The Jacobite Londoner’s Guide to Holyrood


{Continues from the Guide to Edinburgh}

The first thing you notice standing in front of the palace is that, if you can forget the new Parliament behind you, it stands in quite impressive surroundings for not being Balmoral Castle. It must be absolutely delightful to visit in the summer, so obviously I ended up in Edinburgh in winter (pretty please Her Majesty, can I get invited to the garden party this summer?)

The facade, built in the style of a French chateau, is astonishing, and not as worn out in the 16th century part as to make it really evident to the naked eye that the rest is a later extension. It becomes apparent once you step in, and you are faced with the neo-classical quadrangle commissioned by one of my favourites, Charles II (but I love all of them in different ways! <3). Now, you get a free recorded tour guide which is actually not factually correct in many parts of it, despite the fact that they can hire the best historians in the land, so I will now endeavour to give you an alternative one.

If you have chosen to visit a historical palace you are either the type of person who just does whatever touristy there is to do in a city, or the type who likes history and historical things, so you are likely aware of the tendency to put symbols everywhere, especially on ceilings. An example I wrote about before is the showing of a Catholic allegiance all over Fairfax House in York.
Now, since this palace was built by the king who restored the monarchy in England and Scotland, after they’ve realised that the Republic was not as good as they thought it would be and asked him back, it’s obviously all dotted with signs of kingship.

The first room you see after walking up the Great Stairs is the dining room. It is an impressive baroque arrangement that is largely kept the same when actually in use for dinners by the Royal Family. The most interesting feature of the room, however, is the portrait of king George IV wearing a kilt during his visit to Scotland in 1822, which is considered to have been an attempt to make him more popular with his Scottish subjects, and you could say the fact he died of a natural death shows you that it likely worked. After that you move on to the throne room. Now, the description of the throne room is rather confusing. It was made such for the aforementioned visit of George IV, but it’s been made to keep as much of the original look and it’s full of portraits of the Stuarts up to the time the palace was built, and for some reason in explaining the portraits they conflate the union of the crowns and the act of union. Let that sink in.

The following room is again still in use, but unlike the throne room which is used for dinners given on the occasion of a new knight of the Order of the Thistle, this one is used for private receptions, such as that time Pope Benedict met the Head of the Church of England and failed to get the church back. It still has on show the copy of the Lorsch Gospel he gifted her, which is a magnificent piece of ivory work. There are some tapestries that were brought up from London by Queen Victoria too. The theme was, obviously, the Empire, although not being allowed to take any pictures I have only a vague memory of what it was like (but it was definitely one of those allegorical pieces that you would expect.) We are now in the side of the palace that looks on the pretty gardens, and we are moving into the more private rooms, where one can see wonderful Chinese panels and wardrobes, the state bed in the usual crimson damask that was typical of the late 17th century and yet more allegorical tapestries, this time associating the king with classical heroes because we’ve just restored a monarchy so we need to make sure EVERYONE knows the king is just the best, right?

Once you move past the private apartments into the Great Gallery the propaganda is no longer that subtle, because you are now suddenly surrounded by the portraits of all the kings of Scotland in the line of the Stuarts, real or otherwise. It’s no surprise that Bonnie Prince Charlie held a ball in this room as soon as he managed to establish himself in Scotland during his attempt to reclaim the throne, which didn’t exactly end well…but he’s still adorbs. And once you leave the gallery you are in the part of the palace that is worth it for its historical interest rather than the good taste of the decor: the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots.

In a room that, if I remember correctly, hosts a portrait of the duke of Hamilton, you can see some examples of royal honours and the insignia of the Order of the Thistle. Moving on, you are now in the oldest part of the palace, built by James V, where his daughter Mary lived for a short while between her life in France and her err life in England. The first room you see is full of nice china and a delightful wooden cabinet that look slightly not from the 16th century, but there isn’t much of interest compared to what is yet to come.

Say hello to the Cardinal Duke of York in the Jacobite Peerage, son of the Old Pretender and much less well known than his eldest brother Charles, who appears in as many as two portraits and if you didn’t know he was his own person you’d be left wondering why there are two portraits of the Young Pretender dressed as a Cardinal because unlike me and my brother they look exactly the same. The room on the ground where this portrait hangs over the door was the room of Mary’s highly unpopular husband. It also contains a contemporary portrait of the queen in all her austerity. You could never imagine that it was the woman responsible for the decor of the room upstair, after the most uncomfortable of all spiral staircases ever.
The small apartment is quite dark but decorated in the French Renaissance style and the result if you forget the bazillion dark portraits on the walls is actually quite pleasant. Such a shame that it has been the set of a really tragic event in March 1566, when Mary was pregnant with baby James VI and I.

The following room, at the time Mary’s massive prayer room, is, instead, a mausoleum to Jacobitism, and you can bet that I have basically squeaked and jumped for joy and screamed internally and plotted how to legally get hold of everything in it. Or copies, I don’t care. They have boxes and medallions commemorating Charles I. There is also a portrait of the famous father of Baby James, and the family jewels showing the hopes of becoming king of England entertained by the Darnleys. There is also the Holyrood Ordinal on show, and some small objects belonging to Queen Mary…anyway, did I say they have Jacobite memorabilia?

The last bit of the winter tour, as the gardens are closed, is the ground that was of the Abbey. The church is the only “surviving” part of the building, and by surviving I mean there are some rocks and broken walls. However it’s after seeing the ruins of the abbey, founded by King David I after a miraculous escape in 1128, that Mendelssohn composed the Scottish Symphony. “In the deep twilight we went today to the palace were Queen Mary lived and loved…The chapel below is now roofless. Grass and ivy thrive there and at the broken altar where Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything is ruined, decayed, and the clear heavens pour in. I think I have found there the beginning of my ‘Scottish’ Symphony.” And when you stand there in the darkness of a late-ish afternoon, your imagination running wild, you can see why. 


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