  

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When the King married Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII in 1503, the palace, together with Doune and Stirling, was once again granted to the Queen. In 1513, the peace with England over, the King was killed at Flodden Field and the widowed Queen left Scotland the following year with her new husband the Earl of Angus. The palatial residence at Linlithgow left behind reflects the position and life-style of the Renaissance monarch. The King and the Queen had separate suites of rooms, both private and public, in which to entertain guests, ambassadors and friends. Linlithgow was used for comfort and display, whereas Stirling and Edinburgh, although also having new and luxurious apartments, were real defensive strongholds.

James V was born at Linlithgow in 1512 and little use seems to have been made of the palace during his long minority. However, in 1526, a new captain and keeper was appointed, Sir James Hamilton of Fynnart and construction began again. During this last phase of building, the main entrance was moved from the east side to the more convenient south, nearer the town, and an outer gateway was built to give easier access. The south wall was straightened and the south west tower enlarged to balance the south east one. A new wooden ceiling was put into the chapel, along with a canopied altarpiece; the interior was painted and the windows re-glazed. The Great Hall also had new windows and the external sculptures were painted. The stone fountain seen above in the central courtyard dates from this time. James V, like his forefathers, engaged the English in battle at Solway Moss in 1542, and died shortly afterwards, broken by this defeat and only six days after the birth of his daughter, Mary, at Linlithgow.

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Linlithgow was set aside in 1551 for the use of the widowed Queen, Mary of Guise and the building and repairs during this period were mainly in the Lord Governor's lodging, probably in the north range. Following her return from France after the early death of her first husband, Francois II, Mary Queen of Scots does not seem to have kept up the family association with Linlithgow. During the minority of her son, James VI, the buildings and parkland were sadly neglected, although garrisoned and sometimes used as a prison for important prisoners. By 1607, the decay had reached a crisis point and the roof and north ranges collapsed. Between 1618 and 1624, repairs were made and Linlithgow regained some of its grandeur. However, with James' succession to the English throne in 1603, Linlithgow was no longer the site of power it had once been and the next royal visit was not until Charles I in 1633.

Cromwell spent the winter of 1650 at Linlithgow and his troops erected fortifications probably along similar lines to those of Edward I so many years previously. These were destroyed after the restoration of the monarchy and Linlithgow was again occupied by royalty in 1679 and 1680-2 by the then king's brother, later James VII. Following the Stuart Rebellion on 1688-9 the hereditary keeper of Linlithgow lost his position after supporting the Stuarts and the last family member to stay at the palace was Prince Charles Edward Stuart in 1745. Troops were billeted at Linlithgow in 1746, but unfortunately they left fires burning when they left, and the building was burnt out, leaving the ruin we see today.

Linlithgow remains a potent and evocative reminder of so much of Scotland's royal history. The mellow stonework and renaissance decoration are a reminder of past riches and power. The scene is now tranquil, with the loch and peel still administered as one of the royal parks, like Holyrood, retaining its own park police force.


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This information has been researched and published here by:

Jonathan & Clare
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