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Falkland Castle

Falkland Palace, to be found in the Royal Borough of Falkland, lies in the shadow of East Lomond at the foot of the Lomond Hills within the county of Fife in Scotland. The broad Howe of Fife, the Valley of the River Eden, lies to the North of the Palace. The castle was built here because the area could be easily defended as it is situated on a slight hill. In medieval times, the place was largely a wooded area, renowned for its hunting. Today, although the forests are no longer there, Falkland Palace continues to tower over Falkland’s main street.

History

The site was originally used for hunting purposes, in fact a hunting lodge was first built there in the 12th century, and later expanded further. Subsequently, it became a castle which was owned by the Earls of Fife, the famous Clan MacDuff. The domain of Falkland which had belonged originally to the Crown, had been gifted from King Malcolm IV to Duncan, the sixth Earl of Fife, who married the King’s niece. It remained in his family until 1371 when the last Countess of the line transferred the estates to Robert Stuart, Earl of Menteith, the second son of King Robert II, who became the sixteenth Earl of Fife, and later on also the Duke of Albany. Robert was appointed ‘Guardian of Scotland’ by his ailing father the King during the 1380s in preference to his elder brother John, who although later crowned as King Robert III, was in poor health as well. The Duke of Albany was the Regent of Scotland for thirty-four years, and resided in the Castle of Falkland. He was the most powerful man in the kingdom, and a ruler in all but name. (more)

Today

Falkland Palace stands on three hectares of ground on a sandstone ridge with the Lomond Hills in the background. The Palace has two wings arranged in an ‘L’-shape, now called the South and East Quarters or Ranges. The external facade of the South Quarter has gun-loops at basement level, with small windows pertaining to the private lodgings above. On the second level, there are larger paired windows belonging to the Royal Chapel, which is still in use today. Between the windows one can admire a number of weathered niches and statues. Its ceiling dates from the time of James V and was re-decorated for the visit of King Charles I in 1633. The Catholic Chapel at Falkland Palace is dedicated to Saint Thomas. Mass still takes place every Sunday at 9am. It is also used to celebrate weddings, christenings and historical re-enactments. Within the South Tower one can also admire the Drawing Room, and the Edwardian Library.

The battlements continue from the Chapel to the west side of the gate tower. To the east of the Chapel, there is a small rectangular sectioned tower which once contained a circular staircase and beyond it is the partly reconstructed gable of the East Quarter, whose present appearance dates from the time of King James V. Within, one can see the Keeper’s Apartments situated in the Gatehouse Tower, as well as the Royal Chapel and the Tapestry Gallery. The Keeper is the person who would have maintained the Palace on behalf of the sovereign.

Unfortunately, apart from its facade, only ruins remain of the East Quarter. This centrally places Access Tower contains the Crosshouse reconstructed by the Marquis of Bute, as well as the King’s and Queen’s bedchamber, which was reconstructed by Schomberg Scott, architect for the National Trust. The northern section of the east quarter was originally a lodging built by James IV. On the other hand, the south and east courtyard facades were decorated and unified with pilasters in the French Renaissance style between 1537 and 1542. The buttresses on the East Tower are dated 1537, and on the South Tower 1539.

Although part of the Palace is in ruins, the original and reconstructed rooms are packed with 17th century Flemish tapestries, elaborately painted ceilings, and antique furniture. The King’s bedchamber in the Royal apartments contains the original canopied bed in which King James V died.

The Palace is located amidst nine acres of well-maintained grounds and formal gardens. A great wood of oaks used to be situated to the north, between the royal stable and the River Eden, with groves merging into the surrounding parkland. Timber was occasionally cut in the forest for royal ships. At the time, the Castle would have also been surrounded with meadows, fields and orchards. In 1371 Falkland Palace was destroyed by an invading army, but between 1501 and 1541 King James IV and King James V renovated and transformed the old castle into a beautiful royal palace. The first record of a garden at the Palace is in 1452. At the time, there was a fishpond which provided the King with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and herbs were grown there and meat could be hunted in the forest where the King liked to go hawking and hunting for wild boar and deer. In order to address the poor state of the garden and park, King James V appointed a new Captain and Keeper in 1527. He built a Royal Tennis Court in the grounds of the Palace, which was completed in 1541. This still survives today and is the oldest one in Britain. It is known that Mary Queen of Scots became especially fond of the game and used to play here.

After the British Civil War, the Palace was a ruin with no windows or doors. During the time of John Crichton-Stuart the Third Marquis of Bute, the ornamental kitchen garden was enhanced with a pergola and decorative vases. The north part of the upper garden was redesigned to portray the ruins and remains excavated by the Marquis to the best advantage, Walls were built on top of the foundations for the Well Tower and the Great Hall to emphasize these structures. The Orchard and Palace gardens were linked to Falkland Palace by the private walk and new bridges. Houses were built near the Palace and connected to the ornamental kitchen garden and the orchard by a system of paths. The lime tree avenue was built in the early twentieth century, while the Victorian glasshouse was built in 1890 and used mainly to grow flowers and exotic plants.

The celebrated gardener Percy Cane, horticultural writer and artist, redesigned the gardens in the 1940s. He built and designed the Pleasure Garden, which contains three herbaceous borders enclosing a wide lawn with many varieties of shrubs and trees. The so-called ‘Ancient Orchard’ contains a number of fruit trees, as well as willow sculptures and a small Labyrinth. The Wildflower meadow carpets the Orchard and contains rare plants, insects, and wildlife. The Physic Garden is full of medicinal herbs.

Visiting Falkland Palace today, the accommodation on view in the South Range is the most impressive and atmospheric part of the building. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside, but many helpful members of the National Trust of Scotland are situated around the property, ready to explain and delight visitors with information about the premises.

Opening Hours of Falkland Palace and Gardens:

Monday to Saturday from 11.00am – 5.00pm
Sunday from 12.00 – 5.00pm
Last entry is 30 minutes before closing.
 

Text: Melisande Aquilina