The Palace of Holyroodhouse http://www.royal.gov.uk/ sits at the end of the Royal Mile in the shadow of Castle Rock (where Edinburgh Castle is perched) and Arthur’s Seat. It is Her Majesty the Queen’s official residence in Scotland. On your tour of the Palace at Holyroodhouse, you can visit the Holyrood Abbey ruins, historic apartments, state rooms, and Mary Queen of Scots’ haunted chambers. The palace gardens are open during the summer months.
Description and Historical Background
The Black Rood or Holy Rood refers to a cherished relic that was brought to Scotland by the Anglo-Saxon princess Margaret who would become the wife of King Malcom III Ceanmore around the year 1070. It is said that with the Black Rood’s influence, she brought about the end of the Celtic religion in Scotland. The Rood is described as “a casket in the shape of a cross, containing what was believed to be a piece of the true cross, set in an ebony crucifix, richly ornamented with gold.” The relic was eventually lost during the Reformation and ransacking of Great Britain’s cathedrals.
The Rood’s owner, Margaret, was canonized in 1250. In 1128 David I, St. Margaret’s son, was King of Scotland. David decided to go hunting on the Feast Day of the Holy Rood, against the wishes of his priest. During his hunt, he saw a huge white stag and attempted to kill it. He successfully cornered the stag, but was thrown from his horse during the process. As the tables turned and the stag rushed forward to kill him, David called upon God to save him. David claimed that suddenly a cross appeared between the antlers of the stag. David grabbed the cross and the stag vanished. David built a shrine to the Holy Rood on the spot where this miracle occurred. Holyrood Abbey was constructed in 1141 for the Augustinian Friars. All that’s left of this shrine today can be seen by visiting the ruins standing next to Holyrood Palace (this is a great photo opportunity—very atmospheric).
The oldest part of the palace, the 16th-century David’s Tower, is haunted by the victim of a terrible murder that took place here in 1588. The characters in this drama are Mary Queen of Scots, her husband Lord Darnley, and her Italian secretary David Rizzio. One evening, Mary was dining in the small room just off her bedchambers with Rizzio and several ladies in waiting. Unbeknownst to the group, Lord Darnley was in his private chambers a floor below plotting a diabolical scheme with several Scottish noblemen. The group used a secret staircase only used by the Queen and Lord Darnely to enter the queen’s bedroom and demand David Rizzio. Mary refused and the group fell upon Rizzio in the doorway of this tiny room and stabbed him 56 times before fleeing. Mary was six months pregnant at the time and was also rumored to be having an affair with Rizzio. It is believed that Darnley wanted the shock of the murder to cause Mary to miscarriage and perhaps die, clearing the way for him to become king. This was not to be. Mary was spirited away from the palace and gave birth in Edinburgh Castle (today, you can visit the birthing room) to James I who would be the first king to rule over a united England and Scotland.
Darnley himself died a year later when a massive explosion destroyed his lodgings outside the palace. It was never clear who ordered his death, however many people blamed Mary and suggested that revenge for the death of Rizzio might have been a motive. Many people have also blamed James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell, who married Mary after Darnley’s untimely death.
Today visitors to Holyroodhouse can see some of Mary’s former possessions including a lock of her hair, as well as portraits of both Mary and Rizzio in a room adjacent to her private chambers where Rizzio was murdered. Curiously, there is a rusty colored blood stain still visible on the wooden floorboards (I saw it). The tour guide told me that the wooden boards have been replaced twice, but the stain keeps coming back. The guide also told me that several palace guards (no-nonsense members of Scotland’s military regiment that guard the palace) have reported seeing a figure in these rooms in the dead of night in addition to hearing unexplained sounds. Darnley’s ghost has also been spied lurking in the shadows of his former palace rooms.
Next time, I’ll tell you of the ghosts who haunt Borthwick Castle, just outside Edinburgh and also associated with Mary Queen of Scots.