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Recording Your Heritage Online

Event ID 565664

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Recording Your Heritage Online


Linlithgow Palace, mostly 1424-1624

Even stripped of the harl or limewash that once coated its stonework to make it glow like a jewellery box, robbed of its romantic roofscape of ridges, turrets, and tall fleur-de-lis finials, bereft of its statues and stained glass, the gilding of its pediments and dormer heads having rubbed off over the centuries, the palace remains magnificent

The 16th-century palace, with its large first-floor windows, timber galleries overlooking the loch, and fairy-tale entrance up the Kirkgate, lacked even the token defence of a drawbridge. (It was defensive against very little - hence Cromwell's destructive 1650 cordon sanitaire.) It was a pleasure dome on the European model: vivid, pretty, colourful and compact around a courtyard tinkling with its gorgeous fountain.

The raised lochside site was certainly fortified by the time Edward I imported James of St George (architect of Harlech) who may have been responsible for the barbican - stumps of whose round towers lie slumped against the eastern façade. In 1424, James I rebuilt the eastern (entrance) wing around a vaulted pend lent symbolic grandeur by great statues beneath cusped canopies. Steps from the courtyard led up to the great hall, or Lion Chamber.

Between 1488 and 1513, James IV, perhaps under the guidance of John Frenssh or William Bawty, completed the quadrangle with a chapel on the south and oratory and oriel on the north-west corner.

The palace reached its zenith, 1534-6, under master mason Thomas Frenssh directed by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart. Finnart refitted the Lion Chamber and the chapel: he may have been responsible for the new screen lining the south façade, concealing transes or corridors behind its vaguely Tudor windows, reworking the western wing, and regularising the southern façade. Now that the ornamental finials and statues, stained glass, gilt armorials and painted ceilings for which he was responsible have vanished, his principal legacy is the ceremonial route up the Kirkgate - through an outer ornamented gate with all King James V's chivalric orders, over a paved outer court to another diminutive gateway, through the pend to a new stair to the piano nobile, one edge of which is to be seen embedded in the north wall

The north wing collapsed in 1607, rebuilt 1618-24, by William Wallace in the most fashionable Danish Renaissance, emulating the south wing of Kronborg; octagonal stair, each window pedimented in gilt, skyline of tall chimneystacks, designed possibly by Sir James Murray of Kilbaberton. The fountain, c.1538, comprises an elaborately carved hexagonal well, two off-set stages above, a figure on each angle, decorated by flying buttresses between each stage, culminating in a crown; restored, 2005, by Historic Scotland.

You need a lot of imagination and sunny weather to transcend the sometimes damp and dreich - and wholly unnecessary - dereliction of the palace of Linlithgow to appreciate just how fine it was. The imaginative splendours recreated in the royal palace of Kolding in Denmark bring home how wasteful is the historical fossilisations such as we see at Linlithgow. It is no more architecturally or historically valid to leave Linlithgow in the state it is now than to refuse to rebuild St George's Hall at Windsor Castle.

Taken from "West Lothian: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Stuart Eydmann, Richard Jaques and Charles McKean, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

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