[BACK]          [Blueprint]         [NEXT]

[Click on the footnote symbols and you will jump to the note on the bottom on the page. Then click on the symbol there and you will be magically transported back to where you were in the text.]


From Romantic Castles and Palaces, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers, edited and translated by Esther Singleton; New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1901; pp. 21-31.


Palace of Linlithgow


Black and white photograph of the Palace of Linlithgow, Scotland, taken in the late 19th century.


LINLITHGOW, distinguished by the combined strength and beauty of its situation, must have been early selected as a royal residence. David, who bought the title of Saint by his liberality to the church, refers several of his characters to his town of Linlithgow, and in that of Holy Rood expressly bestows on the new monastery all the skins of the rams, ewes, and lambs belonging to his Castle of Linlitcu which shall die during the year.

The convenience afforded for the sport of falconry, which was so great a favourite during the feudal ages, was probably one cause of an attachment of the ancient Scottish monarchs to Linlithgow, and its fine lake. The sport of hunting was also followed with success in the neighbourhood, from which circumstance it probably arises that the ancient arms of the city represent a black greyhound-bitch tied to a tree. Tradition, however, ascribes other causes for this remarkable emblem, but is, as usual, rather inconsistent in accounting for it otherwise. One legend says simply, that such a hound was found so tied on the small island on the east side of the loch. Another tradition hints at a witch who used to assume this shape. A third more ungallantly adopts a metaphorical meaning, and 22 affirms that a mistress of one of the kings was designated under this hieroglyphic. A Celt, according to Chalmers, might plausibly derive the name of Linlithgow from Lin-liath-cu, the Lake of the Greyhound. Chalmers himself, seems to prefer the Gothic derivation of Lin-lyth-gow, or the Lake of the Great Vale. Non nostrum est*.

The Castle of Linlithgow is only mentioned as being a peel (a pile, that is, an embattled tower surrounded by an outwork). In 1300 it was rebuilt or repaired by Edward I., and used as one of the citadels by which he hoped to maintain his usurped dominion in Scotland. It is described by Barbour as “meihle and stark and stuffed weel.” Piers Luband, a Gascoigne knight, was appointed the keeper, and appears to have remained there until the autumn of 1313, when the Scots recovered the Castle under the following interesting circumstances: —

There was, says our authority, Barbour, dwelling in the neighbourhood of Linlithgow, a stout-hearted husbandman, named William Binnock, who, observing that the Scots were on every hand recovering from the English the castles and fortresses which the invaders possessed within Scotland, could not brook that the peel in his vicinity, which was large, strong, and well supplied with arms and garrisons, should remain unassailed. He formed a stratagem, equally remarkable for ingenuity and audacity. The garrison was usually supplied by Binnock with hay, and they had lately required from him a fresh supply. He assured them of the excellence of the forage, and undertook to send it in early in the morning. But the hay was so arranged on the wain 23 as to conceal eight well-armed and determined men; the team was driven by a sturdy peasant, who bore a sharp axe under his gaberdion. Binnock himself walked beside the waggon, to superintend, as it seemed, the safe delivery of the forage. The porter, on approach of Binnock, with his well-known wain, lowered the drawbridge and raised the portcullis. Just at the very gateway, the driver, as he had been instructed, drew his axe suddenly and cut asunder the soam, or tackle, by which the oxen were attached to the waggon. Binnock at the same instant struck the warder dead, and shouted the signal word, which was “Call all, call all.” The assailants jumped from amongst the hay, and attacked the astonished garrison. The wain was so placed that neither could the gate be shut nor the portcullis lowered, nor the bridge raised, and a party of Scots, who were in ambush for the purpose, rushed in to second their forlorn hope, and were soon masters of the place.

Bruce, faithful to his usual policy, caused the peel of Linlithgow to be dismantled, and worthily rewarded William Binnock, who had behaved with such gallantry on the occasion. From this bold yeoman the Binnies of West Lothian are proud to trace their descent; and most, if not all of them, bear in their arms something connected with the waggon, which was the instrument of his stratagem.

When times of comparative peace returned, Linlithgow again became the occasional residence of the sovereign. In 1411 the town was burned by accident, and in 1414 was again subjected to the same calamity, together with the 24 Church and Palace of the King, as is expressly mentioned by Bower.

The present Church, which is a fine specimen of Gothic architecture, having a steeple surmounted by an imperial crown, was probably erected soon after that calamity.

The Palace arose from its ashes with greater splendour than before; for the family of Stuart, unhappy in so many respects, were all of them fortunate in their taste for the fine arts, and particularly for that of architecture. The Lordship of Linlithgow was settled as a dowry upon Mary of Gueldres in 1449, and again upon Margaret of Denmark of 1468.

James the Fourth, as splendid a gallant, seems to have founded the most magnificent part of Linlithgow Palace; together with the noble entrance betwixt two flanking towers bearing on rich entablatures the royal arms of Scotland, with the collar of the Order of the Thistle, Garter, and Saint Michael.

James IV., also erected in the Church a throne for himself, and twelve stalls for Knights Companions of the Thistle. It was sitting here, in the time of public worship, and musing, perhaps, on his approaching invasion of England, that he received a singular advice from a singular personage, which we cannot express better than in the words of Pitscottie: —

“At this time the King visited Linlithgow, where he was at the Council, very sad and dolorous, making his prayers to God to send him a good success in his voyage. And there came a man clad in a blue gown, belted about 25 him with a roll of lining, and a pair of brottikines on his feet, and all other things conform thereto. But he had nothing on his head but side hair to his shoulders, and bald before. He seemed to be a man of fifty years, and came fast forwards, crying among the lords, and specially for the King, saying, that he desired to speak with him; while at the last he came to the desk where the King was at prayers. But when he saw the King, he gave him no due reverence nor salutation, but leaned him down gruffly upon the desk, and said, ‘Sir King, my mother has sent me to thee, desiring thee not to go where thou art purposed, which if thou do, thou shalt not fare well in thy journey, nor none that is with thee. Farther, she forbade thee, not to mell nor use the counsel of women, which if thou do, thou wilt be confounded and brought to shame.’ By [the time] this man had spoken these words to the King, the even-song was near done, and the King paused on these words, studying to him an answer. But in the meantime, before the King’s eyes, and in presence of the whole lords that were about him for the time, this man evanished away, and could no more be seen. I heard Sir David Lindsay, Lyon-herald, and John Inglis, the Marishall, who were at that time young men and special servants to the King’s grace, thought to have taken this man, but they could not, that they might have spiered [asked] further tidings at him, but they could not touch him.”

Buchanan confirms this strange story on the word of a spectator, Sir David Lindsay, whose testimony he describes as unimpeachable. Thus supported, we have only to 26 choose betwixt a deception and a supernatural appearance. The temper of James was one of those described by the poet as being “of imagination all compact.” He was amorous, devotional, and chivalrous. This renders it highly probable that the simulated vision was contrived by some of the numerous party who advised a continuance of peace with England, and who might be of opinion that counsels conveyed in this mysterious manner might have some effect on the romantic spirit of the King. It is usually supposed that the vision was intended to represent Saint Andrew; but the use of the words, “my mother,” seem rather to imply the Apostle John, who indicated by that term the Virgin Mary.

The death of James IV. and rout of his army clouded for many a day the glory of Scotland, and marred the mirth of her palaces.

James V. was much attached to Linlithgow, and added to the Palace both the Chapel and Parliament Hall, the last of which is particularly striking. So that when he brought his bride Mary of Guise there, amid the festivities which accompanied their wedding, she might have more reasons than mere complaisance for highly commending the edifice, and saying that she never saw a more princely palace. It was long her residence, and that of her royal husband, at Linlithgow. Mary was born there in an apartment still shown; and the ill-fated father dying within a few days of that event, left the ominous diadem which he wore to the still more unfortunate infant.

It is remarkable that during this reign there was acted at 27 Linlithgow, in presence of the King, Queen, and whole court, and, so far as appears, with great applause, a play, or theatrical presentation, by Sir David Lindsay, called the Satire of the Three Estates, in which much coarse and indelicate farce and buffoonery is intermixed with the most pointed censure upon the affairs both of church and state. The comic mummery was undoubtedly thrown in with the purpose of Rabelais, to mitigate the edge of the satire, by representing the whole as matter of idle and extravagant mirth. But when the serious and direct tenor of the piece is considered, no one can doubt that the Prince before whom it was acted, and by whom it seems to have been well received, meditated reforms both in church and state, however diverted from them by the arts of the churchmen.

In the subsequent reign of Queen Mary, Linlithgow was the scene of several remarkable events; the most interesting of which was the assassination of the Regent Murray by Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh. This James VI. loved the royal residence of Linlithgow, and completed the original plan of the Palace, closing the great square by a stately range of apartments of great architectural beauty. He also made a magnificent fountain in the Palace-yard, now ruinous, as are all the buildings around. Another grotesque Gothic fountain adorns the street of the town, which, with the number of fine springs, leads to the popular rhyme:

Linlithgow for wells,
Stirling for bells.


Among the attendants of James the Sixth was a distinguished personage of a class which may be found in most places of public resort. This was the celebrated Rob Gibb, the king’s fool or jester. Fool as he was, Rob Gibb seems to have understood his own interest. Upon once occasion it pleased his sapient Majesty King Jamie to instal Rob in his own royal chair, the sport being to see how he would demean himself as sovereign. The courtiers entered into the king’s humour, overwhelming Rob Gibb with petitions for places, pensions, and benefices, not sorry perhaps to have an opportunity of hinting, in the presence of the real sovereign, secret hopes and wishes, which they might have no other opportunity of expressing. But Rob Gibb sternly repelled the whole supplicants together, as a set of unmercifully greedy sycophants, who followed their worthy king only to see what they could make of him. “Get ye hence, ye covetous selfish loons,” he exclaimed, “and bring to me my own dear and trusty servant, Rob Gibb, that I may honour the only one of my court who serves me for stark love and kindness.” It would not have been unlike King Jamie to have answered, “that he was but a fool, and knew no better.”

Rob’s presence of mind did not go unrewarded; for either on this or some future occasion, he was in such “good foolery,” as to get a grant of a small estate in the vicinity of the burgh.

When the sceptre passed from Scotland, oblivion sat down in the halls of Linlithgow; but her absolute desolation was reserved for the memorable era of 1745-6. 29 About the middle of January in that year, General Hawley marched at the head of a strong army to raise the siege of Stirling, then pressed by the Highland insurgents under the adventurous Charles Edward. The English general had expressed considerable contempt of his enemy, who, he affirmed, would not stand a charge of cavalry. On the night of the 17th he returned to Linlithgow, with all the marks of defeat, having burned his tents, and left his artillery and baggage. His disordered troops were quartered in the Palace, and began to make such great fires on the hearth as to endanger the safety of the edifice. A lady of the Livingston family who had apartments there, remonstrated with General Hawley, who treated her fears with contempt. “I can run away from fire as fast as you can, General.” answered the high-spirited dame, and with this sarcasm took horse for Edinburgh. Very soon after her departure her apprehensions were realized; the Palace of Linlithgow caught fire, and was burned to the ground. The ruins alone remain to show its former splendour.

The situation of Linlithgow Palace is eminently beautiful. It stands on a promontory of some elevation, which advances almost into the midst of the lake. The form is that of a square court, composed of buildings of four stories high, with towers at the angles. The fronts within the square, and the windows, are highly ornamented, and the size of the rooms, as well as the width and character of the staircases, are upon a magnificent scale. One banquet-room is ninety-four feet long, thirty feet wide, and thirty-three feet high, with a gallery for music. The King’s 30 wardrobe, or dressing-room, looking to the west, projects over the walls so as to have a delicious prospect on three sides, and is one of the most enviable boudoirs we have ever seen.

There were two main entrances to Linlithgow Palace. That from the south ascends rather steeply from the town, and passes through a striking Gothic archway, flanked by two round towers. The portal has been richly adorned by sculpture, in which can be traced the arms of Scotland with the collars of the Thistle, the Garter, and Saint Michael. This was the work of James V., and is in a most beautiful character.

The other entrance is from the westward. The gateway is at some height from the foundation of the wall, and there are opposite to it the remains of a perron, or ramp of mason-work, which those who desired to enter must have ascended by steps. A drawbridge, which could be raised at pleasure, united, when it was lowered, the ramp with the threshold of the gateway, and when raised, left a gap between them, which answered the purpose of a moat. On the inside of the eastern gateway is a figure, much mutilated, said to have been that of Pope Julius II., the same Pontiff who sent to James IV. the beautiful sword which makes part of the Regalia.

“To what base offices we may return!” In the course of the last war, those beautiful remains, so full of ancient remembrances, very narrowly escaped being defaced and dishonoured, by an attempt to convert them into barracks for French prisoners of war. The late President Blair, as 31 zealous a patriot as he was an excellent lawyer, had the merit of averting this insult upon one of the most striking objects of antiquity which Scotland yet affords. I am happy to add, that of late years the Court of the Exchequer have, in this and similar cases, shown much zeal to preserve our national antiquities, and stop the dilapidations which were fast consuming them.

In coming to Linlithgow by the Edinburgh road, the first view of the town, with its beautiful steeple, surmounted with a royal crown, and the ruinous towers of the Palace arising out of a canopy of trees, forms a most impressive object. All that is wanting is something of more elevated dignity to the margin of the lake. But it is not easy to satisfy the inconsistent wishes of amateurs.

We may in taking leave of this subject, use once more the words of old Sir David of the Mount, in his Complaint of the Papingo: —

Farewell Linlithgow, whose Palace of pleasaunce
Might be a pattern in Portugal or France

Elf.Ed. Notes

*  non nostrum est: “It is not for us.” This Latin phrase used by Sir Walter, is the abbreviated form of a common classical quote used frequently by writers in the 19th century: non nostrum est tantas componere lites, meaning: “It is not for us to settle such great disputes.” The quote — revised, shortened or misquoted — is from Virgil, who said, in his third Eclogue, line 108: non nostrum inter vos est tantas componere lites, meaning: “It is not for us to settle such great disputes between you.”. The quote in Virgil can be found online in Greenough’s text of Virgil at The Latin Library.


[BACK]          [Blueprint]         [NEXT]