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History of Falkland Castle

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.

The Duke of Albany feared the current heir to the throne, the 24-year old David Stewart, First Duke of Rothesay, eldest son of King Robert III and his own nephew. He persuaded the King to arrest and confine the Duke of Rothesay in the Well Tower at Falkland Palace in 1402, where he eventually died of starvation and neglect, though murder was also suspected. At the time, the Duke of Albany was exonerated from blame by Parliament, but suspicions persisted. He then forced Robert III’s youngest son, James, to flee. James was later captured by English pirates in an accident said to have been arranged by the Duke of Albany himself. As a result, Robert of Albany retained his post as Governor and Regent of Scotland until his death in 1420.

In 1424, King James I, the Duke of Rothesay’s younger brother, finally returned to England from captivity and executed Murdoch, the son and successor of Robert Stuart Duke of Albany, for treason. Falkland was forfeited to the Crown, and in1458, King James II declared the then village of Falkland a Royal Burgh, which entitled it to elect officers for justice and to hold weekly markets and an annual fair. Being situated at a convenient distance from Edinburgh and Stirling, as well as being surrounded by beautiful forests replete with game, Falkland Palace became a favourite retreat of the Stuart monarchs, who practiced falconry, as well as hawking there, and also liked to hunt deer and wild boar imported from France in the surrounding forests

King James II in fact converted the Keep into a suite of comfortable apartments for his wife, Mary of Gueldres. King James III further expanded the complex of buildings and King James IV added a Great Hall to act as its centrepiece for entertaining and state occasions. Between 1501 and 1542, the earlier castle from the 12th century was almost totally replaced and only traces of it are still left today. The present grandeur of Falkland Palace is the work of King James V, who found masons from Europe to transform the earlier buildings into a Renaissance Palace in the French style. He even added a royal tennis court in 1539, which has survived to this day. James must have had mixed feelings about Falkland as he had been previously imprisoned there by Archibald the 6th Earl of Douglas. He had escaped dressed as a groom. The episode did not induce the King to ignore Falkland Palace however, in fact he invested in it, adding the great twin-towered gatehouse that now serves as the main visitor’s entrance. In December of 1542, King James V died at Falkland Palace itself, after the battle of Salway Moss and shortly after his wife had given birth to a daughter. His body was transported in state across the Firth of Forth to Holyrood Abbey.

His daughter was sent to marry Francis, the Dauphin of France, at the age of six, although her mother, Mary of Guise, often visited the Palace. Later on it was a favourite resort of her daughter, Mary Stuart, known as Mary Queen of Scots, as well after in 1561 she returned to Scotland as a widow. Between 1561 and 1566 she visited a number of times in fact, hunting, hawking, riding, and playing tennis. Her son, James VI was also partial to Falkland Palace, even though two attempts on his person took place here. When James VI went south to take the English throne in 1603, Falkland Palace became less important in its role of royal retreat. The last monarchs to visit were King Charles I and King Charles II. In 1654, during the so-called English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers burned the Great Hall and damaged the rest of the Palace buildings heavily.

The Palace fell into ruin from the late 17th to the early 18th centuries as it fell into disuse after the fire. In 1887, John Crichton-Stuart the Third Marquis of Bute, purchased the estates of Falkland and started a twenty-year restoration of the Palace with the aid of the two architects John Kinross and Robert Weir Schultz. As soon as he purchased the palace, Lord Bute also started archaeological excavations in the grounds. These ended around 1892 and focused mainly on the 12th and 13th century castle which had previous been situated on the same site. Lord Bute’s aim was to uncover the well-tower in which David Stewart, the Duke of Rothesay, had been held by his uncle until his death. The ruins of the tower are below the oak-lawn and can still be seen in the ground today. Lord Bute published his findings from the excavations in an article published in The Scottish Review in 1892.

By the time the Third Marquis of Bute died at the age of 53 in 1900, work had been completed to restore the Gatehouse, the South Range, and the Cross House. His successors subsequently sought to preserve the Palace in the condition he left it in. His grandson, Major Michael Crichton-Stuart, re-roofed the South Range and restored and repainted the ceiling of James V’s Royal Chapel. Following an agreement, as of 1952, the National Trust for Scotland is also taking part in the responsibility and the upkeep of the Palace and its extensive gardens, although the Cricthon-Stuart family are still its hereditary Keepers and continue to use part of the property as their family home to this day. In 1970, Falkland was named Scotland’s first conservation area.