As the British royal family's official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has seen its share of kings and queens throughout the centuries. But Edinburgh itself has also been shaped by its royal connections, both from the time when the Scottish royal line was distinct from the English monarchy, and since 1603 when both nations have been ruled by the same monarch.
Many visitors to Edinburgh like to feel they're walking in the footsteps of monarchs and princesses, so here's my rough (and roughly chronological) guide to some of the structures and features of the city which come with royal approval...
Ruling Scotland from 1124 to 1153, David was the eldest son of Malcolm III (aka Malcolm Canmore, meaning 'big head') and Queen Margaret of Scotland, and the grandson of Duncan I who was killed by Macbeth.
One Sunday morning in September 1128, David was hunting on his land around what is today Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat when his horse was startled by a stag. Thrown to the ground and finding himself at the mercy of the stag, it is said that David saw a crucifix manifest in the air between the stag's antlers - as David reached for it, the stag ran away.
David took this is as a sign from God that on a Sunday he should be at church instead of hunting, and he established the Holyrood Abbey on the site where the stag surprised him. This abbey took its name from the religious feast of the Holy Rood - or holy cross - which is how the area is still known today.
Both David and his mother, Margaret, would later be recognised as Catholic saints.
Edinburgh only became the capital of Scotland in 1437, following the murder of King James I in Perth - his son, James II, inherited a nation which was in social turmoil, and one of the tasks to which he applied himself was constructing the first of the defensive walls which surrounded the southern side of the Old Town.
The King's Wall, as this first wall was known, was built in the middle of the fifteenth century, and two sections of it survive as testimony to the city's need for defence at protection at this time. One section of the wall runs down the side of Tweeddale Court, and features in my Royal Mile and Old Town fixed route walking tour. The only other surviving section can be found down a lane between the Grassmarket and Edinburgh Castle.
MARY OF GUELDERS
In 1449, James II married Mary of Guelders at Holyrood Abbey. They enjoyed just eleven years of marriage before James died in 1460, at which point Mary became regent of Scotland, ruling the nation while their son, who became James III, was still a child.
Mary established a church in her husband's memory - the Trinity College Kirk was located in the town of Calton, which lay outside of Edinburgh in the valley where Waverley Station is today. In the 1840s, when the land was sold for the development of the station, Trinity College Kirk was dismantled stone-by-stone and was rebuilt a short distance away around 20 years later.
In that intervening period, much of the stone of the church had been taken for use in other buildings, so Trinity College Apse, as it is known today, represents all that remains of Mary's original church, and of the town of Calton itself.
The church structure can be found on Chalmers' Close, off the Royal Mile.
It was the father of Mary, Queen of Scots, who established the palace at Holyrood, adjacent to the abbey which by that time had been standing for just over 370 years. Construction on James's palace began in 1501, although the oldest part of the palace which survives today dates from a little later, around the 1520s.
It is this tower - on the left of the palace complex as visitors approach the building - where Mary, Queen of Scots stayed during her brief time in Edinburgh in the 1560s. Visitors can pass through the bedroom she would have slept, and where Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered in March 1566.
Later kings would add to and extend the palace, most significantly during the reign of Charles II, in the 1660s.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
Mary herself would add little to Edinburgh's infrastructure, although she gave birth to her son inside Edinburgh Castle itself. One building in the city has her name, and it's the small ruin in the grounds of the palace - known popularly as Queen Mary's Bathhouse.
Whilst it is thought likely the building tiself dates from Mary's time, there is no archeological evidence to support the idea that it was a bathhouse. More likely, it is thought, the building served as a pavilion or summer house in the area where tennis courts would once have been laid out. Mary was a keen tennis player, and so may indeed have spent time at (or in) the building, though probably not as a bathing chamber.
A small Catholic chapel on the Cowgate, the Magdalen Chapel, was built in the 1540s, partly to celebrate Mary's birth - her mother, Mary of Guise, led prayer sessions in this chapel during the time she ruled Scotland regent while Mary was in France.
The next British monarch to have a physical impact on Edinburgh was George III, who came to the throne in 1760. At this time, plans for Edinburgh's New Town are being discussed and conceived, and George would give his name to this side of the city - George Street is for him, Hanover Street for his family line, Princes Street for his sons, Queen Street for his wife...
What is called Charlotte Square today was originally to be St George Square, but the interim development of another square to the south of the Royal Mile being named George Square made this potentially confusing.
Although George was consulted in the planning of the New Town - he made objections to the intention to name one of the main roads St Giles Street, for example, on the basis that St Giles Cripplegate in London at that time was a run-down and overcrowded space, and he didn't want such associations to tarnish to the grandeur of Edinburgh's New Town - he never was able to visit the city, dying in 1820, before the project was completed.
George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, becoming the first British monarch to do so in nearly 200 years. As well as being one of the princes in the name of Princes Street, he would also have another thoroughfare named for him - George IV Bridge, in the Old Town.
The bridge was built between 1827 and 1836. George himself wouldn't live to see the bridge completed, having died in 1830.
VICTORIA AND ALBERT
The reign of Queen Victoria was, at the time, the longest of any British monarch, and extended through a period of history that saw incredible changes to society.
As such, Victoria is probably the monarch with the most significant impact on the city of Edinburgh - Victoria Street was named for her, having been built as part of the development of the city during the early years of her reign, and the foundation stone of the National Museum of Scotland was laid by Prince Albert just weeks before his death in 1861.
I have a whole other blog post dedicated to Victoria and Albert in Edinburgh...
The late queen was notable for securing the longest reign of any British monarch in history - having celebrated over 70 years on the throne shortly before her death - and was known to be fond of Scotland and, in particular, the Balmoral Estate in the Highlands (which had been bought by Queen Victoria in 1840).
There are several locations in the city with direct connections to Elizabeth, including St Giles' Cathedral where her coffin lay at rest in September 2022, on the journey from Balmoral to London.
The Queen's Gallery at Holyrood was opened to mark Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee in 2002, commemorating fifty years on the throne. It occupies a building built for the Holyrood Free Church in 1850, which fell out of use as a church in 1915.
Nearby is the Canongate Kirk, the official church of the royal family when at Holyrood. Just inside the gates, on the left as visitors face the church, is a cherry tree planted by Elizabeth on the first morning of her first official visit to Edinburgh as queen back in 1952.
At Leith, visitors can still visit the former Royal Yacht Britannia, which served as the royal family's 'floating palace' between 1854 and 1997.
So there are royal associations all across Edinburgh, stretching back nearly a thousand years to when the city would have looked (and felt, and smelled) very different to the way it does today. But still, the sense of walking in the footsteps of these monarchs is palpable.
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