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Visiting the Palace of Holyroodhouse through the centuries

The Palace of Holyroodhouse has welcomed visitors for hundreds of years. Today, almost half a million people visit the Palace each year, enjoying the Palace's history and the great works of art from the Royal Collection.

In Edinburgh, it was Holyrood Abbey, rather than the Palace, that first became a visitor attraction. In 1758, the Abbey's wooden roof had been replaced with stone, its weight causing it to collapse ten years later. The ruined church became a popular and romantic sightseeing spot, and it was particularly fashionable to visit the atmospheric ruins by moonlight.

A watercolour showing members of the public gathered around the new fountain in the Forecourt.

A watercolour showing members of the public gathered around the new fountain in the Forecourt. ©

By the end of the 18th century, both locals and foreign visitors had developed a fascination with the apartments that had once been home to Mary, Queen of Scots. The climax of the tour, led by the housekeeper, was a view of the 'bloodstains' on the floorboards where Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, had been violently murdered by a group led by her husband, Lord Darnley.

Nineteenth-century visitors in Queen Mary’s Bedchamber.

Nineteenth-century visitors in Queen Mary’s Bedchamber. ©

Many visitors to the Palace in the 18th century reported that they had seen the thigh bones of Lord Darnley and a mummified corpse said to be that of a countess of Roxburghe. Visitors seem to have felt a mixture of revulsion and fascination at these displays - in 1785 one gentleman wrote that the 'exhibition was the most indelicate I ever beheld.'

By the 19th century the bones and mummy were no longer part of the tour at Holyrood, but each year visitors still come in their hundreds of thousands to see Mary, Queen of Scots' apartments and try to spot the bloodstains where Rizzio met his violent end.

Plan your visit and find out more about what there is to see and do at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.