The Royal Palace of Falkland was built just a few metres southward of a former castle given over to the Scottish Monarchy by MacDuff, Thane of Fife, in the fourteenth century. The stone foundations of the round house of that castle can still be seen in the grounds to this day and where, in 1402, David Stewart, Duke of Rothesay and eldest son of King Robert III, was incarcerated by his uncle, Robert Stewart, the first Duke of Albany. He was virtually forgotten and eventually died of starvation and neglect. Murder was suspected but although Robert Stewart was declared innocent, King Robert decided to sent his nine year old younger son to the safety of France but, during the voyage, the ship was forced to land on the English coast and the boy was captured and detained in England for eighteen years. King Robert III allegedly died of a 'broken heart' in 1406.
The stone foundation roundel is all that remains of the castle in current times.
It’s the period between 1501 to 1541 when the real story of the palace begins and where King James IV and James V decided to upgrade the old castle into one of the finest renaissance buildings in Scotland. Many of the architects came from France under the terms of the ‘Auld Alliance’ and their influence can be seen in the style of the newer building. King James V, died at Falkland Palace shortly after his wife gave birth to the ill fated 'Mary, Queen of Scots'. In successive years, Falkland Palace became a favoured country residence and hunting lodge of eight Stuart monarchs, and including Mary, Queen of Scots.
Wild boar imported from France provided sport among the dense woodland surrounding the palace and were contained within a fenced boundary constructed and maintained by the nearby Laird of Fernie. The nearby town of Auctermuchty is where popular and more current music legends like accordianist Jimmy Shand and the popular music twins known as the Proclaimers began their 'showbiz' careers despite a place name actually meaning 'place of pigs' and in reference to these imported wild boar. Falconry was another favourite and popular pastime at the palace and tennis was another.
The 'Real Tennis' Court built in 1539, and more recently restored to the point of regular use, remains as the oldest in the World! Lawn tennis is derived from this mix of 'squash' and the type of regular tennis most obviously observed at Wimbledon on an annual basis. It remains traditional to leave some doors open to permit swallows to nest an fly during the summer months.
During the ‘English Civil War’ that occupied much of the seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell led a powerful force into Scotland and set the palace ablaze and from whence it was was largely an abandoned ruin until 1887 when John Crichton-Stuart, Third Marquess of Bute, began the magnificient program of restoration that visitors can see today. The Crichton-Stuarts became "the Keepers of Falkland Palace" but have shared the responsibility for the upkeep of the palace and its extensive gardens since 1952 with the National Trust for Scotland following agreement with the fourth Marquess of Bute. Being a freelance journalist and author without conflicting commercial ties, and being entirely selective and biased, the restoration of the Chapel Royal is frankly impressive and where I've been fortunate to listen to live music performed in traditional style by craftsmen of deservedly high standing within this acoustically favourable setting. To reach this splendid room, visitors pass along a corridor adorned with magnificent tapestries and which are impressive features in their own right. The Kings Room and Queens room are also magnificant restorations worthy of mention.
Not surprisingly, the National Trust of Scotland has installed a retail facility on this site and most often encountered at towards the end of tours around the property. Normally, I'm too enamoured by such commerical add-ons yet still keenly aware of how they add significant value to the overall project. In many cases though, poor quality and high prices tend to cast a dark shadow over this part of the visitation. I'm delighted to say this isn't the case at Falkland Palace and where the range of goods on offer are generally of a higher standard. Even withoput visiting the palace again, I've occassionally popped in and found a good book worthy of ownsership and some pretty great Christmas Cards! Overall, this is one of the nicer National Trust shops that I've experienced - and I'm not just saying this because it happens to be located in Fife. By example, the McDonald Centre on the Isle of Skye is superior in my opinion.
In closing, this is a wonderful family-friendly place to visit and see first hand. The village of Falkland surrounding the Palace has been maintained to a high standard and in keeping with its most dominant building and crowd pleaser. Having said that means current existence of narrower roads and lanes better suited to slow horse and cart one way traffic yet rarely causing a problem when the palace was built. It's not quite so easy these days. Implementation of a one way traffic system offers visitors the chance of parking within a fairly luxurious space area but it does mean walkiing a short distance of about one quarter mile from here to the palace entrance and that may not be ideal for those confined to wheelchairs. Being a shade naughty then, and where the above photograph shows a car mounted on the pavement, I sincerely doubt whether any Fife policeman would be likely to enforce the purist application of the law if you stopped close to the gates in order to ease entry or exit in these circumstances. Truth is, he or she is more likely to offer assistance and help in a more constructive and pleasant manner. Falkland is home to eateries ranging from high class fare at the local restaurant to cafe and pub grub levels.
All in all, another highly recommended venue from FifeServe!