Clandestine- Cloak and dagger in Holyrood Palace


Few places are more redolent of Scottish history than Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, the principal residence of the kings and queens of Scotland since the 16th century.  On a mist-shrouded day I approach the Royal Arms of Scotland over the gateway.  I know that the cloisters within are as far as my camera can take me, yet somehow I don’t mind.

Audio clasped to my ear, I gaze around me.  Aged tapestries clothe wood-paneled walls, the furniture worn but sumptuous.  Not hard at all to picture Bonnie Prince Charlie in this setting.  The ancient floors creak and give under modern shoes.  In the endless Great Gallery I sink onto a stool to absorb the weight of majestic paintings, commissioned by Charles II.

Through the King’s Ante-Chamber, his Bedchamber and Closet I have crept reverently, but the spell of this house is all bound up in the unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots.  Arch rival to Elizabeth I, her life was surrounded by intrigue and plots.  You can almost feel the anguish as you mount the stairs to her chambers at the top of the palace.  Held prisoner here, her embroidery box sits poignantly on a table, with the bible she used for her devotions.  Mary occupied these rooms from 1561 to 1567, and it was here that she witnessed the brutal murder of her secretary, David Rizzio. Married to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, at Holyrood in 1565, the following year Darnley was among those wielding a knife when Rizzio was stabbed 56 times.  ‘Cloak and dagger, furtive, covert, stealthy, concealed’- all are contained in the definition of Clandestine.


The life of the Palace began much earlier, in 1128, when an Augustinian abbey was founded at the order of King David I of Scotland. The Holy Rood, or Black Rood, was a relic of the True Cross of Christ which had belonged to David’s mother, Queen Margaret.  The abbey guesthouse was used for royal visits, until construction of a palace began in 1501.  Whereas the palace has grown and endured over time, the Abbey was reduced to a ruin in 1544, when Holyrood was looted and burned.  Full restoration was never undertaken but the ruins are hauntingly beautiful.

I gazed out, through the grills, to the park where a captive Mary once practised her archery.  Today the monarch spends one week a year in residence at Holyrood Palace. How times have changed!  You can view some of the history here.

I have made only a very tenuous link to today’s Thursday’s Special.   As I explained to Paula, Traces of the Past might make a better home.  But I’m the impatient type and can’t wait until 6th October for the next edition.

Have a look at what Paula makes of Clandestine.



  1. I’m really sorry we didn’t make the time to visit Holyrood Palace. Your post is fabulous – your photographs and writing capture the air of drama, mystery and sadness that is the history of this lovely structure. Experiencing this in person is a great reason to return to lovely Edinburgh, and maybe explore the highlands beyond. It’s back on the list! Thank you so much for sending the link. Feeling better, too, I hope! xoxo

  2. Really good blog Jo! Believe it or not this year was the first time I visited the Palace,despite living in Edinburgh since 2007. I am glad I finally managed it this year, otherwise I would be pretty ashamed to be commenting on your blog and saying I hadn’t been. Super photos!

    1. Quite often when I go somewhere I’m happy just to see the grounds, Colin, but in this case the tour absolutely didn’t disappoint. Glad to have shared it with you and thanks a lot 🙂

  3. Splendid tour, Jo. Definitely lots of ‘cloak and dagger’ in the atmosphere. Although I have some Scottish ancestry, I have a poor knowledge of Scottish history. It was only last week that I learned of Queen Margaret ( born in Hungary!), but, of course, Mary, Queen of Scots, has been a favourite of mine since childhood.

    1. I don’t know the first thing about New Zealand history and the Mauris, Ann. The Tudors and Stuarts were a big part of my school curriculum. 🙂 Amazing how much stays with you (and the odd historical novel too 🙂 )

  4. Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities, although only visited there once…so next time I will need to spend time at Holyrood Palace ~ great photos and introduction…sigh, to have seen it back when it was built, the history is so rich.

  5. I love the way Paula squanders themes – and the atmospherics of what you’ve done with this one. I love the mix of marble and raw stone,and the recounting of bloody events from the distant past. Hope the sun is shining: it’s chilling here, enough for our heating to be switched on. Sending you artificially warmed hugs!

    1. I met ET this afternoon and was sad that the heather has almost lost it’s colour 😦 Carol didn’t seem to mind though. Spent the morning resting the lazy foot in the garden and then we climbed up to the Moors this afternoon. Rewarded with a scone 🙂 Thank you for the hugs, lovely lady! I would send you a Caramello Koala, all the way from Australia, but it might melt 😦

  6. I love reading the stories behind these places and this was so interesting. We’ve visited a few ruins on this trip and I always wonder what they would be like now if they had survived Henry and his ravages. We went to St Mary’s Abbey in York yesterday. The ruins are beautiful.

    1. York is a lovely place, Carol, and teeming with history. Sun’s just putting in an appearance hon. Looking forward to our meeting. 🙂 If you’re doing fish and chips in Whitby, Hadley’s is good. Just over the bridge and on the corner. 🙂

  7. You are so good at sharing information in an entertaining way Jo. I wonder if any of Queenie’s embroidery remains and if she was any good at it! The stonework is beautiful and seems a bit different from the usual, imagine when it was fresh and bright.
    I used to read historical fiction back in my teens and twenties, they were brutal times weren’t they? The Tudors and Stuarts I mean, not my teens!

    1. Not so sure about your teens, honeybun 🙂 🙂 Mine had their moments. Not too many knives about though, thankfully! Survived another working week, Gilly? Time off for good behaviour. I can’t remember for sure but there may have been some of Mary’s work there. I think princesses had to be good at that sort of thing. I do enjoy weaving the spell but I’d have been rubbish at the sewing 🙂 Have a good weekend! Another blogger meetup for me today. Carol Sherrit (The Eternal Traveler) down on the Moors. Mick’s coming along to keep me in check. 🙂

      1. The less said about my teens the better! The week has gone quickly, now if I can just slow the weekend down that would be good 🙂 I don’t know Carol but I know you’ll have a lovely time, hope M doesn’t get too bored 😉 Happy Friday babe xx

      2. Thanks, darlin! It’s just a quick teatime meet as they’re in Whitby this morning. Might drag them up to the tops- we’ll see 🙂 Hoof still very iffy.

      1. Well waiting to see what the weather does this weekend. We were hoping for a hike in the mountains but the snow is getting lower and lower. Too soon for snowshoes but a bit late for hikes. We’ll have to see. How about you?

  8. I think I have to move to your part of the brittish Island, so many interesting sites and places to see. Thanks again Jo for your interesting posts I really enjoy them.

      1. I am used to warm coats, the winter and autumn can be pretty cold in Sweden too… so I will pack my bags and hurry to the airport 😉

  9. Hi Jo, a great read, perfect inspiration as Bob and I will be traversing the Royal Mile in a few and will end at around this area and a glimpse of Arthur’s Seat, we cannot summit though.

    Again, thank you for checking up on me, your thoughtfulness overwhelmed me … heartfelt indeed. Hoping to cross paths with you in the next 10 days. — April

    1. Hello April 🙂 So nice to have you here! There’s so much to see even if you never leave the Royal Mile, and I can highly recommend a visit to Holyrood House. I believe the tearooms are good too, if not too busy 🙂 🙂 Have a fantastic time!

  10. I agree with anroworld, Jo: great story, well illustrated! 🙂 Thanks for taking us around Holyrood Palace.
    Have a wonderful beginning of autumn,

    1. It’s one of the most atmospheric castles I’ve ever been inside, Ann. There are so many stories to tell, and I love telling them. Thank you so much for being a willing audience. 🙂 🙂

  11. The story of Mary, Queen of Scotts should make a great historical fiction novel. And, they probably exist. Something intriguing to look into next time I go to the library… Visitng the place must have been mysterious and exciting at the same time, Jo!

    1. There are lots of historical novels about the Tudors and Stuarts, Liesbet. I’ve read a few but I have to be in the right mood. Phillipa Gregory is one of my favourites for period novels. You can definitely feel the weight of history at Holyrood. It’s a palace in every sense. 🙂

  12. If I recall correctly, the kids’ audio tour at Holyrood was a good one. At the time of our visit, the then eight-year-old Middle Son had a fascination with English and Scottish royalty, particularly the Tudors so imagine his sheer delight to be standing where Mary Queen of Scots had stood! Thanks for the tour down nostalgia lane. 🙂

  13. Wow, parts of this read like a wondrous historical novel, Jo – the anguish of Mary Queen of Scots, her embroidery box, witnessing a brutal murder. The atmospheric photos capture this dark forbidding mood brilliantly. Great post and exciting to see a bit more of the palace; when I was up in Edinburgh we could never get close to it!

    1. You’ve summed it up exactly Annika ‘a wondrous historical novel’

      Can feel the intrigue, and almost feel that Jo is there in clandestine! Just love what you have done Jo with this one 🙂

      1. I’m a pig-headed creature when I get an idea in my head and I wanted to post the Palace today. Thanks, Becky. Sending hugs! Yay- the sun has just arrived! 🙂 🙂

    2. I’ve never gotten closer than the gates before either, Annika, but it was such a glum day at that stage of things. My daughter did the tour on her wedding anniversary earlier this year and told me how atmospheric it was. Glad you like it 🙂

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