Falkland Palace drawn by Robert William Billings (1814-1874) and engraved by G. B. Smith. Source: Edinburgh (1852). [Click on image to enlarge it.]

Commentary by the Artist

FIFE is not a county renowned for its scenery; but thc glen, or rather hollow, at the foot of the Easter Lomond Hill, where glimpses of the old ruined Palace of Falkland, and the smoke of the surrounding village, are seen through the trees, would make a beautiful scene in any country. The remains of the palace are a diminutive but singularly beautiful fragment, justifying the boast that all the Scottish royal residences, though not of great extent, exhibit remarkable architectural beauties. It has the appearance at a distance of being but an old mansion-house or fortalice, with its keep and parasitical buildings; but, on a near approach, the lover of art who can tolerate the northern renovation of classical architecture, in the blending of the Palladian, with the Gothic and the stunted baronial architecture of Scotland, will find much to enjoy in this fragment. The western front has two round towers, which are a diminutive imitation of those of Holyrood; and stretching southward is a range of building, with niches and statues, which perhaps bears as close a resemblance to the depressed or perpendicular style of the English semi-ecclesiastical architecture, as any other building existing in Scotland. The east side, again, is diversified by the renovations of classical architecture which have just been mentioned. The parts wanting to complete the quadrangle were destroyed by fire in the reign of Charles II (New Stat. Account-Fife, 927). No portion of the present edifice appears to be of great antiquity; but at a very early period there must have been a fortalice at Falkland.

Drawn by Robert William Billings and engraved by G. B. Smith. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

In an ancient document, said to be of the fifth year of David I., mention is made of a Macbeath, Thane of “Falleland.” It appears that a certain Robertus Burgonensis — which, in ignorance of any place in Scotland so Latinised, one might suppose to mean Robert of Bourgogne — had sorely vexed the Culdees of St Andrews by his oppression and rapacity, and endeavoured to deprive them of the fourth part of their lands of Kirkness. To oppose him a host was collected, of which the principal leaders were the Thane, and Constantine Earl of Fife, the J usticiar. A sort of committee or jury seems to have been formed, to investigate the genuine boundaries of the Culdees’ estates; and in this respect, though imperfect and obscure, the document is interesting, as throwing light on the habits of the age (Registrum Prior. S. Andreœ, p. 117). In the year 1267, William Earl of Mar is found dating his charters from Falkland (312). It is more than a century later, in the year 1371, that the legal documents mention the existence of a castle and a forest; and their keeping is given to the Earl of Monteith by Isobel Countess of Fife, who, on the condition of his restoring her to her earldom, which she by force and fear had resigned, is acknowledged as her heir (Sibbald’s History of Fife). The domain lapsed to the Crown on the forfeiture of the Earl of Fife in 1425. The hamlet, which, according to old usage, clustered under the walls of the fortalice, was erected into a royal burgh in 1458; and the preamble of the charter gives, as the reason for this promotion, the frequent residence of the royal family at Falkland, and the inconvenience experienced by the many prelates, nobles, and other great personages who surround the court, for want of innkeepers and sutlers.

This sweet spot was the scene of one of the direst and most touching tragedies recorded in the bloody history of the Stewarts. When Albany was governor, he committed to close confinement here David Duke of Rot-hesay, the eldest son of Robert III. It was intended that the youth should never leave his dungeon; but, instead of violence, the more cruel means of starvation, through professed oblivion, was adopted. The spot, according to Sibbald, was not the same as that occupied by the present palace; but “there is hard by the palace, to the north, a fair large house, built by David Murray, Viscount of Stormont, then Steward of Fife, in the very spot where some think stood the old castle, where David Duke of Rothesay was famished” (Jamieson’s Royal Palaces, 30). Along with such characteristies of the cruelty and savageness of man, this incident also develops the gentler virtues that, even in that harsh age, could find a refuge in the female breast. A poor woman, say the chroniclers, who had discovered the young prince’s dreadful position, stole at night to the grating of his cell, and managed, at the risk of her life — which some say was actually her forfeit — to convey to him morsels, or rather particles of food, which protracted his existence until her humanity was discovered.

When James I., who may be said to have narrowly escaped a like fate, returned to Scotland, it was not likely that he would take up his residence in a place haunted by such unpleasing associations; and we hear little of Falkland until the reign of James V. When this monarch, in his youth, had fallen into the hands of the Douglases, in the year 1518, they kept him guarded in Falkland Palace. Having ordered a great hunting for next day, and thus found an excuse for retiring to rest, he dressed himself in the uniform of a yeoman of his own guard, and slunk forth from his palace like a criminal. He managed, long ere his flight was discovered, to place the moat of Stirling Castle between him and his pursuers; and thus a revolution was produced, which upset the overgrown power of the house of Douglas.

Queen Mary enjoyed the privacy and sweetness of Falkland, and there courted a gay ease and simplicity, which did not consort with the barbarian pomp of Holyrood, or even of Linlithgow. It was a favourite with her son, James VI., from the facilities which it afforded for the sports of the field; and many of the events of his reign, which was essentially one of' petty and personal incidents, are associated with this summer palace. The notorious Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, whose desperado attacks on the person of the king were so ludicrously formidable, had planned one of his attempts when James was in Falkland; but having found “certain people provided to resist,” he was less successful than in his well-known surprise at Holyrood.* The modern Solomon was just about to mount his horse at the gate of Falkland, to go forth buckhunting, one fine August morning, when he received mysterious news from the brother of Lord Ruthven, about the discovery of a stranger with a pot of Spanish gold. He was induced to start immediately for Perth; and there he went through the series of odd and unfathomed incidents, which are generally known as the Gowrie Conspiracy. (Hist. of James the Sext, 250).

R. W. B.

[These images may be used without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose without prior permission as long as you credit the Hathitrust Digital Archive and the University of California library and link to the the Victorian Web in a web document or cite it in a print one — George P. Landow ]


The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland illustrated by Robert William Billings, architect, in four volumes.. Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Son, 1852. Hathitrust Digital Archive version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 10 October 2018.

Last modified 11 October 2018