Ike, Jane and some friends visited Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Linlithgow is in West Lothian and is around halfway between Edinburgh and Stirling. The building of the palace began in 1425 by James l and was completed a century later by his great-grandson, James lV. James l was planning a renaissance palace which was “finer than any [of his nobles]” and it cost him a tenth of his income!
The palace was one of the principal residences of the monarchs of Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries.The palace was little used after Scotland’s monarchs left for England in 1603 after the Union of the Crowns. It was burned out in January 1746 by the Duke of Cumberland’s army after the Jacobite Rebellion.
Mary Queen of Scots
Linlithgow Palace was the birthplace Mary Queen of Scots. She was born on January, 1542 and remained in the palace for a year before moving to Stirling Castle, which was a much more secure location. After five years in Stirling she moved to the French Court which was a magnet for Renaissance culture. Mary was exposed to the height of European fashions, both in dress and attitude. In France she was well educated, especially in languages.
The Palace Building
When Ike and his friends visited the palace Covid-19 restrictions were in place and a one-way system was in operation. Booking in advance was required to avoid the large crowds which are often present at the palace. It is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland.
The fore entrance to Linlithgow Palace was built by King James V around 1533 and gave access to the outer enclosure surrounding the palace. The four European orders of chivalry, to which James V belonged are engraved above the arch (from left to right) “The Order of the Garter”, “The Order of Thistle”, “The Order of the Golden Fleece” and “The Order of St. Michael”.
After passing through the fore entrance, Ike was impressed with the large fountain in the centre of the courtyard. This was built in 1538 by James V and stands at over 16 feet high (4.88m) and was reputedly built to welcome his new French queen, Mary of Guise, to Linlithgow. This is said to be the oldest working fountain in Britain. Water was piped to the crown which then fell into to bowls below. Some of the original pipework was displayed in glass cabinets in the palace museum.
The Great Hall
This has often been described as one of the most magnificent spaces to survive from medieval Scotland. This would have been used by the Kings and Queens for entertaining their guests.The hall was modified in the 15th and 16th centuries. Ike noticed how big the windows in the hall were and he also noticed the magnificent fireplace which would have been needed to keep the place warm on chilly Scottish days.
The chapel was another of the magnificent buildings in the palace. While many areas of the palace were closed, the chapel was one area where Ike and his friends were able to visit. Ike was impressed with the size of it and marvelled at the size of the windows.
The chapel was built by James lV in the early 1500’s and was used by the royals who travelled from Stirling Castle for religious festivals. In 1534-35 James V re-glazed the chapel windows and walls in azure blue. The alter was carved in wood, but was burned during the Reformation due to its Catholic imagery.
Ike was able to get some magnificent views of Linlithgow Loch from various vantage points in the palace. The loch was initially formed from a block of ice left behind by retreating glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. It is one of only two remaining natural lowland lochs in the Lothians, and the largest of them.
Ike was impressed with the number of small rowing boats on the loch and discovered that they were from a local angling club. There are two small islands in the loch that are thought to be crannogs, human-built prehistoric island dwellings.
Tower and Queen Margaret’s Bower
In the north-west corner of the courtyard is a tower with a small room at the top called Queen Margaret’s Bower. Ike and his friends climbed to the top of the tower and were impressed with the views over the countryside and of the courtyard below.
The small room at the top of the tower was said to be the place where Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots, waited for James IV to return from battle but he was killed during the Battle of Flodden. James lV remains the last British monarch to be killed in battle.
Other areas of Interest
Due to Covid restrictions, certain areas of the palace, including the Royal Apartments, were still closed to members of the public, but Ike and his friends were still able to find areas of interest during their visit. There were some glass display cabinets in the small museum and Ike and his friends had a look at many displays. This included fragments of pottery, water pipes, stonework and original floor tiles.
Outside the Palace
In the grounds of the palace is a statue of Mary Queen of Scots. This is the only one of its kind in Scotland and was unveiled in 2015. The bronze statue stands at 7 feet tall (2.13m) and looks over to the palace where she was born.
The area outside the palace is known as the Peel. Ike was able to take a walk in this area and took a look at the original entry point into the palace which was on the east side. The ground was quite lumpy and it is believed that it is due to the remains of previous buildings on the site. The north range was covered in scaffolding due to the renovations being carried out on the palace.
Next to the palace is St Michael’s Church with its modern crown steeple and Ike was suitably impressed with this building. Unfortunately it was closed due to Covid-19 so Ike and his friends could not enter the churchyard or the building to get a closer look.
Ike and his friends then took a walk along the footpath which runs along the outside of the loch and got a view of the palace from the distance.
The Cross Well
Not far from the palace is the town cross. Ike and his friends walked down to the cross to look at the Cross Well and Burgh halls. A well has existed at the cross since 1535. It was rebuilt in 1628 but was destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers in 1650. It was again rebuilt on 4th June, 1807 when the foundation stone was laid to celebrate the 69th birthday of King George lll. The present well is said to be an exact replica of the previous one.
It was carved by Robert Gray, a one-handed stonemason who worked with a mallet strapped to the stump of his handless arm. Ike and friends also had a look at the Burgh Halls which date from 1670.
The ‘Black Bitch’ of Linlithgow
After leaving the palace grounds and Cross, Ike and his friends took a walk down the main street in Linlithgow and caught sight of the statue of a black dog – The ‘Black Bitch’ of Linlithgow. The Black Bitch name comes from the Linlithgow coat of arms which features a black greyhound in front of an oak tree. This relates to the story of a lawbreaker who was sentenced to starve to death for his crimes. He was chained to an oak tree on a small island in the middle of the loch. However, the man’s greyhound was swimming to take food and water to her master so that he did not starve.
Sadly, the dog’s loyalty was rewarded by chaining it to the tree. The dog’s loyalty has been remembered on the coat of arms and locals are proud to be called a black bitch! Ike got a photograph of himself posing beside the statue.
Ike and his friends then wrapped up the visit by taking a leisurely walk along the footpath beside the loch before making their way back to the station to catch the train home.