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At the east end of the Royal Mile stands the Palace of Holyroodhouse. the Queen's official residence in Scotland, adjoined by the ruined nave of the abbey. In the background are the green slopes and rocky crags of Holyrood Park rising to Arthur's Seat.
The Holy Rood - Legend has it that David I, while out hunting, was thrown from his mount and wounded by a stag. In a defensive gesture he made to grasp the animal's antlers only to find he was holding a crucifix, the animal having made off into the forest. In recognition David founded the Augustinian Abbey of Holy Rood in 1128 and granted to the canons the right to their own burgh. Canongate.
The medieval abbey prospered and benefited from royal patronage in the 15th Century from the Stewart Kings. James II was born, married and buried here and broke with the Scone tradition to be crowned here. His three successors were all married in the abbey. It was during this period that the guest house was used as a royal residence in preference to the castle. James IV, intent on making Edinburgh his capital, started transforming the guest house accommodation into a palace by building the present northwest tower.
Work continued after his death at Flodden (1513). The abbey buildings suffered damage in 1544, were despoiled at the Reformation and burnt in 1650 when Cromwell's troops were quartered there. A moment of glory in the interval was the coronation of Charles I in 1633. From then on the nave served as parish church for the Canongate until 1688. when the congregation was dislodged by James VII who intended converting it into a Chapel Royal and the headquarters of the Order of the Thistle.
Royal palace Although Charles II never set foot in the palace he commissioned Sir William Bruce (1630-1710), the Architect Royal, to draw up designs. The architect had been instrumental - acting as an envoy - in Charles II's restoration. Bruce may have been influenced by designs for Whitehall done by Inigo Jones, as the final result is a handsome example of the Palladian style. Bruce and his master mason, Robert Mylne (1633-1710), created a masterpiece of elegance, particularly in the courtyard elevations. They cleverly retained the 16C northwest tower counterbalancing it with a second.
Royal residents Following Mary, Queen of Scots' six-year stay, the next royal occupant was James, Duke of York (future James VII) from 1679 to 1682 in his capacity as Commissioner for his brother Charles II. With Bonnie Prince Charlie, there was a brief period of royal receptions when he made Holyroodhouse his headquarters prior to his ultimate defeat at Culloden. George IV held a levee in 1822 and there were two periods of occupation by a French royal, firstly as Comte d'Artois having fled the Revolution and secondly as the exiled Charles X after his abdication in 1830. Since the reign of Queen Victoria, the palace has again been favoured as a royal residence.
Palace - Exterior The fountain is a 19th Century copy of the one at Linlithgow. The entrance front was the last part of the palace to be rebuilt as it had originally been intended to retain the front built by James IV. Counterbalancing the towers is the elaborate entrance. Flanked by columns, the door is surmounted by carved stonework incorporating the Scottish coat of arms, a broken pediment, a cupola and crown. The inner court elevations are an outstanding example of classic Renaissance of the Stuart Period and one of Scotland's earliest examples. The superimposed orders, general proportions, arcades and pediment are applied in the purest classical manner achieving a composition of restraint, symmetry and elegance.
Interior The decoration of the State Apartments remains lavish as designed by Sir William Bruce in true Restoration style. Highly intricate decorative plaster-work ceilings, lavishly carved woodwork (doors, doorcases, picture frames and swags) and inset canvases were all integral parts of the decor and all of a very high standard of craftsmanship. The seven outstanding plasterwork ceilings in high relief represent 10 years' labour by the "gentlemen modellers" John Halbert and George Dunsterfield. These craftsmen had previously worked at Ham House, the London home of the Lauderdales, patrons and relatives of Bruce, and at Windsor for Charles II.
The impressive Grand Staircase leads up past Her Majesty's portrait by Her Limner, David Donaldson. Other than the ceilings, the most notable features of the State Apartments are: in the Adam-style Dining-Room a splendid portrait of George IV in Highland Dress by Sir David Wilkie. In the Throne Room, redecorated in the 1920s, are royal portraits of the brothers Charles II and James VII (the palace's first royal guest) with their respective queens, and Queen Victoria in her coronation robes. Carved door surrounds and 18th Century Brussels tapestries can be seen in the Evening Drawing Room.
Finest of all is the Morning Drawing-Room sumptuously decorated with a Jacob de Wet medallion above the fireplace and 17C French tapestries. The King's Suite was on the east side, overlooking the famous Privy Garden of formal design on the site of the demolished cloister. In the King's Chamber is a magnificent Red Bed (1672) and ceiling with a DeWet medallion depicting the Apotheosis of Hercules, which is similar to the one in the Vine Room at Kellie Castle. Note the pairs of animals looking down. The Gallery walls are lined with many imaginary and a few real portraits of Scottish Kings from 6th Century Fergus to James VII. Jacob de Wet completed the portraits in two years.
The Historic Apartments in the 16C round tower consist of similar suites on two floors. These were refurbished c 1672 when floor and ceiling levels were adjusted to correspond to the Bruce additions. There are many Mary Queen of Scots associations. The antechamber has 17th Century Mortlake tapestries from the workshop founded by her son James VI. Upstairs are two exquisite 16th Century coffered ceilings, the first adorned with painted designs. The small chamber adjoining the Bedchamber is closely associated with the murder of Mary's Italian secretary, Rizzio, in 1566. His body was found in the outer chamber (brass plaque marks the spot). Paintings depict Mary's 2nd husband, Henry Lord Darnley (1546-67), as a 17-year-old youth with his brother. A second work shows his mourning family, including his son James VI, after Darnley's murder at Kirk o'Field. On the way downstairs note Medina's portrait of the palace architect, Sir William Bruce.
Abbey The roofless nave is all that remains of this once great abbey. It dates mainly from the late 12th Century and early 13th Century and there are some finely sculpted details. Compare the interlaced round-headed blind arcading of the 12C in the north aisle with the pointed 13C work opposite. The south elevation is an attractive fragment of 13C design. Queen Victoria rebuilt the royal burial vault following its destruction on the departure of the Roman Catholic James VII. The remains of David II, James II, James V and Lord Darnley are interred here. Of the west front, the remaining flanking tower, recessed pointed doorway and different levels of arcading give some impression of what the whole must have looked like. Note the medallion portraits.
Holyrood Park The largest area of open ground within the city, is dominated by Arthur's Seat (823ft-251m) and the Salisbury Crags, both volcanic features. A path from the car park on the Queen's Road, within the park, leads up to Arthur's Seat which affords a tremendous panorama of the Edinburgh area. At the foot of Arthur's Seat. the historic palace buildings are offset by significant structures reflecting the town's dynamic outlook following the devolution of power to Scotland: the futuristic Dynamic Earth: the spectacular Scottish Parliament building (under construction); another new building accommodating the offices of the Scotsman. Beyond Dunsapie lies the village of Duddingston in an attractive setting between park and loch (bird sanctuary). The 12C church has some good Norman features.