Falkland Palace

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Falkland Palace
Falkland Palace is located in Fife
Falkland Palace
Location in Fife, Scotland
General information
Location Falkland, Fife, Scotland
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Falkland Palace, 'South Quarter' from the Courtyard

Falkland Palace in Falkland, Fife, Scotland, is a royal palace of the Scottish Kings. Today it is under the stewardship of the Marquis of Bute, who delegates most of his duties to the National Trust for Scotland.[1]


Early years

Falkland Palace from the gardens

Before Falkland Palace was built a hunting lodge existed on the site in the 12th century. This 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 area could be easily defended as it was on a slight hill. The surrounding land eventually became the Palace gardens.

There was a great wood of oaks 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 also have been surrounded by meadows, fields, orchards, glades and Falkland Park which was a managed forest surrounded by a Pale, which is a ditch with a fence on top of it. This pale would have been used to keep game inside the park for the royal family and courtiers to hunt. The land near the palace which is currently the orchard would have originally been meadows. The castle and the palace would have had their own orchard somewhere close by. In 1371 Falkland Castle was destroyed by an invading English army.

In 1402 Robert, Duke of Albany imprisoned his nephew and rival David, Duke of Rothesay, the eldest son of King Robert, in the Well Tower at Falkland. The incarcerated Duke eventually died there from neglect and starvation.

Albany was exonerated from blame by Parliament, but suspicions of foul play persisted, suspicions which never left Rothesay's younger brother the future King James, and which would eventually lead to the downfall of the Albany Stewarts. John Debrett, writing in 1805, was in no doubt of Duke Robert's motives and guilt:

This Robert, Duke of Albany, having obtained the entire government from his brother, King Robert, he caused the Duke of Rothesay to be murdered, thinking to bring the Crown into his own family; but to avoid the like fate, King Robert resolved to send his younger son James, to France, then about nine years old, who being sea-sick, and forced to land on the English coast ... was detained a captive in England eighteen years. At these misfortunes King Robert died of grief in 1406.[2]

16th century improvements

Between 1501 and 1541 Kings James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful royal palace: with Stirling Castle it was one of two Renaissance palaces in Scotland. 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.[3] Ten years later, James V extended his father's buildings in French renaissance style. He built a Royal Tennis Court in the grounds of the Palace which was completed in 1541. The court still survives to this day and is the oldest in Britain. James 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.[4] 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.[5]

The arms of the King of Scots at the gatehouse

Falkland became a popular retreat with all the Stewart monarchs. They practised falconry there and used the vast surrounding forests for hawking and for hunting deer. Wild boar, imported from France, were kept in the Park, within a fence made by the Laird of Fernie.[6] They also loved using the Royal Tennis Court; Queen Mary became especially fond of the game, and it is recorded that she scandalised the people of Scotland by wearing men's breeches to play.

Nearby Myres Castle is the hereditary 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.[7]

Civil war

After the Union of the Crowns (1606), Kings James VI, Charles I, and Charles II all visited Falkland. A fire partially destroyed the palace during its occupation by Cromwell's troops, and it quickly fell into ruin.

19th Century

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 his two right-hand architects: John Kinross and Robert Weir Schultz. At the time the Palace was a ruin with no windows or doors. Thanks to his sympathetic restoration work and considerable budget the Palace is still standing to this day. 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 Marquis John, 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 on top of 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 to 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 this time and people of wealth would travel the world to find specimens and bring them home to plant in their gardens and show them off to their friends. There is also evidence that there was a second glass house in the garden near the existing one.

Modern era

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. A NTS virtual tour[8] 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. As you walk around the garden today you will see a distinct and overlapping timeline which tells of 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 surrounding the Palace known as Falkland Forest, by hawking and hunting wild boar and deer.

The celebrated garden designer Percy Cane redesigned the gardens in the 1903s. He was a horticultural writer, artist and a garden designer. He had designed the palace grounds at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Percy 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 create 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 damp.

The current Head Gardener Sonia Ferrás Mañá is restoring the Percy Cane garden back to his original design and flower choice. Sonia, the garden staff and volunteers have been working on various projects over the last few years to conserve the garden and to 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 habitats 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 (animals without backbones i.e. insects and worms) and small animals which will encourage them to stay longer in the garden and maybe live here. 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 that runs between the garden and the orchard is a fantastic place for water wildlife, including trout!


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.[9] 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.[10] Within, visitors can view the Keeper's Apartments in the Gatehouse tower, the Chapel Royal and gallery.

Falkland Palace, entrance façade

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 master of works, James Murray of Kilbaberton 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 1616 in anticipation of the visit of James VI.[11]

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 Nicolas Roy, a French mason sent to Scotland in March 1539 by Antoinette of Bourbon, the mother of Mary of Guise.[12] The chapel ceiling dates from the time of James V 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."[13]

The courtyard was originally finished 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.

Real tennis court

On lower ground in the gardens, slightly beyond the remains of the medieval castle uncovered c. 1900, lies the original real tennis court. Built in 1539, it is the world's oldest tennis court still in use.[14] The roofed spectator area is home to a number of swallows, who swoop in and out, through the door left open for them, during spring and summer. The court is home to the Falkland Palace Royal Tennis Club.


  1. "National Trust Scotland "Falkland Palace"". Nts.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Debrett, John, p. 233, The peerage of England, Scotland, and Ireland, London (1805) Retrieved November 2010
  3. Register of the Great Seal, 1513–1546, HM General Register House (1883), no.558.
  4. In Britain, December 2003-January 2004, Vol. 13 Issue 6, p. 72, 5p, 9c retrieved through Ebsco's Australia New Zealand Reference Centre
  5. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 8 (Edinburgh 1908)), xxvi, 141-143
  6. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, vol. 7 (Edinburgh 1907), 461, 472, July 1541.
  7. Exchequer Rolls, HM Register House, last payment in 1563, p. 252.
  8. "NTS Learn". Nts.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Register of the Privy Seal, vol.1, (1908), p. 583 no.4018, 2 Jan. 1529.
  10. Accounts of the Master of Works, vol. 1, HMSO (1957), 256: Dunbar (1991), 6.
  11. Masson, David, ed., Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 10 Edinburgh (1891), p. 518.
  12. Dunbar (1999), 33-36: Dunbar (1991), 4-5: The French master mason started at Falkland on 20 April 1539, Treasurer's Accounts, vol. 7 (1907), 330.
  13. Masson, David, ed., Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, vol. 13, Edinburgh, pp. 706–707.
  14. Accounts of the Master of Work, vol. 1, HMSO (1958), 279.

Further reading

  • Dunbar, John G., (1999). Scottish Royal Palaces. Tuckwell Press. ISBN 1-86232-042-X.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.

External links