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    December 2017
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    Falkland Palace’s Trompe l’Oeil

    Falkland Palace & Royal Burgh The National Trust for Scotland

    Your great article, Mairiuna, in the Scottish Castles Series featuring Falkland Palace shed light on another historic gem in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

    What is great about it all, is that sites in the custody of NTS receive regular survey, inspection and maintenance programmes that preserve some unique elements housed inside the thick walls of the magnificent historical buildings and gives public access to a whole world of heritage.

    As an example, did you know that the Edwardian Library at Falkland Palace contains fine examples of trompe l’oeil – trick of the eye – ?

    scotland falkland palace trompe_l'oeil in old library

    Trompe l’oeil [trick of the eye] inside the old Edwardian library – Fakland Palace – Scotland * []

    Portholes in the ceiling, the window on the north side and even the skirting boards are all painted straight onto the wall to create this wonderful optical illusion room!

    The palace is now closed to the public for the winter months but that does not mean that nothing is happening inside its walls.

    In fact, when the palace is given back to its Hereditary Keepers, all rooms will be given  a « good bottoming » inclusive of the trompe l’œil in the library!

    An article published in the Sunday Herald, vividly narrates this work of  love by the Keepers. Below are two extracts but I do suggest you click  on the source link to read all about it. It’s fascinating!

    Sunday Herald Article Fakland Palace Keepers


    At 6.30am, housekeeper Mary McBain arrives from neighbouring Strathmiglo to put the palace to bed in this her seventh year here. ”I love it,” she enthuses. ”There’s never two days the same. I never get up in the morning and think, ‘Oh God, I’ve to go to my work’.” Practical to the bone, her first comment on entering the drawing room is: ”There’s a bulb ready to go . . . ”

    One of two full-time housekeepers within the National Trust for Scotland, Mary prefers to stand while working, wears white cotton gloves at all times and carries her materials around in an old mushroom box.


    At the East Range Malcolm raises a fresh flag – which will flap eerily at night – before joining Mary in the Edwardian library. This is full to the gunnels of Crichton Stuart family artefacts. Here are decanters and William Leitch & Co soda siphons on a butler’s tray, an Edison Bell original gramophone, unopened Capstan tins, a well-used nursing chair, and a host of family photographs and paintings.

    On the writing desk lie handwritten Particulars of Falkland Estates, showing crop rotations and harvest records, a Falkland Game book and, on the back wall, a mass of gilded-spine antiquarian books each of which must be dusted. It will take Mary and Malcolm three weeks to put this trompe l’oeil-vaulted treasure trove to bed.

    Read full article…

    Fakland Palace Guides Getting Ready for Saturday's Visitors

    Fakland Palace Guides Getting Ready for Saturday’s Visitors []

    On Saturdays, Palace guides usually dress up in costume. Be sure to get yourself down to the Palace between May and October to meet them all in one of Scotland’s finest Renaissance palaces, adored by Mary, Queen of Scots.

    It is a privilege to visit Falkland Palace and can guarantee you’ll leave with an unforgettable experience.

    Hope you enjoyed!

    Talk soon


    PS: Just thought I’d share another example of a Scottish related trompe l’oeil . 😉

    york mri trompe l'oeil scottish landscape

    York MRI trompe l’oeil of a scottish landscape

    The MRI unit in York County Hospital has no windows, so this mural helps to add a relaxing, brighter feel to an imposing room.

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    Scottish Castles Series: Falkland Palace – Part 1

    We visited Falkland Palace, a mix of ruined buildings and sumptuously restored apartments, in 2003 and 2006. This magnificent palace is situated in the picturesque village of Falkland, about 4 miles north of Glenrothes, in Fife, north of the A 912.  Not far away, East Lomond Hill  (448m /1470ft) invites the visitor to climb it up to have a panoramic view of the whole area.

    Falkland Palace view of the village from a window © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace view of the village from a window © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace is rich in history. It was a favourite residence of the Stuart monarchs and the silent witness of their fateful destiny. It is here that on a cold winter day James V died, only six days after the birh of his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, at Linlithgow Palace.

    Falkland Palace & Garden © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace & Garden © 2003 Scotiana

    Whatever their fate and the amount of time they could spend in their country residence, the Stuart monarchs come here to relax, to indulge in their favourite sporting activities, playing tennis, practicing archery, riding out in the hills, glades and forest to hunt stags and wild boars with the help of their falcons and dogs. At night they gave banquets, inviting minstrels and poets, playing music, chess, cards, dice, draughts… it was a good way to compensate for the vicissitudes of power though even here, away from Edinburgh, life didn’t always flow like a long fleuve tranquille

    Falkland Palace & Fife on the map NTS brochure

    Falkland Palace & Fife on the map NTS brochure

    As you can see on the above map Falkland Palace which is situated in the heart of the peninsula of Fife is not the only interesting place to visit in the area 😉

    The Scottish monarchs never stayed very long in the same place, used as they were to travel with all their people and luggage from castle to castle: Fakland, Linlithgow, Stirling, Edinburgh… putting all their belongings in big wooden chests like the beautiful ones we can see in Falkland Palace rooms. Even the beautiful and priceless tapestries followed the convoy…

    Falkland Palace © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace © 2003 Scotiana

    The “Gatehouse”, the impressive double-towered entrance through which we enter Falkland Palace, was completed in 1542. Its façade is ornated with painted heraldic panels showing the arms of Scotland, Fife and Stuart of Bute.

    Falkland Palace The Gatehouse Wikimedia

    Falkland Palace The Gatehouse Wikimedia

    Falkland Palace coats-of-arms Scotland Stuarts of Bute Fife © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace coats-of-arms Scotland Stuarts of Bute Fife © 2003 Scotiana

    A few historical landmarks

    I find leap-frogging centuries or reducing them to mere paragraphs quite frustrating but I’ll do my best to tell you a bit of Falkland Palace history. I know castles always keep a number of secrets to themselves but is not this aura of mystery part of their charm?

    I’ve just read in Wikipedia that “falcon land” was not a plausible etymology for “Falkland”. It would have been, however, an appropriate name to designate a place which has been so much associated with hunting. I’ve also learned that the name of “Falkland” only applied to the castle in the olden times and that the name of the village was Kilgour, which means “church/cell of Gabràn”

    At the beginning there was no palace, nor even a castle in the area of Falkland, probably a fortified site, maybe a Pictish fort. Then a hunting lodge was built, followed by a castle and then by a palace.

    The first castle built in Falkland belonged to the powerful clan MacDuff whose chief held the much coveted title of “Earl of Fife”*.

    Suspecting a plot against him, King James I ousted the MacDuff clan from power, executed their chief and confiscated Falkland castle.

    Falkland Palace Fife coat-of-arms Scotland © 2003 Scotiana

    Fife coat-of-arms Falkland Palace Scotland © 2003 Scotiana

    *The Earl of Fife or Mormaer of Fife was the ruler of the province of Fife in medieval Scotland, which encompassed the modern counties of Fife and Kinross. Due to their royal ancestry, the Earls of Fife were the highest ranking nobles in the realm, and had the right to crown the King of Scots.

    Held by the MacDuff family until it passed by resignation to the Stewarts, the earldom ended on the forfeiture and execution of Duke Murdoch in 1425. The earldom was revived in 1759 with the style of Earl Fife for William Duff, a descendant of the MacDuffs. His great-great-grandson, the 6th Earl Fife, was made Earl of Fife in 1885 and Duke of Fife in 1889. (Wikipedia)

    James IV and V of Scotland

    James IV and V of Scotland

    James II adopted the medieval castle as a royal residence but it was James IV and James V who enlarged and embellished it, making of Falkland castle one of the most beautiful Renaissance palaces of Scotland. Mary Stuart enjoyed the place very much as well as his son, James VI (and I of England) though after his accession to the English throne, in 1603, he spent more time in England than in Scotland. Sadly, he had been separated from his mother from an early age. Anyway, none of them seems to have been ready to embark on an architectural project at Falkland.  Charles I came to Falkland Palace in 1633 and Charles II was the last Stuart King to visit it.

    In 1654, the magnificent East Range of the Palace was burnt down accidentally by Cromwell’s troops who were garrisoned there, which explains why it is ruined today.

    Over the generations and under the care of a succession of more or less efficient keepers, the beautiful palace lost its appeal and, with time, fell into disrepair.

    John Crichton Stuart 3rd Marquess of Bute

    John Crichton Stuart 3rd Marquess of Bute

    Then, fortunately enough, a providential man  arrived on the scene. This  man was John Patrick Crichton Stewart, the 3rd Marquess of Bute. He had inspiration, passion and considerable financial means. He was one of the greatest Victorian patrons of the Arts. In 1887, he bought the office of keeper and immediately engaged in the huge task of restoring the Palace to give it a bit of its past splendour. Unfortunately, his death at the age of 53 put an end to many of his architectural dreams, including a number of his projects for Falkland. The office of Keeper at Falkland being hereditary, it was transmitted to his successors. In 1952, the Hereditary Keeper Major Michael Crichton Stewart decided to appoint the National Trust for Scotland to take care of the Palace. The National Trust thus became Deputy Keeper of the Palace, and they now care for and maintain the Palace and its extensive gardens. We’ve met a number of NTS volunteers while visiting some of the estates owned by the Trust and we’ve always been very impressed. They really do wonderful things there!

    Falkland Palace The Stuart of Bute coat-of-arms © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace The Stuart of Bute coat-of-arms © 2003 Scotiana

    Here’s the beautiful Stuart of Bute blason, supported by two angels and described in heraldry as :  “Or a fess checky Azure and Argent within a double tressure flory counterflory Gules”

    In 1887 John, 3rd Marquis of Bute purchased the estates of Falkland and started a 20-year restoration of the palace using his two right-hand architects: John Kinross and Robert Weir Schultz. At the time the Palace was a ruin with no windows or doors. Thanks to his sympathetic restoration work and considerable budget the Palace is still standing to this day. Many features in and around the Palace show evidence of his work, such as the “B” on the guttering and portraits of his children carved into a cupboard door in the Keeper’s Dressing Room.


     NTS plan of  Falkland Palace slightly modified by Scotiana

    NTS plan of Falkland Palace slightly modified by Scotiana

    The above plan of Falkland Palace, found in the NTS brochure and to which we’ve added a few details, is very useful to understand the layout of the place.


    Falkland Palace Courtyard information panel © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace Courtyard information panel © 2003 Scotiana

    The Palace was meant to be built around a quadrangle but the North Range which contained the Great Hall disappeared completely. At the beginning of the 16th century, three wings and a wall enclosed the courtyard. James IV had planned to enlarge and restore the Great Hall and, in 1512, he had even bought materials for the purpose but he did not have time to achieve his goal for he was killed at Flodden in 1513. His son, James V was only one year old then. It would take a few years before he got involved in any architectural project but then he did a lot of works at Falkland, extending his father’s buildings in French renaissance style and building the Royal Tennis Court in the grounds of the Palace. The double-towered Gatehouse was the last of James V’s projects to be completed and the West Range was never built because of the king’s untimely death, in 1542, at the age of 30.

    Falkland Palace from the garden © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace from the garden © 2003 Scotiana

    Here’s a view of the South Range as we can see it from the courtyard and part of the ruined East Range (on the left).

    Falkland Palace South Range © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace South Range © 2003 Scotiana

    The courtyard façade of the South Range is built of ashlar and is much less austere, with its Renaissance-style mullioned windows, with its sculpted medallions and dormer windows interspersed by big chimneys, than the street façade. I wonder why we did not not take any picture côté rue

    It was a sunny autumn afternoon when we took these pictures and we enjoyed very much this scene with the old castle in the background and  the yellow and red roses still in bloom.


    Falkland Palace South Range Outer Front  Wikimedia

    Falkland Palace South Range Outer Front Wikimedia

    On this picture we can see the outer front of the South Range. The large windows on the first floor are those of the chapel. The style of the street façade is described as “Late Gothic Ecclesiastical”, a style which is normally reserved to churches. The buttresses of the façade are decorated with carved pinnacles and decorative niches, two of which still contain statues. The whole of the decoration underlines the religious nature of this part of the building.

    The façade is more massive than its courtyard counterpart. The different parts of the outer front, the gatehouse, the chapel, the rectangular turret, are united by a parapet decorated with mouldings and gargoyles. One can notice that the turret on the right of the picture is built from rough rubble stone contrary to the rest of the façade which is an indication that it dates from James IV.


    Falkland Palace Courtyard South Range and Gatehouse Wikimedia

    Falkland Palace Courtyard South Range and Gatehouse Wikimedia

    Note here again the difference between the South Range façade and the Gatehouse walls: ashlar/rubble…

    Falkland Palace Courtyard East Range  © 2003 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace Courtyard East Range © 2003 Scotiana

    The only remains of the East Range are the ruined façade with its the dovecot on the left  and the cellars. The magnificently restored Cross House is hardly visible behind the wall, about midway of the façade.

    Falkland Palace North Range foundations rose garden Wikimedia

    Falkland Palace North Range foundations rose garden Wikimedia

    Again, a picture of the East Range of Falkland Palace but there is more than that for, hidden under the rose garden are the foundations of the North Range which sheltered the Great Hall. The foundations were excavated by the 3rd Marquess of Bute…

    Falkland Palace Scotiana montage chapel ceiling window © 2006 Scotiana

    Falkland Palace Scotiana montage chapel ceiling window © 2006 Scotiana

    The Palace is full of priceless treasures but I will tell you more about them in the second part of this post.

    Famous people have visited the place and written very interesting pages about it.

    Walter Scott Portrait

    Walter Scott visited the place on 27 June 1829 and he wrote an interesting page about it in his Journal.

    The Journal of Sir Walter Scott Canongate Classics 1998

    The Journal of Sir Walter Scott Canongate Classics 1998

    “June 27 1829 .–I ought not, where merry men convene, to omit our jovial son of Neptune, Admiral Adam. The morning proving delightful, we set out for the object of the day, which was Falkland. We passed through Lochore, but without stopping, and saw on the road eastward, two or three places, as Balbedie, Strathendry, and some others known to me by name. Also we went through the town of Leslie, and saw what remains of the celebrated rendezvous of rustic gallantry called Christ’s Kirk on the Green.[348] It is now cut up with houses, one of the most hideous of which is a new church, having the very worst and most offensive kind of Venetian windows. This, I am told, has replaced a quiet lowly little Gothic building, coeval, perhaps, with the royal poet who celebrated the spot. Next we went to Falkland, where we found Mr. Howden, factor of Mr. Tyndall Bruce, waiting to show us the palace.

    Falkland has most interesting remains. A double entrance-tower, and a side building running east from it, is roofed, and in some degree habitable; a corresponding building running northward from the eastern corner is totally ruinous, having been destroyed by fire. The architecture is highly ornamented, in the style of the Palace at Stirling. Niches with statues, with projections, cornices, etc, are lavished throughout. Many cornice medallions exhibited such heads as those procured from the King’s room at Stirling, the originals, perhaps, being the same. The repeated cypher of James V. and Mary of Guise attest the builder of this part of the palace. When complete it had been a quadrangle. There is as much of it as remained when Slezer published his drawings. Some part of the interior has been made what is called habitable, that is, a half-dozen of bad rooms have been gotten out of it. Am clear in my own mind a ruin should be protected, but never repaired. The proprietor has a beautiful place called Nut-hill, within ten minutes’ walk of Falkland, and commanding some fine views of it and of the Lomond Hill. This should be the residence. But Mr. Bruce and his predecessor, my old professor, John Bruce,deserve great credit for their attention to prevent dilapidation, which was doing its work fast upon the ancient palace. The only remarkable apartment was a large and well-proportioned gallery with a painted roof–_tempore Jacobi Sexti_–and built after his succession to the throne of England. I noticed a curious thing,–a hollow column concealed the rope which rung the Castle bell, keeping it safe from injury and interruption.

    The town of Falkland is old, with very narrow streets. The arrival of two carriages and a gig was an event important enough to turn out the whole population. They are said to be less industrious, more dissipated, and readier to become soldiers than their neighbours. So long a court retains its influence!

    We dined at Wellfield with my Mend George Cheape, with whom I rode in the cavalry some thirty years ago. Much mirth and good wine made us return in capital tune. The Chief Baron and Admiral Adam did not go on this trip. When we returned it was time to go to bed by a candle.”

    Falkland Palace & Royal Burgh The National Trust for Scotland

    Falkland Palace & Royal Burgh The National Trust for Scotland

    Much of my information about Falkland Palace comes from the very interesting brochure edited by the NTS. It is illustrated with beautiful pictures, reproductions of old engravings and very useful maps. Indeed, each time we visit a place in care of Historic and Environment Scotland or the NTS we buy their little guide. I have a whole collection of them in my library and I open them quite often.

    Scottish Royal Palaces John G Dunbar Tuckwell Historic Scotland 1999

    Scottish Royal Palaces John G Dunbar Tuckwell Historic Scotland 1999

    Here’s another very interesting book written by G. Dunbar, an expert in Scottish architecture who was Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland from 1978 to 1990. This book focuses on the Scottish Royal Palaces: Linlithgow, Falkland, Stirling Castle, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, Doune Castle, Dunfermline Palace.

    “This is the first exclusive survey of an outstanding group of buildings. The survival of Scotland’s astonishing wealth of palaces of late medieval and early Renaissance date is due largely to the departure of king and court from Edinburgh to London in 1603 : the royal residences became largely redundant thereafter and, with the notable exception of Holyroodhouse, were never replaced or renewed.”( From the back cover of Scottish Royal Palaces – John G. Dunbar – Tuckwell Press – Historic Scotland 1999)

    On my reading list, a biography of the 3rd Marquess of Bute who played such an important part in the restoration of Falkland Palace. We first heard about it when we visited Mountstuart on the Isle of Bute. We visited it twice and could revisit it again and again. We were not only  impressed by the beauty and mystery of the place but also very interested by the man behind all that.

    I will tell you more about Rosemary Hannah’s biography when I have read it 😉

    What a man ! I’ve just learned that one of his biggest dreams was to restore Sanquhar Castle, the ancestral home of the Crichtons. Maybe Iain & Margaret could tell us more about that 😉

    The Grand Designer Third Marquess of Bute Rosemary Hannah Birlinn 2013

    The Grand Designer Third Marquess of Bute Rosemary Hannah Birlinn 2013

    When the third Marquess of Bute (1847 – 1900) met the renowned Gothic designer William Burges it marked the start of a lifetime’s collaboration with architects and artists, producing work ranging from the High Victorian Gothic exuberance of Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch to the ostentation of Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute and the sumptuous restoration of the Renaissance Falkland Palace. This fascinating biography tells the story of a rich eccentric, whose learning, insight and kindness produced extraordinary results in architecture and life, a man who combined being amongst the richest men of the age with artistic patronage of an almost incomprehensible scale.

    But let us go back to Falkland Palace… did I mention it was a haunted place ? I’ve found  a fascinating video about the question. Make your own judgment and if you are not convinced maybe a little visit of the place by night or on a mournful day of winter could be helpful 😉

    À bientôt for the second part of my post for there is still so much to say about Falkland Palace: the inside of the Palace, the magnificent gardens, the famous old tennis court, the giant outdoor chess game where an incredible challenge has been launched…

    Bonne lecture ! Enjoy the video !


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    Linlithgow Castle and St Michael’s Church © 2007 Scotiana

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