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The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Holyrood House, Scotland

The Palace of Holyroodhouse stands in a spectacular setting at the foot of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, its walled gardens surrounded by open parkland and overlooked by the dramatic Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat, an extinct volcano. It is adjacent to the remains of Holyrood Abbey, one of the finest medieval abbeys in Scotland. Holyroodhouse has been a royal residence for over five hundred years and it is still very much a working royal palace.

The palace is the official residence of Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland. The Queen is Head of State of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Head of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty is also Head of State of sixteen of the Commonwealth’s fifty-three member countries.

The Queen is officially in residence at Holyroodhouse once a year in the summer at which time she carries out a wide range of official engagements at the palace, in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland. In the palace The Queen holds investitures in the Great Gallery for the distribution of honours; audiences are held in the Morning Drawing Room and a luncheon takes place in the Throne Room on the installation of new Knights to the Order of the Thistle, Scotland’s oldest order of chivalry. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh also hold a garden party within the palace grounds, to which Scots from all walks of life are invited. The Duke of Hamilton (the Hereditary Keeper of the Palace), the Royal Company of Archers, and the High Constables of Holyroodhouse are all on duty during the Royal Visit.

His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, is also resident for one week during the summer, during which time he carries out numerous official engagements. For a week in May the Lord High Commissioner, The Queen’s representative at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, is in residence in the palace. The State Apartments are frequently used by members of the Royal Family for events in support of charitable organisations of which they are patrons.

According to legend, King David I of Scotland founded the Palace of Holyroodhouse as an Augustinian monastery in 1128. It is said that the King had a vision in which a cross, or 'rood', appeared between the antlers of an attacking stag, which he took to be a sign. The King dedicated his new religious foundation to the Holy Rood. The palace developed in the early 16th century from royal lodgings attached to Holyrood Abbey. The oldest part of the palace that survives today is the tower to the left of the façade. It was here that Mary, Queen of Scots lived from 1561 until 1567 and it was in her private apartments that her secretary David Rizzio was murdered by a group led by her husband Lord Darnley. Under Mary's son James VI, later James I of England and Scotland, the palace fell into decline but further renovation was carried out in 1633 to mark the Scottish coronation of his son Charles I.

Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Charles II initiated a substantial rebuilding of Holyroodhouse in the 1670s, designed by the Scottish architect, Sir William Bruce. A new symmetrical entrance façade was created, with a matching tower to the south west. The classical design, combined with sumptuous baroque interiors, were to influence many grand houses throughout the country. After the Act of Union in 1707 the monarchy had little interest in the palace, which provided grace-and-favour apartments for the Scottish nobility.

In 1745 Holyroodhouse briefly came to life once more as a royal palace when Prince Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, held court there during his attempt to reclaim the throne for his father. In the late 18th century the palace also provided a home for the Comte d’Artois, the younger brother of Louis XVI. No further renovations were carried out until George IV visited Scotland in 1822, the first reigning monarch to visit the country since Charles I in 1633. George IV initiated a programme of improvements and also ordered that the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots should be 'preserved sacred from every alteration'.

It was Queen Victoria who, after the purchase of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, reintroduced the custom of staying at Holyroodhouse and it became Scotland's premier royal residence. In the 20th century, King George V and Queen Mary carried out much restoration and renovation work and Holyroodhouse was recognised as the Sovereign’s official residence in Scotland.

The State Apartments, located mainly on the first floor, are renowned for their spectacular plasterwork ceilings and are furnished with numerous fine paintings, tapestries and other works of art, many of which have long associations with the palace.

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