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The Palace of Holyroodhouse

Inside those stark walls looming high above Edinburgh are stories more compelling
than anything Hollywood could invent.


"Great people of yore, kings and queens, buffoons and grave ambassadors, played their stately farce for centuries in Holyrood. Wars have been plotted, dancing has lasted deep into the night, - murder has been done in its chambers."

From Edinburgh Picturesque Notes by Robert Louis Stevenson

From the upper reaches of Arthur's Seat, a jagged 800-foot volcanic plug set in the Salisbury Crags, the stark quadrangle of walls framing Edinburgh's Palace of Holyroodhouse rise from the magnificent lawns my daughter describes as "neon" green. To the west, Edinburgh Castle maintains its misty prominence at the other end of the Royal Mile. We timed our early morning climb so that we could tour the palace when its massive grillwork gates opened. Approaching those stark walls we'd gazed at from our perch an hour earlier, details set in stone over 300 years ago take form. Over Doric columns that flank the entrance are the Scottish coat of arms bearing that ominous warning "nemo me impune laccisset," or in the words of an old border ballad, "Who daur' meddle wi' me." It seems a fitting motto for a palace that has been sacked, burned, pillaged and rebuilt — more than once in its 500-year history.

Entering the oldest part of the palace, the northwest tower, is a departure into the 16th century. We make our way down narrow twisting stairs to Mary, Queen of Scots' apartments. These rooms tell the tragic tale of Mary -- her troubled marriage to Lord Darnley and her love/hate relationship with the people of Scotland. In 1822, while approving renovations on the palace, George IV ordered that Mary's rooms remained "sacred from every alteration." Which leads to the question of the bloodstain on the floor.

Visitors nudge each other and point to a curious stain in the hardwood floor of the outer chamber. I feel rather foolish asking the steward in this apartment if the stain is, in fact, blood. The floor, I'm assured, has been replaced many times since the fateful night in 1566 when Henry, Lord Darnley (1545-1567), in a jealous rage and aided by conspiring nobles, burst into Mary's room and brutally stabbed Mary's companion and secretary, David Rizzio, more than 50 times. The tides turned on Lord Darnley when he was suspiciously murdered less than a year later. Things also went from bad to worse for Mary who was suspected of being involved in the assassination. When I tell my daughter the truth about the floor, she shakes her head. "It's blood," she whispers and others in our hearing vicinity join us staring at the stain.

The full text of this article is available in the Spring 2007 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Orkney's Archeological Treasures by Bruce MacGregor Sandison.

Photos above: © Lee Snider/Photo Images. Photo upper right: The Royal Collection © 2005, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.