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Chapter 9 – Holyrood Palace, pp.60-65.

[Old & New Edinburgh Contents]

First Notice of its History – Marriage of James IV. – The Scots of the Days of Flodden – A Brawl in the Palace – James V.’s. Tower – The Gudeman of Ballengeich – His Marriage – Death of Queen Magdalene – The Council of November, 1542 – A Standing Army Proposed – The Muscovite Ambassadors Entertained by the Queen Regent. 

   THE occasional residence of so many of his kingly ancestors at the abbey of Holyrood, and its then sequestered and rural locality, doubtless suggested to James IV. the expediency of having a royal dwelling near it; thus, we find from the Records of the Privy Seal the earliest mention of a palace at Holyrood occurs on the 10th of September, 1504, when “to Maister Leonard Logy, for his gude and thankful service, done and to be done, to the kingis hienis, and speciallie for his diligent and grete laboure made be him in the building of the palace beside the Abbey of the Holy Croce,” of “the soume of forty pounds.” This is the first genuine notice of the grand old Palace of Holyrood. 

   In 1503 the then new edifice witnessed the marriage festival of James IV. and Margaret Tudor, whose contract is still preserved in the city archives. A minute account of her reception at Edinburgh has been preserved by one of her attendants, John Young, the Somerset Herald, who records in a pleasing light the wealth, refinement, and chivalry of the court of Scotland. The king met his fair bride, who was then in her fourteenth year, at Dalkeith, where she was entertained by John Earl of Morton. She had scarcely taken possession of her chamber when the tramp of horses was heard in the quadrangle, and among the English attendants the cry rang through the castle, “The king! The King of Scotland has arrived!” 

   The whole interview between the royal pair, as described by the Somerset Herald, presents a curious picture of the times. “James was dressed simply in a velvet jacket, with his hawking lure flung over his shoulder; his hair and beard curled naturally, and were rather long… He took her hand and kissed her, and saluted all her ladies by kissing them. Then the king took the queen aside, and they communed together for a long space.” He then returned to Holyrood. Next night he visited her at Newbattle, when he found her playing cards; and James, who is said to have composed the air of “Here’s a health to my true love,” entertained her by a performance on the clavichord and lute; and on taking leave he sprang on his horse, “a right fair courser,” without using a stirrup, and spurred on at full gallop, leaving who might to follow; but hearing that the Earl of Surrey – his future foe – and other nobles were behind, he returned and saluted them bareheaded. At their next meeting Margaret played also on the lute and clavichord, while the monarch listened with bended knee and head uncovered. Who, then, could have foreseen the disastrous day of Flodden! 

   When she left Newbattle to proceed to the capital, James, attired in a splendid costume, met her on a bay horse trapped with gold. Before him rode Bothwell, bearing the sword of state, with the leading nobles. He took the queen from “her litre,” and placing her behind him on a pillion, they rode onward to the city. On the way they were entertained by a scene of chivalry – a knight errant in full armour rescuing a distressed lady from a rival. The royal pair were met at their entrance by the Grey Friars, whose monastery they had to pass, bearing, in solemn procession, banner and cross and their most valued relics, which were presented to receive the kiss of Margaret and James; and thereafter they had to tarry at an embattled barrier, at the windows of which were “angells syning joyously,” one of whom presented to her the keys of the city. 

   Descending the crowded streets, they were met by the whole Chapter of St. Giles’s in their richest vestments, bearing the arm-bone of the saint; then they passed the Cross, the fountain of which flowed with wine, “whereof all might drink,” says Leland. Personages representing the angel Gabriel, the Virgin, Justice treading Nero under foot, Force bearing a pillar, Temperance holding a horse’s bit, and Prudence triumphing over Sardanapalus, met them at the Nether Bow; and from there, preceded by music, they proceeded to Holyrood, where a glittering crowd of ecclesiastics, abbots, and friars, headed by the Archbishop of St. Andrews, conveyed them to the high altar, and after Te Deum was sung, they passed through the cloisters into the new palace. Fresh ceremonies took place in a great chamber thereof, the arras of which represented Troy, and the coloured windows of which were filled with the arms of Scotland and England, the Bishop of Moray acting as master of the ceremonies, which seems to have included much “kyssing” all round. 

   On the 8th of August the marriage took place, and all the courtiers wore their richest apparel. James sat in a chair of crimson velvet, “the pannels of that sam gylte under hys cloth of estat, of blue velvet figured with gold.” On his right hand was the Archbishop of York, on his left the Earl of Surrey, while the Scottish prelates and nobles led in the girl-queen, crowned “with a vary riche crowne of gold, garnished with perles,” to the high altar, where, amid the blare of trumpets, the Archbishop of Glasgow solemnised the marriage. The banquet followed in a chamber hung with red and blue, where the royal pair sat under a canopy of cloth of gold; and Margaret was served at the first course with a slice from “a wyld borres hed gylt, within a fayr platter.” Lord Grey held the ewer and Lord Huntly the towel. 

   The then famous minstrels of Aberdeen came to Holyrood to sing on this occasion, and were all provided with silver badges, on which the arms of the granite city were engraved. 

   Masques and tournaments followed. James, skilled in all the warlike exercises of the time, appeared often in the lists as the savage knight, attended by followers dressed as Pans and satyrs. The festivities which accompanied this marriage indicate an advancement in refinement and splendour, chiefly due to the princely nature kindness, and munificence of James IV. 

   “The King of Scotland,” wrote the Spanish ambassador Don Pedro de Ayala, “is of middle height; his features are handsome; he never cuts his hair or beard, and it becomes him well. He expressed himself gracefully in Latin, French, German, Flemish, Italian, and Spanish. His pronunciation of Spanish was clearer than that of other foreigners. In addition to his own, he speaks the language of the savages (or Celts) who live among the distant mountains and islands. The books which King James reads most are the Bible and those of devotion and prayer. He also studies old Latin and French chronicles… He never ate meat on Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday. He would not for any consideration mount horseback on Sunday, not even to go to mass. Before transacting any business he heard two masses. In the smallest matters, and even when indulging in a joke, he always spoke the truth… The Scots,” continues De Ayala, “are often considered in Spain to be handsomer than the English. The women of quality were free in their manners and courteous to strangers. The Scottish ladies reign absolute mistresses in their own houses, and the men in all domestic matters yield a chivalrous obedience to them. The people live well, having plenty of beef, mutton, fowl, and fish. The humbler classes – the women especially – are of a very religious turn of mind. Altogether, I found the Scots to be a very agreeable and, I must add, an amiable people.” 

   Such, says the author of the “Tudor Dynasty” was the Scotland of the sixteenth century, a period described by modern writers as one of barbarism, ignorance, and superstition; but thus it was the Spanish ambassador painted the king and his Scots of the days of Flodden. 

   “In the year 1507,” says Hawthornden, “James, Prince of Scotland and the Isles, was born at Holyrood House the 21st of January,” and the queen being brought nigh unto death, “the king, overcome by affection and religious vows,” went on a pilgrimage to St. Ninian’s in Galloway, and “at his return findeth the queen recovered.” 

   In 1517 we read of a brawl in Holyrood, when James Wardlaw, for striking Robert Roger to the effusion of blood within “my Lord Governor’s chalmer and palace of pece,” was conveyed to the Tron, had his hand stricken through, and was banished for life, under pain of death. 

   The governor was the Regent Albany, who took office after Flodden, and during his residence at Holyrood he seems to have proceeded immediately with the works at the palace which the fatal battle had interrupted, and which James IV. had continued till his death. The accounts of the treasurer show that building was in progress then, throughout the years 1515 and 1516; and after Albany quitted the kingdom for the last time, James V. came to Holyrood, where he was crowned in 1524, and remained there, as Pitscottie tells, for “the space of one year, with great triumph and merriness.” He diligently continued the works begun by his gallant father, and erected the north-west towers, which have survived more than one conflagration, and on the most northern of which could be traced, till about 1820, his name, IACOBVS REX SCOTORVM, in large gilt Roman letters. 

   In 1528 blood was again shed in Holyrood during a great review of Douglases and Hamiltons held there prior to a march against the English borders. A groom of the Earl of Lennox perceiving among those present Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, who slew that noble at Linlithgow, intent on vengeance, tracked him into the palace “by a dark staircase which led to a narrow gallery,” and there attacked him, sword in hand. Sir James endeavoured to defend himself by the aid of his velvet mantle, but fell, pierced by six wounds, none of which, however, were mortal. The gates were closed, and while a general mêlée was on the point of ensuing between the Douglases and Hamiltons, the would-be assassin was discovered with his bloody weapon, put to the torture, and then his right hand was cut off, on which “he observed, with a sarcastic smile, that it was punished less than it deserved for having failed to revenge the murder of his beloved master.” 

   James V. was still in the palace in 1530, as we find in the treasurer’s accounts for that year: “Item, to the Egiptianis that dansit before the king in Holyrud House, 40s.” He was a monarch whose pure benevolence of intention often rendered his romantic freaks venial, if not respectable, since from his anxiety to learn the wants and wishes of his humbler subjects he was wont, like Il Bondocani, or Haroun Alráschid, to traverse the vicinity of his palaces in the plainest of disguises; and two comic songs, composed by himself, entitled “We’ll gang nae mair a-roving,” and “The Gaberlunzie Man,” are said to have been founded on his adventures while masked as a beggar; and one of these, which nearly cost him his life at Cramond, some five miles from Holyrood, is given in Scott’s “Tales of a Grandfather.” 

   While visiting a pretty peasant girl in Cramond village he was beset by four or five persons, against whom he made a stand with his sword upon the high and narrow bridge that spans the Almond, in a wooded hollow. Here, when well-nigh beaten, and covered with blood, he was succoured and rescued by a peasant armed with a flail, who conducted him into a barn, where he bathed his wounds; and in the course of conversation James discovered that the summit of his deliverer’s earthly wishes was to be proprietor of the little farm of Braehead, on which he was then a labourer. Aware that it was Crown property, James said, “Come to Holyrood, and inquire for the gudeman of Ballengeich,” referring to a part of Stirling Castle which he was wont to adopt as a cognomen. 

   The peasant came as appointed, and was met by the king in his disguise, who conducted him through the palace, and asked him if he wished to see the king. John Howison – for such was his name – expressed the joy it would give him, “provided he gave no offence. But how shall I know him?” he added. 

   “Easily,” replied James. “All others will be bareheaded, the king alone will wear his bonnet.” 

   Scared by his surroundings and the uncovered crowd in the great hall, John Howison looked around him, and then said, naively, “The king must be either you or me, for all but us are bareheaded.” James and his courtiers laughed; but he bestowed upon Howison the lands of Braehead, “on condition that he and his successors should be ready to present an ewer and basin for the king to wash his hands when His Majesty should come to Holyrood or pass the bridge of Cramond. Accordingly, in the year 1822, when George IV. came to Scotland, a descendant of John Howison, whose family still possess the estate, appeared at a solemn festival, and offered His Majesty water from a silver ewer, that he might perform the service by which he held his land.” 

   Such pranks as these were ended by the king’s marriage in 1537 to the Princess Magdalene, the beautiful daughter of Francis I., with unwonted splendour in the cathedral of Notre Dame, in presence of the Parliament of Paris, of Francis, the Queens of France and Navarre, the Dauphin, Duke of Orleans, and all the leading peers of Scotland and of France. On the 27th of May the royal pair landed at Leith, amid every display of welcome, and remained a few days at Holyrood, till the enthusiastic citizens prepared to receive them in state with a procession of magnificence. 

   Magdalene, over whose rare beauty consumption seemed to spread a veil more tender and alluring, was affectionate and loving in nature. On landing, in the excess of her love for James, she knelt down, and, kissing the soil, prayed God to bless the land of her adoption – Scotland, and its people. 

   The “Burgh Records” bear witness how anxious the Provost and citizens were to do honour to the bride of “the good King James.” All beggars were warned off the streets: “ane honest man of ilk close or two,” were to see this order enforced; the rubbish near John Makgill’s house and “the litster treyes beneath the Over Bow to be removit;” the meal market, &c, to be removed from the High Street to foot of James Aikman’s Close, and the grass market to the kirkyard foot; twelve chief citizens were to be arrayed in velvet gowns; the craftsmen to be arrayed in French cloth, with doublets of velvet, satin, and damask; thirty-seven citizens to be mounted with velvet foot-mantles and velvet gowns, and all the town officers to be richly arrayed, with the town arms on their sleeves. 

   To the inexpressible grief of James and the whole nation, Magdalene, then only in her seventeenth year, died of her insidious disease on the 10th of July. She was interred with great pomp in the royal vault, near the coffin of James II., and her untimely death was the occasion of the first general mourning ever worn in the kingdom. In the treasurer’s accounts are many entries of the “Scots claith, French blak, Holland claith, and corsses upon the velvet.” On her coffin was inscribed in Saxon characters, “Magdalena Francisci Regis Franciæ, Primo-genita Regina Scotiæ Sponsa Jacobi V. Regis, A.D. 1537, obiit.” 

   James, however, was not long a widower, and in June, 1538, he brought to Scotland a new bride, Mary of Guise, the widow of the Duke de Longueville, who landed at Balcomie, escorted by an admiral of France, and the nuptials were celebrated with pomp at St. Andrews; and on St. Margaret’s Day in the same year, this new queen – destined to enact so important a part in the future history of the realm – made her public entry into Edinburgh by the West Port, and rode to Holyrood Palace, while great sports and gaiety were in progress “throw all the pairts of the town,” says Pitscottie. Curious plays were made for her entertainment, and gold, spices, and wines were lavished upon her by the magistrates, who well-nigh exhausted the finances of the city. 

   Amid the State turmoils and horrors that culminated in the rout of Solway, James V. held a council at Holyrood on the 3rd of November, 1542, when, according to Knox, a scroll was presented to him by Cardinal Beaton, containing the names of more than one hundred of the principal nobles and gentry, including the Earl of Arran, then, by deaths in the royal family, next heir to the throne, who were undoubtedly in the pay of England, tainted with heresy, or in league with the then outlawed clan of Douglas. 

   Appended to this scroll was a minute of their possessions, with a hint of the pecuniary advantages to result from forfeiture. This dangerous policy James repelled by exclaiming, “Pack you, javels! (knaves). Get you to your religious charges; reform your lives, and be not instruments of discord between me and my nobles, or else I shall reform you, not as the King of Denmark does, by imprisonment, nor yet as the King of England does by hanging and heading, but by sharp swords, if I hear of such motion of you again!” 

   From this speech it has been supposed that James contemplated some reform in the then dissolute Church. But the rout at Solway followed; his heart was broken, and on learning the birth of his daughter Mary, he died in despair at Falkland, yet, says Pitscottie, holding up his hands to God, as he yielded his spirit. He was interred in the royal vault, in December, 1542, at Holyrood, where, according to a MS. in the Advocates’ Library, his body was seen by the Earl of Forfar, the Lord Strathnaver, and others, who examined that vault in 1683. “We viewed the body of James V. It lyeth within ane wodden coffin, and is coverit with ane lead coffin. There seemed to be hair upon the head still. The body was two lengths of my staff with twa inches more, which is twae inches and more above twae Scots elms, for I measured the staff with an ellwand afterward. The body was coloured black with ye balsam that preserved it, and which was lyke melted pitch. The Earl of Forfar took the measure with his staf lykewayes.” On the coffin was the inscription, Illustris Scotorum, Rex Jacobus, ejus Nominis V., with the dates of his age and death. 

   The first regent after that event was James, second Earl of Arran (afterwards Duke of Chatelherault, who had been godfather to James, the little Duke of Rothesay, next heir to the crown, failing the issue of the infant Queen Mary), and in 1545 this high official was solemnly invested at Holyrood, together with the Earls of Angus, Huntly, and Argyle, with the collar and robes of St. Michael, sent by the King of France, and at the hands of the Lyon King of Arms. 

   We have related how the Church suffered at the hands of English pillagers after Pinkie, in 1547. The Palace did not escape. Seacombe, in his “History of the House of Stanley,” mentions that Norris, of Speke Hall, Lancashire, an English commander at that battle, plundered from Holyrood all or most of the princely library of the deceased King of Scots, James V., “particularly four large folios, said to contain the Records and Laws of Scotland at that time.” He also describes a grand piece of wainscot, now in Speke Hall, as having been brought from the palace, but this is considered, from its style, doubtful. 

   During the turmoils and troubles that ensued after Mary of Guise assumed the regency, her proposal, on the suggestion of the French Court, to form a Scottish standing army like that of France, so exasperated the nobles and barons, that three hundred of them assembled at Holyrood in 1555, and after denouncing the measure in strong terms, deputed the Laird of Wemyss and Sir James Sandilands of Calder to remonstrate with her on the unconstitutional step she was meditating, urging that Scotland had never wanted brave defenders to fight her battles in time of peril, and that they would never submit to this innovation on their ancient customs. This spirited remonstrance from Holyrood had the desired effect, as the regent abandoned her project. She came, after an absence, to the palace in the November of the following year, when the magistrates presented her with a quantity of new wine, and dismissed McCalzean, an assessor of the city, who spoke to her insultingly in the palace on the affairs of Edinburgh; and in the following February she received and entertained the ambassador of the Duke of Muscovy, who had been shipwrecked on his way to England, whither she sent him, escorted by 500 lances, under the Lord Home. 

   After the death of Mary of Guise and the arrival of her daughter to assume the crown of her ancestors, the most stirring scenes in the history of the palace pass in review. 

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