Five favourite castles of the Stewart monarchs - Things to do in Scotland

03 October 2014
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Follow in the footsteps of the Stewart monarchs with our guide to five of their favourite palaces and castles. ...
Five favourite castles of the Stewart monarchs - Things to do in Scotland Images

The House of Stewart ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1603 and for more than two centuries, built a network of royal palaces and castles where kings, queens and the royal court could carry out state business, welcome foreign dignitaries and host lavish parties and splendid pageants.

Our guide to the favourites palaces of the Royal Stewarts shows you how to follow in the footsteps of our medieval monarchs at historic sites which can be explored today.


A royal castle since at least the twelfth century, Edinburgh Castle was not only a place of safety and refuge for kings and queens, it acted as a home for members of the House of Stewart. Both the Royal Palace and Great Hall (which can still be seen today) formed part of the castle’s living accommodation during medieval times. The Great Hall was built by King James IV, who also created Falkland Palace and the Great Hall at Stirling Palace.

King James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots and Henry Lord Darnley, was born at Edinburgh Castle. The room where the king was born has recently been restored and visitors can see how it would have looked at the time of James’s birth.

At the end of the fifteenth century, when the Palace of Holyroodhouse was built, Edinburgh Castle became more of a ceremonial centre than a home for the royal family and the focus shifted down the Royal Mile to this palace.

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh EH1 2NG; tel: 0131 225 9846.


The Palace of Holyrood has been a royal residence for five centuries and has undergone several major refurbishments in its time. A palace was built beside the twelfth-century Holyrood Abbey by King James IV, with further additions made by James V, who created sumptuous royal apartments and a chapel.

The Palace of Holyrood is closely associated with the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, who lived here on her return to Scotland from France in 1561, and enjoyed hunting in the palace grounds. However, her time at the Palace took a sinister turn with the murder of her private secretary David Rizzio in 1566, in the queen’s suite of rooms.

King James VI stayed at Holyrood Palace as a teenager and as king, held court at the palace when his wife Anne of Denmark was crowned at Holyrood Abbey in 1590.

Today, the Palace is the official residence of the Queen and is open to visitors throughout the year. You can view the state apartments, the Mary Queen of Scots chambers and take an audio tour.

Palace of Holyrood House, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DX; tel: 0131 556 5100.


Built by King James I in 1424, Linlithgow Palace is closely associated with the royal Stewarts – King James V was born here in 1512, and Mary Queen of Scots in 1542. Mary’s granddaughter, Elizabeth of Bohemia also lived here as a child but this was the last royal association, as the palace fell into disrepair in the seventeenth century, once King James VI had left for London. It was further ruined in a fire in 1746, which reduced it to the ruin that today’s visitors can explore.

Linlithgow Palace is now cared for by Historic Scotland and stands beside Linlithgow Loch. Visitor’s can see a rare and historic three-tier fountain, the roofless and atmospheric Great Hall and the unusual oriel windows.

Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow EH49 7AL; tel: 01506 842896.

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Falkland Palace was regarded by the Stewarts as a country retreat and members of the royal household stayed here for over two centuries.

Despite its associations as a place of royal leisure with tennis, hunting and music, the castle also has a darker past – King James V was imprisoned here in 1528 by Archibald, Earl of Douglas, and managed to escape disguised as a groom. James V died at the castle on 14 December 1542, days after Scotland’s defeat at the Battle of Solway Moss.

The Palace is home to Britain’s oldest Real tennis court, built for King James V and has been partially restored to show how it would have looked in its heyday as a royal palace.

Falkland Palace, E Port, Falkland, Cupar KY15 7DA; tel: 0844 493 2186.


The castle has strong associations with the royal Stewarts. King James III was born here and his son James IV created the castle’s Great Hall and gatehouse. It was during his reign that the Stewart royal court became known across Europe. James V built the castle’s palace (which has recently been restored).

The castle was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots who was the third generation of the Stewarts to enjoy the palace. King James VI was taken here by his mother Mary Queen of Scots after his birth, and it was here that he was baptized in a grand ceremony for which Mary was granted £12,000 by parliament. The celebrations included a fireworks display, believed to have been one of the first in Scotland.

Today’s visitors can wander through the re-created royal apartments, experience living history performances and see the tapestry studio with recreations of medieval tapestries.

Stirling Castle, Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ; tel: 01786 450000.

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Images: Edinburgh © Klaus Hermsan; Holyrood © Philip Allfrey; Linlithgow © Sir Gawain; Falkland © Immanuel Giel; Stirling © David Monniaux