The origins of the Palace of Holyroodhouse lie in the foundation of an Augustinian abbey in 1128 by David I (r.1124-53). This simple first church proved too small for the requirements of the community. From c.1195 to c.1230, extensive monastic buildings were added, including cloisters, a chapter house, a refectory and guest houses. The enlarged foundation prospered, and from an early date contained royal chambers for use by the sovereign.
It was James IV (r.1488-1513) who decided to convert these chambers into a palace. Although virtually nothing survives today of the early Palace buildings, it appears that they were laid out around a quadrangle. Principal rooms, including the royal lodgings and the chapel, occupied the first floor, and a tower was added on the south side to provide extra accommodation for the sovereign. Work also began on the Palace gardens, and in 1507 a loch beside the Abbey was drained to provide additional space.
Further construction of the Palace took place during the reign of James V (r.1513-42). Work began in 1528 on a huge rectangular tower, rounded at the corners, to provide new royal lodgings at the north-west corner of the Palace. Equipped with a drawbridge and probably protected by a moat, the tower provided a high degree of security and is now the oldest part of the Palace surviving today. The west front of the Palace was rebuilt to house additional reception rooms. The elegant design incorporated a double-towered gateway, battlemented parapets, ornamental crestings and large windows with great expanses of glazing. The south side was remodelled and included a new chapel, the old chapel becoming the Council Chamber.
During the reign of James VI (r.1567-1625) extensive repairs to the Palace were carried out, and the gardens were enlarged and improved. Further renovations had to be made after the King, who had succeeded to the English throne as James I, returned to Edinburgh in 1617. Buildings that had originally been part of the Abbey were absorbed into the Palace, and ancillary buildings were erected outside the main courtyard for use by court officials. The Palace and Abbey were renovated further in 1633 for the Scottish coronation of James’s son, Charles I.
In 1650 a fire broke out in the east range of the Palace during the visit of Oliver Cromwell and his soldiers. After this, the eastern parts of the Palace were effectively abandoned. The remaining parts were used as barracks, and a two-storey block was added to the west range in 1659.
Charles II (r.1660-85) was restored to the throne in 1660, and Holyroodhouse once again became a royal palace. A full survey of the building was carried out in 1633 by the King’s Master Mason, John Mylne, and the re-building process began in earnest in 1671. The work was overseen and directed by John Maitland, Secretary of State for Scotland. The designs were drawn up by Scottish architect Sir William Bruce, while Robert Mylne, the King’s Master Mason from 1668 and nephew of John Mylne, was responsible for the execution of the work.
The harmonious design of today’s Palace owes much to Bruce’s skill in blending old and new, and ensuring a smooth continuity with earlier buildings. The 16th-century north-west tower was balanced with a matching south-west tower, giving a symmetrical appearance to the new entrance façade. The towers were linked by a two-storey front, with a central entrance flanked by giant columns framing the Royal Arms of Scotland. The existing quadrangular plan was retained, and rooms were arranged around a courtyard with superimposed classical pilasters.
By the end of 1674 the shells of the three main sides of the Palace and the new tower were virtually finished. Two years later the west front, which linked the towers, was completed. By 1679 the Palace had been re-constructed, largely in its present form.