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The Royal Collection at Palace of Holyroodhouse

The Palace of Holyroodhouse ©

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is His Majesty The King's official residence in Scotland, and has long associations with royalty.

One of the most famous names associated with the Palace is that of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her Chambers at Holyroodhouse contain works connected to her life there, including an embroidery created by her during captivity under Elizabeth I. Here visitors can also see items linked to the Stuart line, including relics assembled by successive monarchs such as the Darnley Jewel and the personal dining tray made for Cardinal York, the brother of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Perhaps the most striking space within the Palace is the Great Gallery, lined with Jacob de Wet's portraits of the real and legendary kings of Scotland, commissioned by Charles II. The Queen's Bedchamber contains the so called 'Darnley' Bed, which was originally supplied to the Duke of Hamilton and later slept in by Bonnie Prince Charlie before his defeat at Culloden. The State Rooms also contain a number of tapestries, reflecting the main decorative component of royal palaces from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Rooms and locations with objects on display

  • Ante-Chamber

    Much of the decoration of this room dates from the mid ninteenth century, when the historical apartments were opened to visitors by the Commissioners of Works.  They acquired additional furniture and tapestries to supplement those already in use in the room by the Duke of Hamilton, who had allowed visitors to tour the Darnley Rooms.  Pieces purchased in this way include the Mortlake series of tapestries Playing Boys. 

    The room also contains a number of works relating to the Winter Queen, Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James VI and I.  She married Frederick V, Elector Palatine, who was offered the throne of Bohemia in 1619.  However, he was deposed following defeat at the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620, leading to the nickname for the short duration of their name.  The copy of the work by Cornelis van Poelenburgh shows the couple's children, whilst the work by Bartholomeus van Bassen shows them dining whilst in exile in Holland.

  • Great Gallery

    The Gallery is the largest room in the Palace, and is best known for the extensive series of portraits of the Scottish monarchs that line the walls.  These were commissioned by Charles II from the Dutch painter, Jacob de Wet, and delivered between 1684 and 1686.  They feature every king of Scotland, real and legendary, back to the supposed founder of Scotland, Fergus I, in 330BC, and were a clear message about the lineage of the Stuart kings.  Today, the room is used by The Queen to carry out investitures for Scottish recipients of orders, as well as for state banquets and receptions.

  • Great Stair

    This imposing staircase is the first stage on the processional route through the State Apartments to the King's Bedchamber.  The walls are hung with a number of sixteenth-century tapestries from Brussels, from The Planets series.  These were first brought to Holyrood by Prince Albert, and were placed on the Great Stair after 1918.  Alongside the tapestries, are eight fresco fragments, by Lattanizio Gambara, depicting scenes form Ovid's Metamorphoses.  These were made for a Palace in Brescia, and were salvaged when the Palace was destroyed in 1853, before being acquired by Prince Albert in 1856.  They were acquired as examples of fresco technique for the artists working on the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament.

  • King's Bedchamber

    The King's Bedchamber at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

    Designed as Charles II's Bedchamber, this is the most lavishly decorated room in the Palace, and was designed to be seen only by the most privileged visitors.  The room is dominated by the State Bed, which has been at Holyrood since at least 1684.  It was probably supplied for the Dukes of Hamilton, who were the Hereditary Keepers of Holyrood.  The bed was restored in 1976, and the rich red damask is designed to match the original fabric.  Many illustrations from the nineteenth-century show this bed in Mary, Queen of Scots' Bedchamber, and it is often, wrongly, described as 'Queen Mary's Bed'.

    The decorative panel was produced by Jacob de Wet, one of the team of craftsmen working on the newly rebuilt Palace of Holyroodhouse for Charles II.  Surrounded by elaborate plasterwork containing the crowned Thistle of Scotland, the panel shows Hercules as a child.

  • King's Closet

    This small, intimate room was originally designed to serve as the King's Study.  The wall is lined with tapestries, as it would have been in the seventeenth-century.  The set now in the room are from a series telling the story of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, including his meeting with Alexander the Great, and were made at Mortlake, 1682-3. 

  • Lord Darnley’s Bedchamber

    This room is dominated by the so-called 'Darnley' bed, which was for a time located in Lord Darnley's former apartments.  It was actually supplied for the Duke of Hamilton at Holyrood in 1682.  The Stuart connection was provided by Bonnie Prince Charlie, who occupied the Duke of Hamilton's apartments in 1745, and slept in this bed.  It has been conserved, and is presented behind glass with reduced light levels to protext the fragile textiles.  The embroidered bed cover, now thought to have been made in England around 1700, was presented to King Edward VII in 1910 in the belief that it had belonged to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. 

  • Mary, Queen of Scots' Bedchamber

    The impressive oak ceiling bears the initials of Mary, Queen of Scots' parents, James V and Mary of Guise, and the associations with Mary have been drawing visitors since the eighteenth century.  The Flemish cabinet, bearing an inscription that it belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, is actually of seventeenth-century design and so can not have belonged to her, but is testimony to the attraction of her name. 

    Many of the paintings in the room date from the sixteenth century, and include copies of works by Titian and Lucas van Leyden.  The tapestries, Flemish, from the second half of the seventeenth century, tell the story of Phaethon, son of Apollo, who couldn't control his father's sun chariot and had to be killed by Zeus to prevent him burning up the earth.  These tapestries have hung in the Bedchamber since at least 1800.

  • Mary, Queen of Scots' Outer Chamber

    Mary, Queen of Scots' Outer Chamber.

    This was where Mary, Queen of Scots received her visitors, and is also where Rizzio, Mary's secretary, was stabbed.  His alleged bloodstain can be seen where the body was left.  The room is now used to display a range of Stuart and Jacobite relics that have been collected by successive sovereigns. 

    Amongst the relics associated with Queen Mary are an embroidery of a cat and a mouse, made whilst she was in captivity in England.  This possibly alludes to her relationship with her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, with Mary as the mouse and Elizabeth the cat.  The so-called 'Darnley Jewel', was probably made for the Countess of Lennox, mother of Queen Mary's second husband, Lord Darnley.  The emblems and inscriptions refer to the Countess' hopes and ambitions for her grandson, the future James VI and I.  The Jewel was purchased by Queen Victoria from the collection of Horace Walpole in 1842.  The Memorial to Lord Darnley was also commissioned by Lord Darnley's parents, after his murder, and may implicate Queen Mary in his death.  Several of the inscriptions have been removed, possibly by James VI and I, depicted as a child in the picture, mourning his father.

  • Mary, Queen of Scots' Supper Room

    This small room was where Queen Mary, her ladies, and secretary, David Rizzio, were dining on the night that Rizzio was murdered.  It contains an armour, long claimed to belong to Lord Darnley, Queen Mary's second husband, but which was made over a century after his death.  The panels are copies of works by Polidoro da Caravaggio, telling the story of Cupid and Psyche.  The original panels can be seen at Hampton Court Palace.

  • Mary, Queen of Scots’ Closet

    This small room would have been used by Mary, Queen of Scots as a dressing-room and study. The two tapestries, Tobit before Shalmanezer and Tobias and the Angel, date from c.1625. They were hung in the Closet during the nineteenth century, and have recently undergone conservation before returning to this space.

  • Presence Chamber

    Originally the Presence Chamber of Charles II, this room is now used for receptions.  The four tapestries were sent from Buckingham Palace in 1851, to lend an air of warmth to the room when Queen Victoria converted it into a drawing room for the court.  During the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, there were 13 sets of tapestries recorded in the Palace, although none of these survive in the present collection.

  • Privy Chamber

    Originally Charles II's Privy Chamber, intricate panel carvings by the Dutchman Jan van Santvoort surround the room.  They enclose the first of the works produced by Jacob de Wet, Bathing Scene by a River, that were commissioned as part of the refurbishment of Holyroodhouse that would culminate in his work in the Great Gallery.  The tapestries are French, and tell the story of Diana, the hunting Goddess.  They were purchased for Charles II in 1668, and have been hung in this room since at least 1796. 

    The coverings of the mid-eighteenth century side chairs are replacements.  The original embroideries were copied by the Royal School of Needlework, and then worked up by eminent Scottish ladies and presented to Queen Mary in 1920.

  • Royal Dining Room

    Royal Dining Room at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

    Originally this room would have been a guard chamber at the beginning of the Queen's Apartments.  It was first used as a dining room towards the end of Queen Victoria's reign, and continues to this day.  The silver banqueting service was presented to King George V and Queen Mary by Sir Alexander Grant, in honour of their Silver Jubilee in 1935.  Commissioned specifically for use at Holyroodhouse, the service was made in Edinburgh by Henry Tatton and is based on Scottish examples from the early seventeenth century.  The paintings in this room include the striking portrait by Sir David Wilkie of George IV in Highland dress, and Hayter's state portrait of Queen Victoria.  Also present are the notable pair of portraits by Louis Gabriel Blanchet of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and his brother, Cardinal York.

  • Throne Room

    The Throne Room is used for receptions and other state occasions.  The centrepiece of the room are the pair of thrones, commissioned for Holyroodhouse by King George V in 1911 from Morris & Co.  The oak panelling was added to the walls in 1929, to better reflect the appearance of the original Charles II room.  The paintings include the Daniel Mytens portrait of Charles I, and pairs by Sir Peter Lely of Charles II and his consort, Catherine of Braganza, as well as of James VII and II and his second wife, Mary of Modena.