Scheduled Monument

Bishop's Palace, KirkwallSM90193

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Secular: palace
Local Authority
Orkney Islands
Kirkwall And St Ola
HY 44924 10809
344924, 1010809


The monument comprises the remains of a palace, the earliest parts of which date to the 12th century. It is in the care of the Secretary of State for Scotland and is being re-scheduled to clarify the extent of the protected area.

The monument lies at the centre of the town of Kirkwall. It comprises the Bishop's Palace, first built in the 12th century and substantially reconstructed in the 16th century. The 12th-century remains consist of the basement walls of a large stone-built timber-floored hall, measuring some 6m by 25m internally. It was very probably within this building that the Norwegian King Haakon died in 1263, while returning home after his unsuccessful campaign in western Scotland which had ended at the battle of Largs.

The palace appears to have fallen into disrepair by the early 14th century. Little more is known about it until the mid 16th century, when it was extensively reconstructed by Bishop Robert Reid, who heightened the main block and added a round tower at the NW angle. The tower is six storeys high, including an attic, and is furnished with gun-loops. Further alterations were made by Earl Patrick Stewart, who acquired the palace, known by then as the Palace of the Yards, in 1600.

The area proposed for scheduling comprises the remains described and an area around them within which related material may be expected to be found. It is irregular on plan, with maximum dimensions of 39m, measured between just E of N and just W of S by 12m transversely, as marked in red on the accompanying map extract.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because together with Spynie Palace (Moray) and St Andrews Castle (Fife) it is one of only a small handful of Scottish medieval episcopal residences to survive, so far as its masonry elements are concerned, in a reasonably complete state of preservation. Furthermore, it contributes or has the potential to contribute through archaeological excavation, to our understanding of medieval and post-medieval domestic architecture, social and economic history, material culture and the urban archaeology of the burgh of Kirkwall. Its significance is enhanced by its connection with some well-known historical events and personalities and by the prominent contribution that it makes to the townscape of modern Kirkwall. The importance of the site is reflected in its status as a property in state care.



RCAHMS records the monument as HY 41 SW 12.


Ashmore, P (ed.), 1995, The ancient monuments of Orkney. HMSO; Edinburgh.

Cross, M, 1994, Bibliography of Monuments in the Care of the Secretary of State for Scotland, 405-9, Glasgow.

Pringle, D, 1998, The Houses of the Stewart Earls in Orkney and Shetland. The Orkney Antiquarian.

Ritchie, A, 1996, Orkney, The Stationary Office; Edinburgh.

Simpson, W D, 1956, The Bishop's Palace at Kirkwal, third Viking Congress, Reykjavik, 101-6.

Simpson, W D, 1961, The Castle of Bergen and the Bishop's Palace at Kirkwall: a study in early Norse architecture, Aberdeen University Studies, 142, Edinburgh.

Simpson, W D, 1986, The Bishop's Palace and the Earl's Palace, Kirkwall, Orkney, Edinburgh.

Historic Environment Scotland Properties

Bishop's Palace, Kirkwall

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About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief. Some information will not have been recorded and the map will not be to current standards. Even if what is described and what is mapped has changed, the monument is still scheduled.

Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

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