The History of Linlithgow

A Linlithgow History Tour

My most recent visit to the town of Linlithgow was as part of a tour group of like-minded lovers of travel in Scotland. Hosted by Mary’s Meanders we were treated to a locally influenced Linlithgow history tour of a town that has witnessed assassinations, dog loyalty in the extreme and the birth of Scotland’s most famous queen.

Having long been one of my top places to visit around Edinburgh, Linlithgow’s jewel in the crown is undoubtedly the magnificent Palace. Prominently placed beside Linlithgow Loch, it has played a hugely distinctive role in Scottish history for centuries and remains one of the country’s most impressive ruins. Particularly eye-catching within the now unfortunately bare interior is the intricate fountain that stands alone in the main courtyard. Created around 1538 it is actually still operable and has previously even flowed with red wine for special occasions. Sculpted figures ranging from elegant to grotesque scream out at 21st Century visitors.

linlithgow history tour fountain.

unicorn fountain linlithgow history tour.

The Palace’s origins date back to the 12th Century and it featured prominently in the Wars of Independence when it was used by Edward I of England’s forces as a base. That’s the bad guy from Braveheart. A devastating fire in 1424 decimated the structure but with this came the opportunity to upgrade the ruins to a full scale palace. From then on it would become a powerful status symbol of the Royal House of Stewart.

Not unlike Falkland Palace, Linlithgow was much loved by the Stewarts as an opulent and luxurious escape. Wining and dining, pleasure strolls, archery, hunting and that kind of thing. On one of my previous visits I overheard another visitor from the US muttering something about Camp David and not much changing but draw any comparisons you wish.

linlithgow history tour.

In 1542 one of Scotland’s most recognisable names, Mary Queen of Scots, was born at Linlithgow Palace. Although she actually spent little time here this was one of her last stops before capture and imprisonment at Loch Leven Castle. During that 16th Century, Linlithgow Palace started to decline as interest centred on more political hot spots. It fell to her son then, James VI, to give the Palace a much needed facelift in 1618.

Leave it to Oliver Cromwell to come calling in 1650 though. His forces partly demolished this Scottish treasure, such was his wont, and things worsened still during the final Jacobite rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie himself paid a brief visit and the old fountain was dishing out the red wine again in 1745. The following year, however, another ruinous fire (possibly started deliberately by government troops) decimated the Palace once more. It has never fully recovered.

Linlithgow Palace has something about it. Maybe it’s the scale of the place but I’ve always found it one of the easiest places to let your imagination loose and picture times gone by. Huge and empty it maintains that melancholy that may have been ineradicable since those destructive blazes. Funding is of course always the big issue with historic ruins but, as our guide Anne rightly pointed out, it is a powerful thought what could be done if it were to benefit from more investment. The transformation of the likes of nearby Stirling Castle is testament to that. I’m adding my voice to the din of those that think the Great Hall in particular could be roofed and TLC’d to create a first class venue for events, film production and much more. Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding anyone?

great hall palace linlithgow history tour.

The history of the town has of course been closely linked to the varying degrees of prominence of the Palace, but there have been numerous other highlights in its long history as a Royal Burgh. The High Street boasts wonderfully maintained 16th Century buildings that resemble some of Old Town Edinburgh. St Michael’s Church and graveyard has a grizzly history of bodysnatching. James Stuart became the first Head of State to be assassinated with a firearm by James Hamilton in 1570 and Annett House offers a museum and garden showcasing more of the town’s memorable moments. The latter includes the first statue of Mary Queen of Scots.

linlithgow history tour burgh halls.

linlithgow history tour james stuart plaque.

A proud historical tale that still resonates with locals is that of The Black Bitch. Yes indeed, no typo. The tale goes that a man was sentenced to death by starvation on a nearby deserted island but that his loyal dog was having none of it and surreptitiously kept swimming out to the island to bring him food. To this day, people hailing from the town are known as Black Bitches as a proud nod to the loyalty of the original name-bearer. Every town should have such a story.

In addition to the Linlithgow history tour I was joined for the day by my fellow Scottish travel bloggers Susanne, Nicola, Kim and Dougie. Between us we looked at the range of different highlights to the town and you can read more about the new Scotlanders travel blog collaboration here.

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