Falkland Palace

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Falkland Palace
Falkland Palace from the NW.jpg
Falkland Palace is located in Fife
Falkland Palace
Location in Fife, Scotland
General information
LocationFalkland, Fife, Scotland
Coordinates56°15′14″N 3°12′23″W / 56.25389°N 3.20639°W / 56.25389; -3.20639Coordinates: 56°15′14″N 3°12′23″W / 56.25389°N 3.20639°W / 56.25389; -3.20639
Falkland Palace, north wing from NW
Falkland Palace, 'South Quarter' from the Courtyard

Falkland Palace, in Falkland, Fife, Scotland, is a royal palace of the Scottish Kings. It was one of the favourite places of Mary, Queen of Scots, providing an escape from political and religious turmoil.Today it is under the stewardship of Ninian Stuart, who delegates most of his duties to The National Trust for Scotland.


Early years[edit]

Falkland Palace from the gardens

A hunting lodge existed on the site in the 12th century. The lodge was expanded in the 13th century and became a castle which was owned by the Earls of Fife – the famous Clan MacDuff. The castle was built here because the site sits on a slight hill which could be defended. The surrounding land eventually became the Palace gardens.

There was a great oak wood to the north between the royal stable and the River Eden, with many groves merging into the surrounding parkland. Timber was occasionally cut in the forest for royal ships of war. The castle would have been surrounded by meadows, fields, orchards, glades and Falkland Park which was a managed forest surrounded by a pale, a ditch with a fence on top of it. The pale would have been used to keep game inside the park for the royal family and courtiers to hunt. A park keeper maintained the Pale, and in 1469 the keeper Bannatyne lost his wages for not repairing it.[1]

In 1371 Isabella MacDuff, Countess of Fife acknowledged Robert Stewart, Earl of Menteith, son of Robert II, as her heir and made him keeper of the castle and forest of Falkland. In 1402 Stewart, by now Duke of Albany, imprisoned his nephew and rival David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay, the eldest son of Robert III, at Falkland. The incarcerated Duke eventually died from neglect and starvation. Albany was exonerated from blame by the Parliament of Scotland, but suspicions of foul play persisted, suspicions which never left Rothesay's younger brother the future King James I, and which would eventually lead to the downfall of the Albany Stewarts. After the execution of Albany's son Murdo in 1424, James I took possession of Falkland for the crown.[2]

16th century improvements[edit]

Falkland became a popular retreat with all the Stewart monarchs. They practised falconry there and used the vast surrounding forests for hawking. Red deer and fallow deer were kept in the park for hunting, some brought from the Torwood Forest near Stirling.[3] James III and Margaret of Denmark came in September 1473.[4]

Between 1497 and 1541 James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful renaissance royal palace. James enjoyed imported oranges at Falkland in April 1497 and gave a tip to the gardener and workmen building the dyke around the park.[5] In May 1501 James IV hired two stonemasons from Dundee to work at the palace, and an hour glass was bought for time-keeping. On 13 December 1501 he was entertained at Falkland by the female minstrel Quhissilgibboun, and in September 1504 by fiddlers, lutenists, and an African drummer. A man from Pittenweem brought a live seal on 25 September 1502 and James IV gave him 14 shillings in reward.[6]

James IV brought deer-nets from Kinneil House in November 1503,[7] and built a fold for deer in November 1505. He had a trap made to "slay foxes in the park of Falkland".[8] For a time in 1507 the horse of the French herald Montjoie, Gilbert Chauveau, was kept in the palace stables.[9] In May 1508 James IV and John Methven stalked deer in the park with a firearm called a culverin.[10] Later, wild boar, imported from France, were kept in the Park, within a fence made by the Laird of Fernie.[11] There were also dairy and beef cattle.

James V, Mary of Guise, and Mary, Queen of Scots[edit]

The teenage James V was kept at Falkland Palace by the Earl of Angus, and according to Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie, escaped to Stirling Castle which was held by his mother Margaret Tudor. His plan involved announcing an early morning deer hunt in the park then riding away in the middle of the night dressed as a stable hand.[12]

To address the poor state of the garden and park, James V appointed a new Captain and Keeper, William Barclay, Master of Rhynd, in March 1527.[13] The Queen's Chamber was hung with tapestry for Margaret Tudor in September 1534.[14] James V extended his father's buildings in French renaissance style from 1537 and built a Royal Tennis Court in the garden in 1541.[15] The court still survives to this day and is the oldest in Britain. Mary, Queen of Scots, became especially fond of the game, and it is said that she scandalised the people of Scotland by wearing men's breeches to play.

The arms of the King of Scots at the gatehouse

Limestone was quarried on the Lomond Hills and burnt in kilns to make mortar. The coping stone or "allering" for the tennis court was quarried at Kingoodie near Dundee and shipped to Lindores, north of the Palace on the River Tay.[16] Admidst these building works, the court still came to Falkland and in February 1539 one of Mary of Guise's French courtiers Marie Pieris married Lord Seton by handfasting. The French apothecary was also at Falkland on that day.[17]

Mary of Guise spent time embroidering her husband's shirts at Falkland with gold thread in October 1539.[18] James V played cards with Mary of Guise during their visit in April 1540. While they were at the palace the clothes of his infant daughter by Elizabeth Beaton, the Lady Jean Stewart, were washed.[19] Thomas Melville's wife kept the royal family's pets. In August Mary of Guise went riding at Falkland in a new cloak of scarlet cloth edged with crimson velvet.[20] The goldsmith John Mosman made a gilt chalice for their short-lived son Prince James and in July 1541 they sent it to Falkland to be used in the palace chapel.[21]

Robert Murray, the plumber who maintained the fountain at Linlithgow Palace, also provided lead work for a long vanished fountain at Falkland.[22] James V died at Falkland Palace in December 1542, from an illness induced by the shock and grief of his army's defeat at Solway Moss and of his wife's failure to give him a male heir, instead giving birth to the future Mary, Queen of Scots. His body lay in the Chapel Royal for almost a month and the chapel was draped in black. On 4 January 1543 messengers ordered the gentlemen of Fife to convey the king's body to North Queensferry on its way to Holyrood Abbey.[23]

Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace and moved to Stirling Castle in July 1543. Her mother, Mary of Guise, sometimes travelled without her to stay at Falkland Palace, and Guise was at Falkland in October 1546.[24]

Nearby Myres Castle was the home of the Royal Macers and Sergeants at Arms who served Falkland Castle since at least the 16th century. John Scrimgeour of Myres supervised building at the Palace from 1532 to 1563.[25] He wrote to Mary of Guise about repairs to Falkland and its lead roofs, delayed by the frosts, and the carts he needed to bring stones to the palace and timber from the harbour at Levenmouth.[26] In May 1559 Scrimgeour repaired the stables and employed Adam Symmers to fix the palace windows, and he designed new ditches and fences for the garden.[27]

Mary, Queen of Scots, held her Maundy Thursday or "Skyris Thurisday" ceremony at Falkland in March 1562. She washed the feet of 19 young women, and John Balfour bought new linen cloth for aprons and towels which she gave to the maidens. The number of young women matched her age.[28] She came for Easter in April 1563 and 1564.[29] The queen's many visits to Falkland have been tracked in archival sources.[30]

James VI and Anne of Denmark[edit]

James VI of Scotland made John Killoch and Robert Schaw keepers of all his tennis courts, and suppliers of his balls and rackets, in April 1582.[31] James VI spent the summer of 1583 at Falkland, and the English diplomat Robert Bowes noted it was a "little house" unsuitable for holding a parliament.[32] In 1584 James VI had the roofs repaired, and requested his tenants in Fife help carry slates, tiles, timber, sand and lime to the palace. He stayed in the palace during the plague in July 1585 and for fear of infection ordered people with no business in Falkland or at court to stay away.[33] His guests in Fife in the summer of 1585 included the English ambassador Edward Wotton and three Danish envoys who came to discuss the Orkney and Shetland islands and the king's marriage.[34] James VI held a meeting at Falkland in September 1587 to discuss his marriage plans after hearing from his ambassadors that the Danish Princess Elizabeth was promised to another.[35]

James VI married the younger Princess Anne of Denmark, and Falkland was included in the "morning gift" that James VI gave to his bride. On 12 May 1590 the Danish ambassadors rode from Wemyss Castle to Falkland to evaluate the palace and her Fife lands. They were welcomed by the keeper James Beaton of Creich. The lawyer John Skene produced a charter of the queen's lands and as a traditional symbol of ownership the Danish Admiral Peder Munk was given a handful of earth and stone. After this ceremony, they rode to the Newhouse of Lochleven Castle.[36] Another Danish ambassador Paul Knibbe came to Falkland in July 1591. He brought a Danish gentlewoman, Margaret Vinstarr, to join the Queen's household. Around this time an African servant of Anne of Denmark, known only as "the moir", died and was buried at Falkland.[37]

Raid of Falkland[edit]

For five hours in the morning of 28 June 1592 Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, with the Master of Gray, James Lumsden of Airdrie, the Laird of Niddrie, John Colville, and Spott with others including men from Cumbria attempted to capture the palace and James VI and Anne of Denmark. James VI had been warned of Bothwell's approach and had stayed at Falkland rather than go to Perth as he had planned. Bothwell's plans had been revealed to the English ambassador in Edinburgh, Robert Bowes, and he had told Richard Cockburn, the Earl of Morton, and the Master of Glamis that the king should "look narrowly about him". Bothwell crossed the Forth at Queensferry on 27 June with 400 men.[38] The Earl of Erroll and Colonel William Houston were at Falkland and they were arrested on suspicion of being inside-men.[39]

Bothwell's men attempted to batter down the back gate but were repulsed by gunshots before midnight on 27 June.[40] The king withdrew to the gatehouse tower and his guard shot at Bothwell's men. According to James Melville the defenders who favoured Bothwell loaded their guns with paper rather than bullets. Bothwell abandoned the attack at 7 o'clock in the morning, and rode away with the king's horses.[41] James Sandilands gave chase. He captured nine men whose horses tired, five were hanged in Edinburgh's Canongate, the others were ransomed. One of John Colville's servants was hanged, a packet of coded letters and a cipher was found in his possession.[42]

The English border reiver Richie Graham of Brackenhill and his companions sacked the town of Falkland, taking horses, clothing, and money.[43] It was said that Bothwell had given a pep talk to his supporters, encouraging them to kill Sir John Carmichael, Sir George Home, and Roger Aston.[44]

A month later it was said that Bothwell was advancing towards Falkland again from Stirling Bridge, and some of his men had landed in boats at a creek near Aberdour Castle. The king was forewarned by Harry Lindsay and prepared for another fight. The Earl of Argyll rode from his wedding party at Dalkeith Palace to help the king. Men in arms were summoned from Edinburgh, Haddington and Linlithgow to fight the rebel earl. However, Robert Bowes was told it was a deliberate false alarm, possibly intended to make the king move from Falkland to a less secure location.[45] Bothwell also attempted to corner the King in Holyroodhouse.

Last years as a royal palace[edit]

Queen Elizabeth sent deer for the park in 1586 and 1587, and again in 1591 from parks near Colchester. In May 1592 The English ambassador Robert Bowes went to Barnard Castle, Raby Castle and Brancepeth Castle with the English-born royal huntsman Cuthbert Rayne to catch deer for James VI and managed to catch only six, which he shipped from Sunderland to Kirkcaldy.[46]

Another Danish commission including Steen Bille and Niels Krag visited in 1593, which resulted in the keeper James Beaton of Creich giving more rights over the lands and buildings to the queen.[47] Anne of Denmark came to stay on 12 July 1594 before the baptism of Prince Henry at Stirling Castle. It was said she left Edinburgh for Falkland because Holyrood Palace was not magnificent enough to receive the Danish ambassadors Steen Bille and Christian Barnekow.[48]

When Anne of Denmark visited in September 1598 her bed chamber was hung with tapestry brought from Holyroodhouse. A French ambassador Philippe de Béthune, brother of the Duke of Sully, came in July 1599. The English diplomat Sir William Bowes was reluctant to come to Falkland, where James VI might show more favour to the French ambassador. Béthune fell ill, needing a surgeon and a physician to bleed him. It was rumoured he had been poisoned. He recovered and went on a progress with the king to Inchmurrin and Hamilton Palace, after James VI wrote to the Laird of Wemyss for the loan of his best hackney horse and saddle.[49] In August 1600 a French acrobat danced on a tightrope in the palace courtyard for the king and the queen.[50]

James VI played cards with the English diplomat George Nicholson at Falkland in May 1602.[51] In September 1602 Anne of Denmark and the Master of Gray entertained Anne de Gondi, the wife of French ambassador the Baron de Tour, at Falkland, while he went on a progress with the king.[52] Lord Henry Howard noted that the Master of Gray had spent this time with Queen Anne and it affected the conceit of his writing style.[53]

David Murray became keeper of the garden, park, and Lomond Hills and was allowed to build a house on the site of the old castle, called the Castlestead or Nether Palace of Falkland. Lord Walden stayed for a night in August 1613.[54] This house was inherited by the next keeper of the park, John Murray, 1st Earl of Annandale.[55] The palace was occasionally used as a prison.[56] In November 1608 James instructed David Murray to keep James Elphinstone, 1st Lord Balmerino, prisoner in the tower of the palace, for treasonable correspondence with the Pope. Balmerino was released in October 1609.[57] After hearing Anne of Denmark speak of her love of Scotland, the Venetian ambassador Antonio Foscarini came to Falkland in September 1613.[58]

Civil war[edit]

After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the architect James Murray repaired the palace for the visit of King James in 1617.[59] Some courtiers were lodged in the house of Nicol Moncrieff, which still stands in Falkland, opposite the palace gate.[60]

The palace was repaired in 1629. Roofing slates were shipped from Dundee to Newburgh. A glazier, David Masterton, painted the iron window grills or yetts with red lead. A new set of wooden armorial panels were made for the gatehouse and painted by Valentine Jenkins.[61]

Charles I, and Charles II also visited Falkland. Accounts survive for Charles II's stay in July 1650, when proclamations had to be made to reduce the inflated prices of lodgings and horse-hire charged in the village. Charles' food was seasoned with saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Every tart provided for the king's table had a pound of sugar, while tarts for lesser courtiers required only half a pound.[62] A fire partially destroyed the palace during its occupation by Cromwell's troops, and it quickly fell into ruin.

19th century[edit]

Arms of the Marquis of Bute

In 1887 John, 3rd Marquis of Bute, purchased the estates of Falkland and started a 20-year restoration of the palace using two architects: John Kinross and Robert Weir Schultz. At the time the Palace was a ruin with no windows or doors. Thanks to his restoration work and considerable budget the Palace remains standing today. Many features in and around the Palace show evidence of his work, such as the "B" on the guttering and portraits of his children carved into a cupboard door in the Keeper's Dressing Room.

During the time of Lord Bute, the ornamental kitchen garden was enhanced by a pergola and decorative vases. The north part of the "upper garden" was redesigned to express the foundations of Falkland Castle and Palace North Range which were uncovered during the Marquis's archaeological excavations. Walls were built atop the foundations for the Well Tower and the Great Hall to emphasise the structures.

The Orchard and Palace gardens were linked to the House of Falkland by the private walk and new bridges. Houses were built near the palace and connected into the ornamental kitchen garden and orchard by a system of new public and private paths. The ground around the curling pond (to the North East of the orchard) was planted with trees and shrubs and laid out in flower plots.

The enclosing yew hedge around the pond garden is a typical feature of period. The lime tree avenue which is north of the palace gatehouse was built sometime between 1894 and 1912–13 according to the Ordinance Surveys of those periods. The Victorian glass house was built in 1890 by Mckenzie and Moncur from Edinburgh for Lord Bute and was used mainly to grow flowers and exotic plants. Plant hunting was popular at that time and wealthy people would travel the world to find specimens, and plant in their gardens for display to friends. There is also evidence that there was a second glass house in the garden near the existing one.

Modern era[edit]

In 1952, the Hereditary Keeper Major Michael Crichton Stewart decided to appoint the National Trust for Scotland to take care of the Palace. The National Trust thus became Deputy Keeper of the Palace, and they now care for and maintain the Palace and its extensive gardens. An NTS virtual tour[63] of the palace is available.


Falkland Palace stands on three hectares of ground on a sandstone ridge which is dominated by the Lomond Hills in the background. Those walking around the garden will see a distinct and overlapping timeline which reveals the ever-changing purpose and style of the grounds.

The first record of a garden here was in 1451. At that time the garden had a courtyard and stables in the gatehouse, where King James IV kept his great Belgian steed. There was also a fish pond which provided the King with fresh fish. Fruit, vegetables and herbs were grown in the local area for the Royal plate and meat could be hunted in the ancient forest (known as Falkland Forest) surrounding the Palace, by hawking and hunting wild boar and deer.

James VI met the English ambassadors Sir Robert Bowes and Sir William Bowes in the garden at 8 o'clock on 21 June 1597 and listened to their speeches about border affairs.[64] In August 1602 James VI received the French ambassador, the Baron de Tour, in the garden. They talked for three quarters of an hour and the ambassador made the king laugh. A few days later they hunted together in the park.[65]

Garden designer Percy Cane redesigned the gardens in the 1940s. He had designed the palace grounds at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Cane was born and educated in Essex where he studied horticulture and architecture. In 1930 Cane founded and edited the quarterly journal Garden Design and wrote many books on garden design. Cane's style can best be described as Arts and Crafts and his curvy borders were seen as innovatory at the time.

Conservation in the garden is achieved through general maintenance, which includes clearing leaves, mowing the main lawn, tidying the flower beds and planting, enhancing and creating wildlife habitats. A wildflower meadow, native hedges and spring flowering bulbs have been planted to provide food and protection to various small insects and small mammals. Conservation means work has to be carried out in a sympathetic way throughout property, not only to the aesthetics and history of the palace but also for the climbing plants and bats that live in the cellars. Bats are endangered and protected in Scotland and it is important that they are not disturbed. The walls of the palace have been repointed (replacing the cement between the stones) and replaced with lime mortar which is a traditional material and better suited for this purpose as it is breathable and prevents dampening.

The current Head Gardener Sonia Ferrás Mañá is restoring the Percy Cane garden to the original design and flower choice. Mañá, the garden staff and volunteers have been working on various project in recent years to conserve the garden and encourage wildlife.

The garden team at Falkland Palace are now encouraging wildlife by bringing back the meadow. To create the meadow the grass has been cut only once a year for the last four years and more than 10,000 wild flowers and a similar number of spring flowering bulbs have been planted. This work is thanks to the garden staff, volunteers and support from Fife Environmental Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, NTS Member Centres and other donations. These flowers and un-mown grasses encourage beneficial insects to the orchard which aid in the fruit trees pollination and in turn attract other animals. There are currently forty different fly species in the orchard, some of which are rare or unusual and some are found nowhere else in Scotland. The insects, especially the moths, have attracted Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle bats which have been seen hunting and living here. There have also been sightings of red squirrels in the forest which are now considered endangered animals due to the disappearance of their habitat and the competition from grey squirrels. A Red Squirrel Project is carried out at Falkland Palace to encourage them back into the gardens. A shelter was built in the orchard for invertebrate (i.e. insects and worms) and small animals which will encourage them to stay longer in the garden and perhaps live there. The orchard has been planted with native trees such as hawthorn, oak and willows which would have been growing here in the 15th century. The Maspie Burn running between the garden and the orchard is a habitat for water wildlife, including trout.


Falkland Palace, entrance façade
Chapel Royal inside the South Range of Falkland Palace

The palace has two wings arranged in an 'L' shape, now called the South and East Quarters or Ranges. The palace courtyard is entered through the gatehouse tower at the west end of the South Quarter. The external ashlar façade of the South Quarter has gunloops at basement level. Above these are the small windows of the private lodgings, and on the second level the large paired windows of the Chapel Royal. Between these windows are weathered niches and statues. The corbels show the instruments of the passion; the chapel at Falkland was dedicated to St Thomas and is the Catholic parish church for Falkland with Mass every Sunday at 9 a.m.[66]

The wallhead is finished with a decorated cornice and battlement which continues around the west side of the gate tower. To the east of the chapel there is small rectangular sectioned tower which once housed a circular staircase, and beyond is the partly reconstructed gable of the East Quarter. Although some writers have attributed part of the South Quarter to the time of James IV, the form of the gunloops, the continuous parapet, and the documented payments to Peter the Flemishman for the 5 statues in 1539 adequately demonstrate that the present appearance dates from the works of James V.[67] The entrance tower was built in 1541, and the accounts record the work of two master masons: "to John Brownhill and Henry Bawtie for complete ending of the fore entry and tower ... and raising of certain chimneys in the south quarter."[68] Within the gate tower and south quarter, visitors can view the Keeper's Apartments in the tower, the Chapel Royal and gallery.

The East Quarter, apart from its courtyard façade is ruined. The centrally placed access tower, the Crosshouse, was reconstructed by the Marquis of Bute. The National Trust's architect, Schomberg Scott recreated the King and Queen's bedchambers within. The northern section of the East Quarter was originally a lodging built by James IV. The East Quarter was remodelled by the mason John Merlioun in 1538.[69] This part of the building, with its "back galleries" overlooking the garden was decayed in 1615.[70] In 1616 the master of works, James Murray was ordered to repair the flat roof of the King and Queen's galleries and the roof of the lodging of the East Quarter in anticipation of the visit of James VI.[71]

Comparable façade at Villers-Cotterêts

The South and East courtyard façades were decorated and unified with pilasters in a French Renaissance style between 1537 and 1542. Their appearance is comparable to the French Chateau of Villers-Cotterêts. The buttresses on the East are dated 1537, and on the South, where the masonry is more sophisticated, 1539. The later work may be connected with the arrival of Nicolas Roy, a French mason sent to Scotland in March 1539 by Antoinette of Bourbon, the mother of Mary of Guise.[72] The chapel ceiling dates from the time of James V, as recent dendrochronology work by the AOC Group has confirmed,[73] and was re-decorated for the visit of Charles I in 1633. James Murray, master of works, was ordered to repair the roof of the South Quarter in 1625, with instructions to "have a special care and regard" that the great ceiling of the Chapel be "preserved and kept as far as possibly may be."[74]

The courtyard was originally completed on the north with a great hall to the north. The footprint of the building was established by excavation and laid out with paving slabs by the 3rd Marquis of Bute. Beyond this area are the reconstructed footings of Falkland Castle. This was the site of the short-lived Nether Palace or Castlestead in the 17th-century, known from a plan and elevation drawn by Alexander Edward.

Real tennis court[edit]

On the lower ground in the gardens, slightly beyond the remains of the medieval castle uncovered c. 1900, lies the original real tennis court. The masons William Mason and Alexander Allardice, and others built the tennis court. Its walls were finished by Callum the pargeoner, or lime plasterer.[75] It is the world's oldest tennis court still in use. The roofed spectator area is home to a number of swallows during spring and summer. The court is home to the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club.


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Further reading[edit]

  • Dunbar, John G. (1999). Scottish Royal Palaces. Tuckwell Press. ISBN 1-86232-042-X.
  • Dunbar, John G., (1991), Some 16th century French parallels for Falkland, in Review of Scottish Culture, vol. 7, 3–8.
  • Bentley-Cranch, Dana, (1986), An early 16th century French architectural source for Falkland, in Review of Scottish Culture, vol. 2 85–96.
  • Higgins, James, (2020), 'Scotland's Stewart Monarchs'. At https://sites.google.com/view/stewartscotland

External links[edit]