Linlithgow Palace

The location – majestically situated in the centre of Linlithgow, beside 15th-century St Michael’s Kirk, and overlooking the peel (park) and loch. The loch has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its wildfowl population.

The magnificent great hall – despite being roofless, it still has the power to impress.

The oriels – elegant projecting windows off the king’s and queen’s bedchambers.

The fountain – a beautiful three-tiered ‘wedding-cake’ structure in the centre of the courtyard. It can be seen in full flow every Sunday in July and August.

The sculptures – all around the palace are sumptuous stone-carved figures, including beguiling angel musicians in the royal chapel.

Linlithgow Palace was once a magnificent palace, built and lived in by successive Stewart kings and where Mary Queen of Scots was born. Though in ruins now, it is still an impressive and exciting site and provides a wonderful opportunity to investigate life at the court of the Stewart monarchs.

Historical background

Linlithgow Palace was begun in 1425 by James I (1406-1437) and completed almost a century later by his great grandson James IV (1488-1513). James I wanted a glittering Renaissance palace far finer than any of his nobles – an ambition which cost him an estimated one tenth of his income.

Building stopped when James was murdered in 1437 and it was largely left to James’s grandson James III (1460-1488), to continue the building work. However, it was not until the reign of James IV (1488-1513) that the palace was completed to celebrate his marriage to Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII of England, to whom he presented the palace as a wedding gift.

After James IV’s death in 1513 on the battlefield at Flodden, his widow returned to England and the palace was neglected. Some fifteen years later, James V (1513-1542) remodelled parts of the palace, creating the present approach from the town with the outer gate and adding the fabulous fountain in the courtyard.

The Stewart kings and queens used Linlithgow Palace as a retreat where they could relax and enjoy themselves away from the formalities of Edinburgh and Stirling castles, and as an escape from the plague. They could feast in splendour in the great hall, grant audiences in their luxurious apartments, walk in the pleasure gardens and by the loch and hunt in the park. Here, Margaret Tudor gave birth to Prince James in 1512 and in 1542, Marie of Guise gave birth to Princess Mary, later Mary Queen of Scots.

However, by the late 16th century, the palace was showing its age and it gradually fell into disrepair. Finally, in 1746 following occupation by government troops in pursuit of the Jacobites, a disastrous fire broke out. destroying the palace. Since then it has remained roofless and uninhabited.


  • 1143 David I refers to castle at Linlithgow
  • 1296 Edward I of England invades Scotland and uses castle as occasional base
  • 1313 Castle retaken by Scots. Used as royal base 1424 Fire destroys castle, church and town
  • 1425 James I orders new palace to be built: east range constructed
  • 1460 James III extends south range
  • 1488 James IV completeswest range and builds north range to complete courtyard
  • 1538 James V creates new entrance and fountain
  • 1542 Mary Queen of Scots is born at palace
  • 1590 Palace falls out of use
  • 1607 North range of palace collapses
  • 1617 James VI & I orders rebuilding of north range
  • 1633 Palace is renovated for the visit of Charles I
  • 1746 Fire destroys palace and it is left in ruins

Pleasure palace of the royal Stewarts

The majestic royal palace of the Stewarts at Linlithgow today lies roofless and ruined. Yet the visitor still feels a sense of awe on entering its gates. It was begun by James I in 1424, rising like a phoenix from the flames following a fire that devastated its predecessor. It became a truly elegant ‘pleasure palace’, and a welcome stopping-place for the royal family along the busy road linking Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle.

The Stewart queens especially liked its tranquillity and fresh air. The ancient palace served as the royal nursery for James V (born 1512), Mary Queen of Scots (born 1542) and Princess Elizabeth (born 1596), better known as ‘the Winter Queen’. But after 1603, when James VI moved the royal court to London following his coronation as James I of England, the palace fell quickly into decline. The end came ignominiously in September 1745, when a fire swept through the ghostly rooms.

An ancient site

Linlithgow Palace stands on a low green promontory overlooking a small inland loch. The name Linlithgow means ‘the loch in the damp hollow’. The location has a history of occupation reaching back at least to Roman times 2,000 years ago. David I (1124–53) was the first monarch to build a royal residence on the site. He also founded the town that sprang up in its shadow.

The peace of Linlithgow was shattered in 1296 when Edward I of England invaded Scotland. In 1302 the ‘Hammer of the Scots’ had a formidable defence built around the royal residence. He called it his ‘pele’ (from Old French pel, meaning ‘stake’). Nothing of Linlithgow Peel survives, but the word now describes the attractive parkland surrounding the later palace of the Stewarts.

Their Majesties’ palace

In 1424 a great fire swept through the town. The old palace was badly damaged. James I (1406–37) started to build anew. Over the course of the next century and more, his heirs completed the great task. The end result was a monumentally impressive quadrangular palace, with four ranges grouped around a central courtyard. At its centre stood James V’s wonderful fountain (1538). James I’s great hall dominated the east quarter, whilst the royal chapel and royal apartments added by James IV (1488–1513) graced the south and west quarters. The north quarter came crashing to the ground in 1607, and was rebuilt by James VI (1567–1625). Alas, that quarter probably housed the queen’s apartment, meaning that the room where Mary Queen of Scots was born in December 1542 no longer exists.

On the trail of the Stewart monarchs.

There is a lot to see in the palace. Focusing on the palace as a Stewart residence a tour of seven key locations are suggested:

  1. Courtyard
  2. Old Entry (internal)
  3. Court Kitchen
  4. Great Hall
  5. Chapel
  6. King’s Apartments
  7. Queen Margaret’s Bower
  8. Outside the palace there is one further location which can be explored as you leave:

Background information is given in the pack for each location. It is written in fairly simple language so that it can be read aloud to pupils if desired. Also included are suggested questions for discussion. The focus is on encouraging pupils to interpret the building and deduce what they can from clues they see around them.

Opening arrangements

1 April – 30 September, Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun, 9.30 am to 5.30 pm

1 October – 31 March, Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun, 9.30 am to 4.30 pm
Admission prices

All year
Adult £5.50, Child £3.30, Concession £4.40

Bringing your dogs
Dogs under close control are allowed in Linlithgow Peel. Buckets are provided around Linlithgow Peel in dog fouling areas.

Public transport
There are regular train services to Linlithgow from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Walk 2 minutes to Linlithgow High Street, near Station Road; progress westwards to the Palace.

01506 842 896


Linlithgow Palace
Edinburgh and the Lothians EH49 7AL
Scotland, UK

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