Holyrood Palace – A Bloody, Beautiful Home

Mary Queen of Scot’s chambers can be seen here, her royal rooms the scene of a shocking and very personal murder. By way of very brief context, Mary was the younger daughter of Henry VIII and younger sister of Elizabeth I, queen of England. Elizabeth was Protestant, like much of the country at that point, but Mary was staunchly Catholic.

A stained glass image from Mary’s quarters.

Before that happened, though, she married the Scottish Henry Stewart, better known as Lord Darnley, in Holyrood’s chapel in 1565. She found him quite handsome; upon agreeing to marry him she claimed to be “half in love with him” already based on his portrait. At first the couple seemed well-matched in addition to the union working politically. But he was “arrogant and violent”, according to my audio tour headphones, and became jealous of the influence of her secretary, David Rizzo.

Portrait of Lord Darnley as a teenager, seen here with his younger brother

Rizzo was also rumored to be her lover, but there seems no way at this point to know anything for certain in that respect. There must have been some truth to the rumors, though, or at least a high degree of closeness or influence, to awaken Darnely’s level of jealousy. One night he and his men burst into Mary’s chambers to remove and murder David Rizzo. He hid behind the very pregnant queen, but to no avail – he was dragged out and stabbed 57 times. Yes, you read that number correctly.

A plaque marking the location of Rizzo’s body, with artificial bloodstain added much more recently for emphasis

To imagine this scene going down, to envision a prince actually sending armed men into the queen’s chambers, possibly endangering his wife, the country’s queen, and the child she carried, in the middle of a dinner gathering and completely illegally without any plausible pretext of war or treason, is pretty mind-boggling. Storming past such a domestic boundary in their very own home, without any kind of warrant or decree, seems an almost unheard-of breach of…well, everything. But then Scotland’s history is rife with infighting, betrayals, royal upheavals and bloodshed (as is England’s too, of course), so perhaps that’s why Lord Darnley was not held accountable.

Not legally, anyway.

These events happened on the 9th of March, 1566; Mary had only just married Lord Darnley the year before. The following year, on the 10th of February, 1567 – almost exactly eleven months after the event – the Kirk o’Field house there in the city of Edinburgh was destroyed in an explosion. The bodies of Lord Darnley and his servant were discovered, but here’s the kicker – the bodies were in the garden, not the house, and they were untouched by the explosion. They did, however, appear to have been strangled. Mary and her most trusted nobleman, the Earl of Bothwell, were immediately (and obviously) suspected, given that they had the clearest motive. Bothwell was acquitted at his trial two months later, and one month later Mary married him in the same palace she had married Darnley and witnessed Rizzo’s murder.

These stairs lead to Mary’s chambers. It was this very stairwell that Darnley’s men used to enter and seize Rizzo that night.

In the ensuing years, Mary was driven from the throne by concerned Protestants, imprisoned comfortably for years, and eventually executed for treason (against the fervent wishes of her sister Elizabeth, whom the Catholic plots were directed against). But the child that Mary carried inside her that fateful night at dinner – James Charles Stuart – would grow up to be king of Scotland and then of England as well. (Wagging tongues have since questioned his legitimacy, of course, much like the rumors about Diana and a red-headed palace guard, but it seems pure conspiracy theory.) He united the two thrones and is known as King James 1 of England.

Now, about the palace itself. Holyrood Palace was constructed by King James IV in the early 1500s as the home of the Scottish monarchy. After the later uniting of the thrones under the British crown, Holyroodhouse became the home of the British monarchy when visiting Scotland. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed there for a while every year and practiced their drawing skills on the view from the bedroom windows overlooking the back gardens. Queen Elizabeth II still holds official events there during one week out of every year.

These paintings were all done by a single artist at the king’s commission. The effect on the eye is a bit odd – everywhere you turn, the same style meets your gaze until it all starts to swim together.

If you pick up the headphones for the free audio tour included in the price of admission (I highly recommend it), you can hear Princess Anne discussing how much she has always liked Holyrood Palace. Rather fascinatingly, she alludes to what seem to be well-know rumors of ghosts and hauntings and, rather than dismiss them outright, says that it’s been the opposite of her own experience. She goes on about how the palace walks the line between functional and cozy, without using those specific words, and conveys a real love for the place. The beloved, no-nonsense, down-to-earth royal, who has no taste for royal glitz and glamour, loves Holyrood. It’s easy to see why; Holyrood may have plenty of space and royal trappings, but at the end of the day, it’s also sensible, functional, and dignified.

If you’re ever near Edinburgh, do take the chance to see it if you can.

Published by gracexaris

Explorer, thinker, writer, teacher, woman.

3 thoughts on “Holyrood Palace – A Bloody, Beautiful Home

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