Friday, December 22, 2017

Falkland - Royal Palace & A Town Stopped in Time

By Annie Whitehead

Last time, I blogged about Culross in the ancient kingdom of Fife, which boasts a 'palace'. This time, I'm looking at a Fife town which is equally 'stopped in time' but which boasts a real palace, and a royal one at that.

Like Culross, Falkland is a town which seems stuck in another time period, and, like Culross, it was used for a location in the series Outlander. Unlike Culross, though, it has not been renovated, or rebuilt, but simply it has survived, because of the royal palace situated in the heart of the town. It was not, as Culross was, dependent on industry and the local lord, but on the large community which came with the palace, and the trade which developed from it, and continued long after the kings had left.

Falkland was created a royal burgh in 1458, but the palace reached its apogee with the reign of James V, (1512-1542) who brought it to its full Renaissance glory. Usually, stately homes and royal palaces are set at the end of long sweeping driveways, well away from other buildings. In Falkland, one merely steps from the main street into the gateway.

James V kept a permanent staff of foresters, falconers, dog handlers and stablemen. In the 1530s the household accounts recorded nearly 350 named staff, including stewards, carvers, cupbearers, ushers of the outer and inner chamber doors, yeomen, grooms and a barber. Instructions to the master of the royal household, signed by James, included the edict that no one should enter or leave the court without proper authority, especially 'lads or vile boys'.

It was at Falkland that James V died, in December of 1542. He had been visiting his mistress at Tantallon, and then spent a few days with his pregnant wife Marie at Linlithgow, before travelling to Falkland. He took to his bed, suffering possibly from either dysentery or typhoid. News reached him of the birth of his daughter, but he was disappointed that the baby was not a boy, having lost his sons the previous year. He died on 14th December and never saw his daughter.

James V's body lay in state in the chapel inside the palace. He had lost interest in the building after the death of his baby sons in 1541, but his daughter, the future Mary Queen of Scots, had some of her happiest days here, and it's said that she frequently went hunting in the nearby hunting grounds. There is a unique feature in the chapel which is a window depicting her husband, Lord Darnley, as King Henry - the only place where Darnley is recognised as having been king.

Falkland also has another boast - that of having the oldest Real Tennis court in Britain. It was built in 1539 for James V, and unlike other examples, it was designed and built without a roof.

Walking round the inside of the palace, I discovered a nugget of information. In one of the bedrooms there was a great wooden dresser, and I learned the origin of the phrase 'bottom drawer'. It's common parlance, certainly in the UK, to talk about the bride's 'bottom drawer', the place where she will collect linens and suchlike prior to her wedding. I had never thought about what this meant in practice though, until at Falkland I was shown the 'top' part of the cabinet. The groom's job was to collect bulkier items, such as crockery, and then after the marriage, the two portions of the cabinet/dresser were put together in the marital home.

I was also told the story which I'd first heard at Dunfermline Abbey about James VI, son of Mary Queen of Scots, and his journey to collect his bride, Anne, or Anna, of Denmark. His ship was blown off course on more than one occasion. Denmark was a country which had already conducted witch-hunts and James became deeply interested in witchcraft and its evils, convinced that it was this diabolical practice which had summoned up the storms against his ship.

In 1589 James VI, had conferred the palace on his wife, Anna of Denmark, and in 1595 he renewed the town's status as a royal burgh. But once he became James I of England, he only returned to Scotland once thereafter, and to Fife, in 1617.

The hand-loom linen weaving industry in Falkland grew out of the weaving trade which supplied the palace. Many weavers' cottages can still be seen in the town. The industrial revolution brought power looms to Falkland, and of the three factories established, one still survives today, producing paper and plastic bags, instead of linen.

Many of the buildings display 'marriage lintels' - the two sets of initials and the dates may record a marriage, when the house was built, or the date the couple moved in.

The centre of Falkland was used, as mentioned earlier, as a location for Outlander. The hotel which can be seen beyond the fountain was used as the B&B. But its name suggests a rather different history...

This building is the Covenanter Hotel, with its sign above the door declaring "Down with tyranny - we are and we will make free 1638-1688" This refers to the Covenanters, a Scottish Presbyterian movement, whose members were opposed to the notion of the Divine Right of Kings, one of the Catholic principles upheld by the Stuart monarchs. Richard Cameron was a famous Covenanter who was born in Falkland, although not, it seems, in this building. Incongruous indeed, to have a symbol like this so nearby to a Stuart royal palace.

Charles II, before landing in Scotland in June 1650, declared by solemn oath his agreement of both covenants, having signed the Treaty of Breda with the Covenanters, and this was renewed on the occasion of his coronation at Scone in the following January, in 1651. Charles spent some time at Falkland palace following his coronation, but this was the last time a monarch stayed at the palace. 

Thereafter, the palace park timber was felled on the orders of Oliver Cromwell, and in 1654, Cromwellian soldiers, occupying the palace, started a fire by leaving a cooking pot unattended. Falkland palace was never again used as a royal residence, but its decline was halted by a restoration programme begun in the early nineteenth century, so that visitors can still enjoy its grandeur to this day.

[all photographs by and copyright of the author]


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
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  1. I have stayed there and when we moved nto the area we cycled to Falkland quite a lot

    1. It's a lovely place, isn't it? I stayed in the area for five days, and it wasn't long enough to explore all the rich history of the area :-)


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