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Holyrood Palace

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Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Palace was the scene of a grisly murder, and is believed to be haunted by the much-travelled spectre of Mary, Queen of Scots, as well as a naked witch.

Photograph by Saffron Blaze: source


The haunt of several ghosts, Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh is generally regarded as one of the Scottish capital's most haunted buildings. Situated at one end of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh's Old Town, at the opposite end to the castle, the palace played a significant role in Scotland's troubled history, providing the setting for several bloodthirsty episodes. An abbey was founded on the site by David I in 1128, although the palace was first built during the reign of James IV in the early 1500s. Known formally as the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the building was popular with numerous Stewart kings and is currently the official Scottish residence of Queen Elizabeth II.

The palace was the scene of a horrific murder in 1566 when an Italian courtier called David Rizzio was stabbed to death. Rizzio was the private secretary and confidant of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary's second husband, the volatile Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, had become extremely jealous of his wife's friendship with the Italian. His hatred came to a head on the night of March 9th when, accompanied by a group of noblemen, he burst into the queen's private supper room and seized Rizzio. Despite Mary's protestations, the hapless secretary was stabbed 56 times and his body thrown down the main staircase. An apparently indelible bloodstain on the spot where Rizzio was murdered is still visible to this day.

Rizzio's murder was to prove Darnley's undoing with the king consort himself dying in suspicious circumstances the following year. He perished at the Kirk o' Field estate after an explosion at his lodgings. Examination of his boy determined that the blast wasn't the cause of death however and he had in fact been strangled. Suspects in his death included Queen Mary herself and her third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. Darnley's guilt-ridden ghost has allegedly been witnessed wandering the grounds of Holyrood, undoubtedly tormented by the terrible deed he committed at the palace.

The ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots herself is also rumoured to walk the palace. This building is one of many locations the long-dead queen is still believed to visit; other places frequented by Mary's spectre include Borthwick Castle and the mighty Stirling Castle. She is also said to haunt several locations in England - places where she was held captive before her execution at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587. Holyrood Palace was home to the ill-fated Scottish Queen from 1561-67, where she kept apartments in the north-west tower.

Not all the ghosts at Holyrood Palace are of noble blood, for a low-born woman from the 16th century is believed to be the identity of a phantom named 'Bald Agnes'. Agnes Sampson was executed for witchcraft in 1591. Known as the 'Wise Wife of Keith', she was implicated in the North Berwick witch trials, an infamous episode which saw many local people of various rank indicted under suspicion of using sorcery to harm James VI. One of the charges levelled against Agnes was that she had used witchcraft to conjure up storms that had beset the king's ships. Agnes was taken to Holyrood Palace where she was stripped naked and shaved before being interrogated in the presence of the monarch himself. Eventually she was taken to Edinburgh Castle where she was garrotted and burned at the stake on Castle Hill, although her naked spectre is still said to wander the grounds of Holyrood Palace.