February in Scotland has proven to be just as spectacular as everyone predicted. By that, I mean cold, dark, and wet. After a month of that, you start to go a bit stir crazy, and at that point you have two options: You can sit around and be miserable (not as bad of an option as you might think – I’m pretty sure the pub is the place in which to do that) or you can take advantage of the days that are just cold and windy.
I caught the train out of Edinburgh on a cold, blustery Sunday morning and rode out to the tiny little town of Linlithgow. Like so many other places in Europe, there wasn’t much to the town itself. But the reason for the town being there in the first place is pretty impressive: Linlithgow Palace.
Sitting on a small loch just beyond the urban sprawl of Edinburgh, Linlithgow has a long and proud history of serving as a royal getaway. There’s been a building of some sort on the spot since the 1100s, when David I was sending cows and sheep from his country estate back to the abbey at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. The building that’s there today, though, is not the same one.
The original building was probably little more than a hunting lodge – granted, a hunting lodge for royalty, meaning that us commoners would probably have still found it impressive. It didn’t serve as a royal residence until the *ahem* English came to town and used Linlithgow as a staging ground for the Battle of Falkirk, where Edward I of England defeated William Wallace and the Scottish independence fighters. Thinking he’d won the war (spoilers: he didn’t), Edward I returned from Falkirk and took up residence in Linlithgow Palace. He made some expansions and built up the fortifications, but that wasn’t enough to keep the Scots out. In 1313, the men of Robert the Bruce attacked the palace, using, of all things, an ox-cart to prevent the English garrison from escaping. The palace then became the official residence of Robert the Bruce, the new king of Scotland.
Royal residency at Linlithgow was interrupted in 1424 when a fire broke out, burning the original building to the ground. The current palace was then constructed by the string of Jameses. Beginning with James I, each of the successive kings, up to and including James VI/I, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, added or rebuilt a section of the palace, creating a five-storied behemoth of a family home. Alas, the glory of Linlithgow Palace was to be bookended by fire, as in 1746 the building caught fire as the occupying redcoats were vacating it to chase the rebels of the ’45 back up into the Highlands.
Something interesting about Linlithgow, aside from its royal occupants and rather abrupt end to its glory days, is that the palace is most famous for its connection to women. Mary, Queen of Scots was born in Linlithgow Palace on December 8th, 1542. She never got to spend much time in the product of her ancestors’ masterpiece, as she was quickly spirited away to Stirling Castle to keep her safe from Henry VIII and his campaign to kidnap her, called the Rough Wooing. She would return when she claimed her throne, but would never spend much time there.
Mary’s grandmother, Margaret Tudor, also has connections to Linlithgow. Sister of Henry VIII, she married James IV of Scotland in a union manufactured to encourage peace between the two kingdoms. The story goes that the marriage was quite happy, and the couple were quite fond of each other. Their love story ended at the Battle of Flodden. James IV rode off with his army to fight the English in Northumberland, and Margaret stayed behind at Linlithgow Palace, which had been given to her as a wedding present by her husband. The story goes that she waited at the top of the turret above the royal chambers, waiting in vain for her husband to return home to her. That part of the palace is still called “Queen Margaret’s Bower,” and was romanticized by Sir Walter Scott in Marmion.
Linlithgow is the name of both the town and the palace. To get there from Edinburgh, purchase a train ticket to Linlithgow (roughly £8 roundtrip). When exiting the train station, turn left and follow the road until you come to the underpass. Go through the underpass, and follow the road into town, about a five-minute walk. The palace will be on the right, up the hill.