By the time Edinburgh became the capital of Scotland in the 15th century, kings had chosen to reside at Holyrood Abbey, surrounded by parkland, rather than at the more exposed Edinburgh Castle. James II (r.1437-60) was born at Holyrood in 1430 and was crowned, married and eventually buried in the Abbey. James III (r.1460-88) married Margaret of Denmark there. Although the King and his retinue were initially housed in the Abbey’s guesthouse, by the second half of the 15th century they occupied specific accommodation.
Eventually the royal lodgings came to eclipse those of the Abbey in both size and importance. James IV (r.1488-1513) frequently stayed at Holyroodhouse, and it was he who originally decided to convert the royal lodgings into a Palace, partly because he was keen to provide a suitable residence for himself and his new bride Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII. Their wedding was celebrated in the Abbey church in August 1503. It was during the reign of his successor James V (r.1513-42) that the Palace was remodelled, partly in anticipation of the King’s marriage in 1537 to Madeleine of Valois, daughter of Francis I, King of France.
One of the most famous residents of the Palace of Holyroodhouse is undoubtedly Mary, Queen of Scots (r.1542-67). The daughter of James V, Mary came to live at Holyroodhouse in 1561. She married both of her Scottish husbands at the Palace: Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, in 1565 in the chapel, and James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, in 1567 in the Great Hall. It was in her own apartments that she witnessed the brutal murder of David Rizzio, her secretary, at the hands of a group led by the jealous Lord Darnley, on 9 March 1566.
Mary’s son, James VI, took up residence at the Palace in 1579 and carried out extensive repairs. By the time his Queen, Anne of Denmark, was crowned in the Abbey in 1590, a large court was in residence, and the household numbered around 600 people. From 1603, when James succeeded to the English throne as James I and the court moved to London, the importance of Holyroodhouse faded.
Charles I (r.1625-49) was crowned King of Scotland at Holyroodhouse in 1633. Major repairs and additions were made to the surviving nave of the Abbey, where the coronation was to take place. The solemn, anglicised service offended many Scots, and the King’s ensuing religious inflexibility led to the signing of the National Covenant in Scotland in 1638 and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1639.
Although it was during his reign that the Palace was largely rebuilt, Charles II and his Queen never stayed at Holyroodhouse. His brother, James, Duke of York, took up residence in 1679 and again in 1681-2. His interest in the Palace continued after his succession to the throne in 1685 as James VII of Scotland and II of England. He ordered the conversion of the council chamber in the south-west tower to a Catholic chapel. Two years later, he issued a royal warrant commanding that the Abbey church, as Chapel Royal, be converted for Catholic worship and used as the chapel for the revived Order of the Thistle, the highest order of chivalry in Scotland. New altar plate was commissioned, and a Jesuit College was established in the precincts of the Palace.
The later Stuart kings showed little interest in Holyroodhouse, although Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, brought the Palace to life again briefly in 1745. In an attempt to claim the throne of Great Britain for his father, James Francis Edward, son of James VII and II, he seized Edinburgh and set up court at the Palace.
Holyroodhouse became the symbolic residence of the Stuart Prince in his Scottish capital. He conducted his official business in the Palace and lunched in public view.
At the end of the 18th century, Holyroodhouse provided a home for the Comte d’Artois (1757–1836), the younger brother of Louis XVI of France, who had been in exile since the start of the French Revolution in 1789.
Queen Victoria (r.1837-1901) had a great deal of affection for Holyroodhouse, ever since her first visit there in 1850. The frequent visits she made over a long period helped to reinstate the Palace as Scotland’s premier royal residence.
Queen Victoria carried out a programme of renovation. In the old State Apartments on the first floor, David Ramsay Hay, Edinburgh’s leading interior decorator, cleaned and repainted the spectacular plasterwork ceilings. Hay also painted a heraldic ceiling in the Throne Room. Queen Victoria stayed at Holyroodhouse for the last time in 1886.
Although King Edward VII (r.1901-10) visited briefly in 1903, it was during the reign of King George V (r.1910-36) that Holyroodhouse came to life again.
After the First World War, an extensive programme of improvements was implemented. The State Apartments were redecorated, and new panelling was installed. The Throne Room was renovated - a new ceiling was created, new thrones and a canopy added, and the interior was finished to harmonise with Sir William Bruce’s work at the Palace during Charles II's reign.
In the 1920s the Palace of Holyroodhouse was formally designated as the Monarch’s official residence in Scotland, and became, as it remains today, the location for regular royal ceremonies and events.